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BULLETIN: "Dog Kills Local TV News Writer!"



See a version of this story in Vancouver magazine

By Claude Adams
July 11, 2011

This is a story about a dog who died and then came back to life and ended my career in local television news. When I put it that way, it’s funny. People can’t help giggling when they hear it. And I often end up laughing too, that edgy scratchy laughter that comes at one’s own expense and leaves little welts on the soul.

But the larger context of the story is sad. Sad because it relates to issues at the heart of journalism, especially the local TV kind. But I’ll get to that later. First, some background, and then I’ll share the funny part.

For the last eight months or so, I’ve been working as a casual writer at the local CBC supper hour television news. Casual means they call me in when a regular writer is sick, or on holiday or otherwise unavailable. Which means I go in for an eight-hour shift about eight or 10 times a month.

It’s called a writing job, but in fact it’s both much more (and much less) than that. We write the introductions (intros) to reporter’s stories that are read from the teleprompter by our two anchors. We write voice-overs: the 15-second scripts of local, national and international stories that the anchors also read. We edit the video images of those stories. We spend a lot of time writing “supers” (the names of the people in the reporter’s stories that flash up on the screen), and location tabs (the cities, or street addresses, where the particular stories take place) and other things. When you see the flashing tabs on the screen that say “Live” or “Breaking News” or “File Pictures,” or the reporter’s name, that’s the writer’s job. When you see images of rioting in Bahrain, or a pub fire in Victoria, it’s the writers who edit those pictures together online, and who write the words spoken over them, and who make sure those words and images are “pushed” into the computerized system that drives the newscast. We are required to be adept at highly sophisticated software programs with names like iNews and Instinct.

To do this work, in short, you need to be a lot more than a writer. You need to be an editor, a technician, a keyboardist extraordinaire, an expert in the style and spelling of place names and titles. And you have to work fast. Sometimes very fast. So fast that, often, you force yourself to forget about good writing; just throw down the words, make sure the facts are approximately correct, and “get it out.” (You’ll notice that among the many economies in TV news copy is the elimination of verbs: “A raging fire in Surrey. Three firefighters with smoke inhalation. A devastated neighbourhood. The full story at 6!”)

There are two regular writers on every shift, along with a show producer and a lineup editor. One or two anchors, a sports guy, a meteorologist with a sense of humor. And maybe six or seven reporters. Every weekday, they produce a 90-minute news show. It’s an impossible task, but it’s one of those impossible things that happens every day, without fail.

I just said “without fail.” But of course, that’s a lie. In real terms, the failure of local TV news is structural, spiritual and immense. But that’s the serious part of this story, and I need to tell you the funny part first.

Last Thursday, I get a phone call at home just before 10am. Can I come in right away? A regular writer has called in sick.

I say yes and shower and my wife drives me to the Skytrain and I’m in the newsroom at 11:30am—75 minutes after the start of the normal shift. It will be a short compressed day. I sit in my cubicle and log in. On my computer screen appears the projected lineup for that day’s show. Oh-oh. This will be a tough one.

Here’s what my day looks like:
1. A 30-second “sting” about the running of the bulls in Pamplona.
2. A 30-second voice-over on the premiere of the final Harry Potter movie in London.
3. A 40-second voice-over about the rescue of a lost hiker in Lions Bay.
4. A voicer on a seniors home in Abbotsford targeted by a robber.
5. A voicer on a plane crash in Harrison Bay, with two dead.
6. A voicer about the coroner’s report on a UBC student who died of a cocaine overdose.

That’s the easy part, I tell myself. I can handle these half dozen stories. But it will mean passing up lunch. Because I’ll have to find all the videotape for these stories, assemble the tape, edit it and then write the six scripts to fit the time allotted to them. And make sure everything is properly ingested by the voracious computer monster that delivers the show to our handful of viewers.

