Journalist vs citizen during G20 Summit

Journalist vs citizen during G20 Summit
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By Veronica Blake

Is a j-school student on summer vacation still a journalist? While many of my classmates held lucrative internships this summer, I toiled away at my part-time retail job.

So it was my insatiable curiosity that drew me to the G20 protest.

Saturday June 26, 2010 will forever be remembered in our city’s history as a day of violence, graffiti, burning police cars and smashed shop windows.

But that’s not the experience that classmate Aileen Donnelly and I shared.

We arrived at Queen’s Park shortly after 1 p.m., under a mist of cool rain.

“I was amazed at the number of people that showed up. I guess I thought that people were more apathetic,” Donnelly said.

We wandered around Queen’s Park, just taking in the whole scene. Speeches were being made and chants were riling up the crowd. This family-friendly mass-protest contained people of all ages, from small children to the elderly.

Protesters chant, “Protesting is not a crime! Police officers on overtime!”

They yell, “Shame!” when we pass by the police, officers in yellow jackets with bicycles.

We round the corner to be met with a dozen or so police, standing stoic and at the ready in full riot-gear. Helmeted, shielded and batoned, with either tear gas muzzles or rubber bullet guns; I can’t tell which.

The protesters yell, “Shame! Intimidation! This is what! Democracy looks like! This is what! A police state looks like!”

“I felt like a bit of an imposter,” Donnelly said. “While we had done some research and aligned ourselves with some of the causes, I felt my heart wasn’t in it. I was more curious than enraged.”

But something stirred in me, I felt like I had to yell with them. But as neither protestor nor journalist, I was unsure of my role, and the ethical guidelines to follow.

Veteran journalist and coordinator of Centennial College’s journalism program Steve Cogan feels reporters are entitled to private lives.

“Many reporters, by nature, are reformers. It’s part of what drew a lot of us into journalism, the idea that we want to make things better,” Cogan said. “The hallmark of professionalism is the extent to which you can distance yourself, distance your own emotions and distance your own allegiances and sympathies from your reporting.”

We arrived back at Queen’s Park at 3 p.m., unscathed and totally unaware of the so-called black-bloc tactics wreaking havoc on the city. We found a quiet corner to sit, and listened to the coal-miners’ union songs of yesteryears.

We left after Sid Ryan stirred up the crowd with an impassioned speech.

By the time we arrived home at Warden Station, we had heard stirrings of the chaos taking over the city. We sat in the car for over an hour, listening to talk radio, absolutely enthralled and a little disappointed to have missed out on the fray.

“Absolutely key to journalism’s function is for the journalist to observe what the government does in the name of the public,” Cogan said.

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