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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: CBC boss lays it on thick

Catherine Tait is the president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada. —
Catherine Tait is the president and CEO of CBC/Radio-Canada. — The Canadian Press/file photo

I’m on the simmer now, instead of the boil.

And perhaps that’s a good thing.

Because when I first heard about comments from the CBC’s president, Catherine Tait, on the “St. John’s Morning Show” last week, I was, well, incandescent.

 

Tait has more than 30 years in the media — some in the private sector, and some with the CBC.

Here’s what she had to say about the difference between public and private media: “For me, what really hits me about the CBC is the people who work here have an enormous passion and commitment to public service, to telling stories, credible stories, truthful stories, in a way that is absolutely gob-smacking. Coming from the private sector, not to say that the people are not truth-tellers in the private sector, but it’s a different level of commitment. People come here to work every day … with a different approach — we’re really serving the public, that’s the difference.”

That may not be representative of Tait’s position on the media overall; other speeches and statements certainly suggest a broader support of journalism as a whole.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be answered.

I’m just going to say it: she’s wrong.

The point is that there are professional journalists working their hearts out in both the public and private sectors — no one has a special “different level of commitment.”

I have also worked in the CBC and in the private media, also have more than 30 years in the business, and I can tell you that in both private and public journalism, there are committed, dedicated professionals. There are also people in both for whom the job is just a job. There are people in both public and private media intent on making a difference. There are also people in both who are just marking time.

I once had to force a photographer to take time off after he was diagnosed with chronic exhaustion; he fought me all the way. Countless times, I’ve seen staff literally reach the end of their ropes — driven to keep working, more than anything else, by their dedication to getting the job done and making their stories absolutely complete. I’ve watched our sports editor stumble back to work two days after knee surgery because — well, because that’s what he does. I’ve seen how personally reporters take the smallest of mistakes.

Generally, the smaller you are, the more time you have to put in. My first job, at a weekly, saw everyone on staff work nine-hour-plus shifts Tuesday to Friday, and then a whopping 9 a.m. to 3 a.m. 18-hour shift on Saturday — and no, there was no overtime.

The point is that there are professional journalists working their hearts out in both the public and private sectors — no one has a special “different level of commitment.”

CBC-NL does have things to boast about: their investigative unit is superb, their production values are unparalleled, and their financial resources are unmatched. There’s only one newsroom in the province with the fiscal resources to cover Coco, the Conception Bay South cow that jumps “like a rabbit,” (CBC, Nov. 12), Bud the Bell Island pony who needs a barn for the winter (CBC, Nov. 14), and McNugget, Bean and Lentil, the three Witless Bay chickens without a municipally approved coop. (CBC, Nov. 14), all in a single week. (Yes, even I can be catty.)

Tait, at the time of the “Morning Show” interview and her subsequent “Here and Now” appearance, was in St. John’s as part of her cross-country travels to meet CBC employees and visit stations.

Look, I understand it: the company president flew in to give the troops a little boost.

All companies have team-building exercises; I’d be lying if I said I haven’t seen successive company presidents come in and laud our newsroom for what we do, telling us we’re the best.

But only the CBC feels the need to broadcast that as news, twice in the same day.

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Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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