But there is more. I was also the writer assigned to three reporters’ “packs.” These are the full stories, prepared by individual reporters, that would appear on the night’s newscast. The three stories have names assigned to them. One is “War Over”—a 2-minute story on an Abbotsford couple who lost two sons in Afghanistan, reflecting on the fact that today is the last day of the Canadian combat mission in that country. The second is “Stranger Tattoo”—an offbeat feature about a foreign student in Vancouver who approaches strangers on the street, and asks them to tell the stories of their tattoos for a blog and a book she’s writing. (Hey, it’s local news.)

Both of these stories (I’ll tell you about the third one in due course) will require me to huddle with the individual reporters, approve their scripts, make changes if necessary, make sure I have all the names and titles of the people they interview, write a snappy anchor’s intro, and input everything into the computer. These stories will appear on the 6 o’clock segment of the show. But that’s only part of it. I also have to prepare 30-second voice-overs for both these stories, for the 5 o’clock segment of the show.

I swallow hard, glance at the clock (it’s already 2:30pm—two and a half hours to airtime.) I’m hungry, and my bladder is sending out worrying signals. But I’ll eat and piss later. There’s work to do.

I take a quick look at the last item on my agenda ( the third story.) No big deal. It’s a story that will be fed in from CHEK-TV in Victoria by 5:15pm for a quick turnaround into our 5:30 show. It’s labeled “Hot Dog”, about a police dog left in an SUV for three hours. One of the “shocking treatment of animals” stories. It sounds straightforward. I have a 17-minute window to make sure the story is in our computer, and to write the intro for it, and to insert the proper "super" information. No problem. (I can hear you laughing. Haha. Maybe you know what’s coming.)

The next two hours are a blur. I work my way furiously through seven voice-overs while the other writers, editors, producers and reporters enjoy lunch and toilet breaks. By 5 o’clock, I stretch, take a much-needed visit to the urinal and congratulate myself. I tell myself I’ve done pretty well for the new kid on the block. Just need to wrap up one more voice-over, then tackle the “Hot Dog” story, and my workday will be done. Another $230 in the bank, and I’d proven something to myself.

The lineup editor drops the Hot Dog script on my desk. I look at the clock. Holy Jesus, what happened to the time? It’s 5:15, and this story is slated for 5:36 in the lineup. This will be tight. I start to write the intro. There’s no time to scan the reporter’s script. Poor dog. Who would leave a mutt in an SUV, in sweltering heat, to die a cruel death? Given the short time frame, I write what I think is quite an evocative intro, a eulogy to 10-month-old German Shepherd who would not live to do the heroic police work he’d been trained for.

I type the 100 words into the computer, include the “super” information, and am delighted to see that there’s a minute to spare before anchor Tony Parsons has to introduce the Hot Dog story. Another deadline achieved. Then, he reads my words exactly as I have written them, throws to the reporter’s story . . . and my world freezes.

“The dog didn’t die,” somebody shouts over my shoulder.

“Yeah, he survived,” somebody else says.

“Who wrote he died?” It’s a Greek chorus of recrimination.

There’s a funny hollow sensation in my ear.

“I wrote that, it’s mine,” I say, raising my hand like a schoolboy caught passing notes.

“Somebody write a correction for Tony. NOW!!” I recognize the voice. It’s Wayne, the executive producer. He’s hovering just a few feet away. I look at him but he studiously avoids eye contact.

A minute later, Parsons, a consummate pro, veteran of a million newscasts, with a voice that can make even a mistake sound like music, intones on the air: “We apologize. The dog, of course, didn’t die.”

Then, (I think) the entire newsroom goes silent. For minutes I hear and feel nothing except a faint pressure in my ears. It’s the kind of dead silence I remember in Bosnia during the war years, just after a bomb exploded. Sucks the air and all noise out of the environment. Then the silence breaks when somebody shouts “Dog-killer” across the room. There is laughter. I laugh back. I recall the famous National Lampoon cover photo with the headline: “If You Don’t Buy This Magazine We’ll Kill This Dog.”

Half an hour later, leaving the newsroom, I wonder why we would carry a story on a newscast about a dog who DIDN’T die; who, in fact, was in pretty good shape when they opened the SUV door. I hate the damn dog for surviving. He will grow up and never know how he’s contributed to my humiliation.

