In early July I had just finished working around two weeks straight for a local radio news broadcaster in Saskatchewan. I had two days off, piles of laundry, zero groceries, a full bottle of wine, and my cat's litter box was a disaster - so clearly I had plans.
But after just one day off (which mostly contained the wine) I received a call from my boss saying "go to bed early. You are driving to Cold Lake, Alberta tomorrow". I was up first thing the next morning with the last of my clean clothing packed in a suitcase filled with spare batteries, spare recorders, and even a spare camera before I went behind the wheel to drive more than five hours into the northern part of the neighbour province.
Why was I going? Well around 700 people were forced to flee from a summer of encroaching forest fires in Northern Saskatchewan and they were being evacuated to a centre in Cold Lake because there was more room and for some of the communities evacuated it was actually closer. My boss wanted that story and apparently so did the rest of North America.
While I wasn't in the community long I worked 18 to 19 hour days which involved getting (sort of) held on a military base I accidentally drove onto, developing relationships and trust with the evacuees, and finding local officials in a city I'd never been to before. It was exhausting and exhilarating and reminded me why I got into journalism in the first place.
Although some big name stations (CBC, Global, CTV, and the such) eventually showed up in the community as well, the fact that I'd sat with evacuees, held their children, and just "shot the shit" about life in the north meant that I was able to get some really amazing stories on the record. After doing live hits, getting interviews, and taking photos I finally retreated to my motel room. For the station I worked for audio was the #1 priority so once I got back I created multiple packs of audio to be played on air which took a couple of hours. I also wrote a story for the web, added photos, and emailed the unused or spare interview audio I had back to the newsroom if they wanted even more for the next day. It was 1 a.m. and I had to be back live on the radio at 5 a.m. so it was time to sleep.
I worked hard the next day getting updates about concerns the evacuees had about bedding, food, and donations. Around lunch time I could finally take a break and opened my social media to a few e-mails with the question "is this you?"
It was an article in the New York Times about the fire situation in Saskatchewan with a large portion about the evacuees in Cold Lake, specifically their lack of food and amenities.
"Well those are my interviews," I emailed back to my friend.
"How does that happen?" she asked.
"It's called being on the bottom rung," I responded
A quick google search showed that my article and interview had been published across Canada in all the national papers and even the small ones from coast to coast. The interviews had also been used in stories around the world even in the India Times. What a moment for a journalist right? Well, not really. It was an important story to get out so I am satisfied that I did it in such a way that it was read around the world but I still like to eat and there would be no compensation for my "success". My name was not connected to a single one and because of a mix-up in the newsroom I wouldn't even be picking up my $5 cheque from the Canadian Press. I had made the New York Times for the third time in my career but once again, no one would know.
Insider's scoop: how does it happen?
The local radio news company that I worked for has a deal with the Canadian Press wire news service.
"The Canadian Press was created by newspaper publishers in 1917 to facilitate the exchange of news across a vast and sparsely populated country. During the First World War when publishers were desperate to bring news of Canadian troops in Europe to their readers, The Canadian Press began generating its own news copy and its war coverage transformed it from a distributor of information to Canada’s national news reporting agency," according to the Canadian Press website.
News wires are common and used around the world. They are a service used for the transmission of breaking news to the media or to the public and tap into a lot of different subscribers. For the Canadian Press their partners include small stations like the radio station I worked for but also larger media conglomerates like CTV. Each station signs a contract with Canadian Press and they can vary but the result is that they share information between them which means Canadian Press will supply them with audio, video, or written work but Canadian Press also has access to any of their media if they want it. It's a great way for specifically smaller markets to have access to national and international news. The content provider is usually attributed in one way or another but in many cases the journalist's name is dropped and the stations name is used instead.
So, in my case what happened was that the interviews and information that I had picked up in Cold Lake were taken by Canadian Press to their wire service. Since they didn't use my entire story, initially the stations name was attributed.
In a similar deal Canadian Press is the exclusive distributor of the Associated Press, the world's oldest and largest news gathering service, in the country. With that deal Associated Press then has access to content created by the Canadian Press wire service.
In my case, that means that Associated Press saw the content (originally from me) on Canadian Press' wire, took what they liked from it (my interviews), and wrote an article which then appeared on their wire service. From their wire service newspapers and radio stations around the world were able to access my interviews and print them because of their deal with the Associated Press, or their country's wire service's deal with the Associated Press.
It's a bit complicated right but it's important to know how information is shared around the world.
This flow chart makes it seem like I am at the top, but oh I am not. I am at the bottom of that chain.
I had a similar experience working for the Bangkok Post where I wrote about the strange hockey culture in such a hot climate. That story was also picked up by the Associated Press and eventually ended up in the New York Times, once again without my name.
The thing is, I get it. If your story is picked up as a lowly local reporter you get $5 in Canada. I didn't get anything in Bangkok so there's that. But it's also important that the information that Associated Press supplies is shared globally. In Saskatoon, you know about a bombing in Iraq and you hear the shells on the radio because of the Associated Press. In Regina you hear the cries of refugees on your local news station and see the pictures online because of the Associated Press. News wire services are important, as Canadian Press' history can attest but as a lowly, bottom rung journalist with time to complain it would be nice to see my name when I've worked so hard.
Kelly Geraldine Malone is a freelance journalist, podcaster, and radio producer based out of Manitoba, Canada