Summer Journalism Internship In France: Researching The Quebec Student Protests In France

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As part of my tasks as an intern at Radio R2R I have been asked to come up with original story ideas.

After brainstorming for a few ideas that would be relevant, doable and of interest to the local population, I chose to do a story about the Quebec student protests, or the Maple Spring, from the point of view of French citizens.

Since there is seemingly no end in sight for the protests and I am currently living in a city with an active student population, this seemed like the logical choice.

The student protests began this February as a result of the provincial government’s intention to increase university tuition fees by 75% over the course of five years. The event garnered international attention after a rally in Montreal on March 22 which gathered around 200,000 people.

At this point it is difficult to say when the protests will end, but it will definitely be part of the history books. I had my story, now I needed to do my research.

Back at Sheridan College, one of the courses I took was called Research and Chase Producing. As the title says, it teaches the importance of doing research for a story and how to find good sources. Watching All the President’s Men was part of the curriculum.

The research part for this story was easy. I just had to re-read in chronological order all relevant news articles regarding the protest, and find articles about the student loans system in Quebec.

Finding good sources was a bit trickier. I am still relatively new in town, so I did not know who would be the right people to talk to about the protests.

My fellow intern Harmony suggested I start a Google Doc where the students in Rouen could leave their comments and opinions on the strike, which she would then send to the entire student body. A good idea, but so far there haven’t been any responses. It is summer after all, and most students are either out of town, or thinking about getting out of town.

I then used the university directory to find someone who could talk to me about the student loan system in France. I found the address and contact information for the organization that is in charge of bursaries and managed to speak to their director. The person I spoke to was very diplomatic in her approach. She told me all she could do was explain to me the differences between the two systems, but she could not give me her opinion on the matter.

I needed to find a more outspoken individual that would be eager to have his or her opinion heard on the matter. Since the leaders of the student organizations in Quebec have been a very vocal group for the duration of the strike, it stands to reason the leaders of the French student organizations might have something to say on the subject.

I found the contact information for the FEDER (Fédération des étudiants Rouennais) or the Federation of the Students of Rouen. Its president, Jean-Baptiste Lemesle (pictured above right) was very interested in the story and was eager to speak to me. In fact, his Facebook profile picture is a red square, the symbol of the Quebec students on strike.

Once we managed to set a date, for as President of the Federation he has a very busy schedule, we managed to have a very productive interview. We talked for 10 minutes about various aspects of the strike and he was nice enough to give me the names of other people working for student organizations that would be interested in speaking to me.

As for his views on the protests, students in Quebec will be happy to know they have supporters across the Atlantic: “It is entirely justified,” he says when asked about the strike. “An increase in university tuition is simply unacceptable. This sort of proposal should not be made by a government.”

I was concerned about not finding good sources for this story, but by using the skills I learned in college, by being persistent, and by being prepared, I managed to not only record a solid interview but also obtain more contacts. Hopefully before this internship is over I will have recorded more interviews with different points on the Maple Spring.

I may even end up raising the station’s profile: during a press conference I spoke to a man who told me he believed the media was not doing enough coverage on the student protests in Quebec. Ask and you shall receive.

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About the author

Simon Arseneau has been travelling around the world since he was two years old. Although he was born in a small Canadian town, he spent his teenage years in Chile and Peru. There he learned how to speak Spanish and how to adapt to a new culture. In 2006, he studied English and Intercultural Studies (translation, editing, and literature) at the University of Sherbrooke. In 2010, he enrolled at the Sheridan Institute (Oakville, Ontario) in Journalism- New Media where he learned how to operate cameras, perform interviews, edit material with Final Cut Pro, take digital photographs, use new media technology, and write for the web and print. In July 2011, he participated in the ieiMedia program in Perpignan, France, where he shot videos, performed interviews, and wrote a feature story about blacksmiths working in the region. Simon speaks French, English, and Spanish, and has experience with Italian and German.