The next morning, I’m fired. “You’ve broken a trust,” the executive producer (that’s Wayne) tells me after calling me into his office. He doesn’t even bother to shut the door. “How can the anchors ever trust anything you write after this?”

I blink. “It’s a damn dog, Wayne, for heaven’s sake. A mistake made in the heat of the moment, at the end of a crazy shift. I was called in late to fill in for somebody, thrown into a very hectic show . . . ”

“In any case,” he interrupts me, “we feel you’re not suited for this job. You’re too slow. There’s nothing wrong with your writing, but we need somebody who is fast and who can handle the technology. I’m sorry. In fact, we’d like you to leave right away. Invoice us for the day’s work.”

I have the feeling there’s some deep subtext here. I’m a 62-year-old hack with white hair, working among a bunch of kids. In fact, three of the people in the newsroom were my students when I taught broadcast at UBC. I’m doing this job because I need the money, and because it’s a connection to the profession I love. Nobody has the temerity to ask me what the hell I’m doing here. I’m the ancient mariner, taking up an entry-level space.

Hell, years ago I invited Wayne, the exec who’s just fired me, to talk to my class about local news. I was a visiting professor. He ran a local newscast that hardly anybody watched. Now, here I am, an anachronism near the end of his string, trying to defend a wretched piece of copy about a puppy.

We have a few more words, back and forth. He mostly keeps his head down; he clearly doesn’t like saying these things. I clearly don’t like hearing them. (Note: This is the first, only and last time anybody in this shop has criticized my work.) I’m particularly stung by the comment about breaching trust with the anchors. I’d rather hear it from them. Breathes there an anchor with a soul so dead who wouldn’t laugh off a silly mistake about a dog? But it’s not to be. My time here is up.

On the way out, I shake hands with Drew, the lineup editor, and say good-bye. “I hate to sound selfish,” he says, “but are they bringing somebody in to replace you today?” (Somewhere, in some parallel universe, I’m lying in a fetid trench, my legs blown off, shrapnel in my gut, and the platoon sergeant looks at me and barks: “Where the hell are the reserves?” In the distance, a German Shepherd is barking.)

So this is how it ends. But I’m told that everything in life, the comedy and tragedy alike, carries a lesson. In the wreckage of this fiasco, there must be something useful to extract.

I started this essay with the idea of writing a critique on the nonsense that passes for local TV news. But I can’t get away from that poor overheated dog. He overwhelms me. I don’t deny my culpability, but how did a highly-trained journalist with 42 years of experience both overseas and in Canada find himself in a newsroom, sweating bricks, writing about a dog that was left in a SUV for 3 hours? (There’s a lead for a producer who wants to pursue a good human-interest story about the job market in Canadian journalism.)

What management wizard put me in that chair, and assigned me that work, in a pressure-cooker deadline situation?

Would I have made my fatal mistake if, a) I hadn’t been called in on a short shift, b) I had taken an earlier toilet break, or c) I had had the time for lunch?

How is it that a news anchor, who’s job it is to read words from a teleprompter, and who is paid an enormous salary to do that and only that, was not given the time or the opportunity to read his copy before he went on air? One glance would have spotted the error. (I would understand reading raw unedited copy if we were talking about an earthquake, a hockey riot, or a serial killing, but a fluff piece about an undead dog! )

Animal stories are, along with murder, fires, sex, celebrities and weather, the staples of television “action news” fare, if you believe the style-over-substance gurus at Frank N. Magid Associates who have advised the CBC and other networks for decades. If the stories aren’t powerfully visual (i.e. the bulls at Pamplona, Anthony Weiner’s crotch, Lady Gaga’s meat dress, police car lights flashing over a corpse on a darkened street, etc.), they probably won’t make the local news. It’s got to sizzle to get into the 6 o’clock lineup. Media scholars call it the victory of "information mechanics" over journalism, entertainment trumping news.

