At first, I thought my ears, not in the best of shape after decades of damage from thousands of shotgun blasts, had deceived me.
A young reporter with CBC Television in Corner Brook was delivering a “standup” which, veteran news-watchers know, has the on-camera “talent” providing a link in the story, or, in most cases, signalling the windup of the piece, the TV journalist trying to bring an item together with a bit of colour or analysis or, more often than not, with simply a combination of innocuous words and phrases aimed at getting the reporter’s mug on screen for 30 seconds or so of audience adoration.
It’s mostly a gimmick. And truth be known, the standups usually come across as the stilted formulaic routine that they’ve become. In recent years, the standup also occurs at the beginning of a piece, an awkward handover from the anchor to the journalist:
“Betty Boop is at the scene of that crime, and joins us now. Betty.”
The television hierarchy must have decided somewhere along the way, in a moment of historical journalistic perception, that the reporter’s puss was more important than even the most riveting of video.
In any case, this reporter in Corner Brook was tidying up her story on Jim Bennett deciding to seek the Liberal leadership nod; half-listening, I thought she referred to the MHA as “Jim,” not “Mr. Bennett,” not “Bennett,” but simply “Jim.”
As I say, I figured it might have been aging, damaged, wax-filled ears that caused me to mishear what she had said, but with a rewind button at the ready, I confirmed the reporter had, in fact, described the politician, Jim Bennett, the subject of her story, as “Jim.”
Now, I realize the rules of journalism have gotten slacker since I occupied a newsroom spot, what with anchors and reporters exploiting and peddling their journalism for charity and the like, and supper-hour programs desperately trying to give off the friendliest of vibes, highlighted by foot-shuffling, inane attempts at humour on anchor desks from St. John’s to L.A. But referring to a politician in such a personal, familiar way did seem to be a bit much, even by today’s hokey standards.
The next time David Cochrane has the premier in his witness box for 15 minutes on Saturday night, I guess we can expect him to simply end the interview with, “Thanks for coming in, Kath.”
Or maybe Anthony Germain, after a “Morning Show” interview with Finance Minister Jerome Kennedy, might remark: “Thanks a million, Jerome, for being here at such an ungodly hour.”
Now I’ll acknowledge this wasn’t some grievous mortal sin against the purity of journalism. And if this is the biggest mistake the CBC reporter makes in her journalism career, she’ll have a fine track record by the time she bangs out her last story 30 years from now. And, to be honest, I made blunders during my career that would make the “Jim” reference absolutely benign by comparison.
Nevertheless, I still found it disconcerting to hear a reporter on air call a politician by his first name, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether a producer had spotted the faux pas in the script and decided it was harmless, or that no one had noticed the mistake in the first place, that it was just sloppiness.
Now, the “Here and Now” I ran for several years (with a phenomenal amount of journalistic and technical expertise in my dugout) was certainly not infallible, but we tried to be near compulsive in recognizing the sort of error made by that Corner Brook reporter because we knew it had the potential to act as a credibility strainer with the audience.
I can recall a veteran reporter we sent to Ottawa to do a behind-
the-scenes story on then Premier Clyde Wells’ heavy-duty involvement in negotiations surrounding the Meech Lake Accord. We were given fairly good access to the premier and were rewarded with decent, exclusive journalism, but the reporter, probably caught up in the moment, sent us a piece from Ottawa in which he was heard at one point saying “good luck, premier” as Wells entered a crucial meeting.
We whipped that small section out quickly, of course, before the item went to air, and the reason was obvious: we weren’t there as cheerleaders.
And to those employed in the media who consider such language as mere courtesy, sign up for the Janeway Telethon, or get a job with a private radio station in St. John’s, particularly on the open-line shows, where it’s not uncommon for a host and politician to converse as if they’re having a few beers in the shed: “buddy” this and “buddy” that; “see ya at that benefit Saturday night, buddy.”
In the meantime, the aforementioned “Jim,” who had an unimpressive three-month tenure as Liberal leader several years back, is now up against “Cathy” Bennett, she of the Big Mac franchise that has contributed enormously to the unhealthy eating habits of Newfoundland kids, “Dwight” Ball, the seemingly pleasant but hardly vigorous incumbent, and “Danny” Dumaresque, the political equivalent of the hockey pest who just never seems to stop slashing and hacking and mouthing off, even long after the routine has lost its impact.
What a humdinger of a race so far! Liberal fans must be shaking with unadulterated excitement, and the Tories and NDP must be quivering in their boots.
In any case, I don’t expect the
television reporter I’ve mildly slapped on the wrist here in my characteristically preachy way, will ever refer to “Jim, Dwight, Cathy and Danny” in a story on the leadership convention.
At least, let’s hope not.
Bob Wakeham has spent more than
40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.