January 21st 2015
For over the past decade, Craig Sumi has worked behind the scenes of provincial parliament at Queen’s Park helping ministers deal with the media.
Sumi started his professional career as a journalist, working for several newspapers companies across Ontario before settling in at the Hamilton Spectator. While at the Spectator, Sumi was given a one year assignment at Queen’s Park covering education and health.
During his first year covering politics at Queen’s Park, Sumi describes his first thoughts about the daily happenings at Queen’s Park.
“Reports are sharks, politicians are dinner (in media scrums)” said Sumi. Sumi uses the comparison to describe how reporters will hound politicians to get the answers they need to write their stories. While politicians are dinner, precooked and ready to eat and unable to fight back against the sharks.
Sumi recalls how some reporters had a rolodex of names and numbers of sources they had within Queen’s Park, ranging from the politicians themselves to their aids and even the garbage men. The reporters or sharks will go to any limit to find a new angle or a new story.
Following Sumi, yearlong assignment at Queen’s Park returned to the Spectator, but soon realized that politics and not journalism was his true calling and passion in life. Sumi returned to Queen’s Park, where today he holds the position of Media and Issues Management.
Sumi describes his new position as civil service staff that supports the political offices. During his time working at Queen’s Park, Sumi has worked for the NDP, Conservative and Liberal governments.
The average day for people working inside Queen’s Park starts before the sunrises at five. The early risers are university students who have been hired to monitor and scan newspapers across the province to gather what some of the major issues will be. Starting around seven, Sumi and his staff analyze the findings and generate what questions reporters might ask during question period. A half hour later, Sumi will brief the ministers on what the issues of the day are and prepare them for question period.
“It’s question period, not answer period because they never really answer the questions.” Said Sumi to describe the tactics politicians often take with reporters when confronted with questions from the media.
Part of Sumi’s job involves dealing with controversy and preparing politicians with the best course of action to handle the controversy. Sumi recalls a scandal known as “ghetto dude.” Ghetto dude was an email scandal where a minister had inappropriately referred to a potentially homeless man as “ghetto dude.” Sumi describes the course of action the politicians handled the situation, which was to simply say sorry and ask for forgiveness.
Another scandal that Sumi recalls with great detail was the orange medical helicopters overspending. Sumi recalls how the report was due to be released in late March and would be negative news for the politicians due to the vast overspending for the helicopters. Sumi notes how the helicopter report could have been negative news for at least a week. Sumi and the politicians decided the best course of action was to divert the negative news in the press with a different source of negative news. Sumi and the politicians pushed up the release of the “sunshine list” which details the salary of every employee at Queen’s Park. The annual report was also negative but as an expected report distracted the media and seemingly made the negative news of the helicopter report go away.
Sumi described other techniques used by politicians to deal with the media. Sumi notes how Friday afternoon are notorious “dump days.” Dump days are where politicians will release all their negative news to the media right before people go home for the weekend. The second technique described by Sumi is giving scoops to media outlets. However, these scoops come with multiple conditions. The conditions can include placement on the front page of the newspaper above the fold and that the reporter is not allowed to get other sources for the story.
Sumi has been in the position for the past 14 years, and summarizes his job as making sure that the politicians have no surprises coming their way when they are forced to deal with the media.