That’s why, for example, during the Stanley Cup playoff series in Vancouver, a hugely-important story about the record-breaking debt load of Canadian families was pushed aside for drivel about how much people were paying for Roberto Luongo jerseys, and the adventures of the Green Men. The daily battle for ratings requires an embrace of the flashily trivial. These stories are known in the trade as “talkers”—the things people are discussing around the water cooler. Once, long long ago, it was TV news that set the agenda of public discourse; today local news is an income generator that sniffs the wind and follows the public appetite. It's called pandering. That’s why you see so many “news” stories about new iPhone apps, and the new KFC bunless chicken sandwich. (Yes, I wrote that voice-over too.) News directors get instant updates on how many people are watching; the Suits will tell you those rating numbers don’t dictate content. Trust me. They do.

And that creates a working culture that disrespects the talents and the professionalism of the many fine reporters, producers and writers who work in the newsroom that I was asked to leave. (To be honest, they rarely make bone-head mistakes like the one I made.)

Hunter S. Thompson said it better than I can: "The TV business is uglier than most things . . . a cruel and shallow money trench . . . where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs.”

That’s how the dog story came to land on my desk at 5:15 p.m. on that fateful day. Only one of us would survive the encounter. It wasn’t me.

POSTSCRIPT, July 28: Everything has consequences, of course, and so did my decision to post this blog. On the upside, the story was picked up by a B.C. magazine, and will be published in a somewhat shortened form soon. My experience was also highlighted in a column in the Vancouver Province newspaper, a column that took the CBC to task. On the downside, it may have cost me a full-time CBC radio job in another city. I was a leading candidate for a hosting position, but the manager crossed out my name because of my "unwillingness" to take responsibility for my dog story mistake (I thought I had, but never mind) and for supposedly unkind things I said about Wayne. The fact that I'd criticized CBC local news was "not" an issue, I was told.

For more on this story, here's an essay on OpenFile Vancouver.

88 comments:

ACote said...

Wow, what a story! And what a way to tell a story!
Please, somebody, hire this reporter. Send him anywhere and everywhere to write interesting stories about unusual topics. Have you read his blog and his other texts? What are you waiting for?

George Wolff said...

Beautifully written Claude...of course I agree and sympathize

Justin Smallbridge said...

"What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken in if he has a long, red, pointy tail. No. I'm semi-serious here. He will look attractive and he will be nice and helpful and he will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation and he will never do an evil thing...he will just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important. Just coax along flash over substance...Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen."
--Aaron Altman, "Broadcast News"

Sage, succint, sickening and completely right, sadly, Mr. Adams. Well done.

Amanda LeRougetel said...

Wow. Really sorry to hear this news, Claude. But what a great read your story is. Your skills deserve a place in journalism. But I confess your story is exactly why I don't watch TV news anymore. It's more show than news. And it's a shallow show at that. Hang in there.

Anonymous said...

Wow. I'm surprised that the reporter doesn't have to write their own intro -- and I'm equally surprised that NOBODY bothered to vet your script.
That's just sad and pathetic. Truly.
I have never seen that in any newsroom I've worked in, but I've only been doing this job for 15 years -- in Vancouver, New York, and Montreal.

julie said...

Thank you for this. Yet another story to file under "truth is stranger than fiction."

Scott in Montreal said...
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Anonymous said...

Sad story to hear, I hope you get through it well, you write terribly well...
Broadcast news was a great movie depicting our world (I work in a local newsroom also)... but local news now, is so much more inferno than what we saw in that movie.... you should get into screenwriting maybe, ... broadcast news 2?

barry said...

hey claude, you mentioned writers, producers, anchors etc.. in your blog about local tv news. then you go and mention images that must "sizzle" to make the 6pm newscast.
what about the shooters that get those "sizzling" pictures? i'm just wondering what your relationship was like with cameramen over the years. likely a frosty one if you write that much about the business and never bother to mention the work that they put in. and the last time i checked....which has been everyday for the last 12 yrs..."EDITORS" cut stories,vo's and SOT's.....not ppl in your position (or the one you were let go from).

Claude Adams said...
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hornblower said...
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"Simplifried" said...

gawd, I must be utterly without a social conscious, but I care more about a 60+ experienced writer and his ability to earn a living than I do about a dog that got overheated.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Thank you for writing this-- it's spot on. I could give you a laundry list of reasons why I left the industry-- but the biggest is because I was tired of being undervalued.

We are told right from journalism school to expect it-- and in some of the reactions I've read to the Kai Nagata essay on the industry-- it's apparently our own fault if we didn't "get it."

Here's a thought: maybe it doesn't need to be that way. Maybe employers could offer bathroom breaks and a bit more respect. Imagine that.

French news said...
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Tony Martinson said...
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French news said...

I would also add that, if you're an animal rights activist and that's the reason why you find this story so important, then you should be able, as a journalist, to take some distance and don't let your own views change the way it should be, objectively, perceived.

I have very strong political views myself to. But I see it as a daily duty to take some distance and don't let that influence the news that I write and the line-ups that I edit.

We can find hundreds, if not thousands news every day that have more consequences than a dog getting a little heat. Think about all the news that could have been in the line-up instead of that non-event. What exactly has been sacrified that particular day?

hornblower said...

@ French news - I'm not a journo. I'm only here because I'm a poli sci grad & follow lots of journos on twitter :-)

I also haven't watched tv in >15 years. I agree that there are many important stories that are not being told because of twaddle about Kate or some stupid game where people try to hit a black thingy around the ice.

But. Was this news?
http://www.vancouversun.com/Baby+left+Kelowna+parking/5048299/story.html

Darned baby didn't die. Would Tony have been more mad or less mad about a mistake there?

Yes, this is a dog & not a baby and I'm not so far gone to put them on par, but it's a life and pets are very important parts of many people's lives.

Are consumer reports, warning, advisories & recalls news? Some people don't realize how dangerous a certain behaviour/product is, and there's a news story about it. I think that has value to the public.

I am delighted to join in the calls for intelligent, concerned, responsible journalism. The reason I tune out so many mainstream sources is that they are either twaddle, or cut & paste press releases.

But leave my endangering dogs stories alone :-)

Anonymous said...

Awful newscast - poorly managed newsroom. That TV newscast has never been able to attract an audience. You are too talented to be a 'casual' writer on that hideous show. I hope someone takes advantage of your considerable talents. CBC Vancouver doesn't deserve you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, good for you for sharing this. I left TV news many years ago when investigative reporting started making way for the sizzle. Sad when TV news reports just became the visuals for the daily newspaper stories. There was a time when stories were well researched and written and reporters were valued for their experience. Unfortunately you were the skapegoat here for a flawed system. So many organizations across every sector squeeze so much out of their people so the fat cat's can get fatter. It's nuts! How do these people maintain that pace?

Greg in Edmonton said...

I'm sorry....I read this and see an experienced reporter who couldn't keep up anymore and made a simple mistake. I think maybe you need to come to the realization you may no longer be cut out for this....blame technology...blame the stress...blame the lack of lunch...but maybe blame yourself a little bit. Do any of the other writers there make those mistakes and are crushed by deadline? Dog story or not...that was your job...it's what you signed up for and looking for an excuse doesn't make me feel your pain, makes me lean toward the bosses making the right call.

dave m. said...

clearly you were made a scapegoat, and shouldn't have been fired. that said, small mistake in your post -- Hunter S Thompson was referring to the music business, not the TV business, in that famous "shallow trench" quote.

Anonymous said...

My GAWD -- I can't believe they fired you over that. In this day and age of "doing more with less" something has got to give -- and it did. Newsrooms don't have the staff they used to, and yet we are expected to still cover the amount of stories we used to, at the same level of quality we used to, and -- oh yes -- Twitter, Facebook, and Social network the crap out of our stories as well. I like that you own your mistake, and even have a sense of humour about it. But journalism used to be an art. Sadly it has become a factory-styled churn-em-out industry. The fact fact a 4 decade-plus dedicated veteran of the craft was fired because he was forced to rush yet another story and made a mistake makes me want to scream. I can tell you in our small shop leads are written by the reporter who handled the story. And the anchor pre-reads and re-writes them to his liking. And yes, he also pulls footage and edits if necessary. We all do. And if something goes wrong, we all wear it. We are all links in that chain. I wish you well. Something tells me a gifted, insightful writer like yourself won't languish too long on the bench.

Leviathan Jones said...

I feel badly about what happened to Claude; it could be me in a few years..
but i remember TV news even 30-35 yrs ago - and it was ponderous and flatulent and self-important. To see old newscasts today, I'm surprised at how hackneyed and banal it was! It's not better or worse than today.. just differently packaged and presented. And more of it. Thanks for the opportunity to post.

Anonymous said...

This is a major bummer and I don't really care what anyone else says but it's NOT worth getting fired over. But I'm not surprised...it's the CBC after all....nuff said. Hopefully you can find some work with a REAL station

Judi Tyabji said...

Having worked in the media in news and commentary, I can certainly sympathize with the deadlines, pressure, and amazing performance by staff given that 99% of the time there are no mistakes.

What bothers me MOST about this article though is that as an experienced person qualified to TEACH journalism you, at 62, need the $300 or so from the casual work. How did we end up in a society that undervalues experience and the 'eminence gris'? Surely like a fine wine, your currency goes up and you can find a place where your knowledge is valued?

I know we live in sensationalist times, but we have to find a way to ensure that those who are older are actually recognized as wiser.

Antonia Z said...

Hi Claude,

I am sorry to read this. It seems newsrooms everywhere are expecting more from fewer people, and spending precious resources on trivia. (That said, I get outraged when people leave their dogs and kids in hot cars.) I swore off TV News last week after that disgusting Will & Kate-arama. I hope you recover from this.

Best
Antonia

veryethnic said...

Thanks for the glimpse into your former newsroom. For what it's worth, I just spent more than an hour enjoying your excellent blog. Can't remember the last time I watched more than a couple minutes of a local TV newscast. (I stopped wearing my CBC t-shirt when they hired Tony Parsons.)

Ethan F said...

Thank you, Claude, for writing something so thoughtful about our business. I was one of your other guests in that UBC class you mentioned, and I was inspired by the way you tried to instill some high standards for the next generation.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's intense. It kind of validates the feeling I got in my brief dalliance with journalism in university, that this is a field best avoided until new technologies and their influences were better understood.

It's a shame, the twitter-ization of the broadcast media. It's neat that information about viewership and audience reaction can be as quick and abundant as it is in the internet era, but I still fundamentally believe that wide audience, polished and professional broadcast media should maintain its self-respect as the historical record of note. Someday in the future, someone is going to want to know why their world is the way it is and all they will be able to find are stories about sad dogs and penises. Maybe that will tell them all they need to know, come to think of it.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just left a comment and I'm leaving this one separately to let you know that you have an incorrect instance of "who's" in the 39th 'graph ("How is it that a news anchor, who’s job it is..."). I know, I know, everyone's a friggin' editor.

For what it's worth I think you have written an excellent, well-paced and compelling story here and I wish you luck in your future writing endeavors. Feel free to delete this comment.

Anonymous said...

Claude, you wrote a brilliant piece that addresses the elephant in the room-the quality of broadcast journalism is falling like a rock and no one gives a crap. Technology promising to get items to air faster and sharing content is only contributing to the collapse of what was once a craft.

Especially in this context, its important to make a key point: a factual error went to air and it was corrected on air-big frickin' deal. CBC Vancouver sees this as a reason to not hire you? What a joke. Like that's going to improve their pathetic ratings? You know what will improve their ratings? Some decent reporting, quality writing, production and promotion. As long as they maintain that "crank it out" attitude they will remain the West Coast's news loser.

But what is most troublesome is it appears no one at CBC Vancouver bothered to analyze what happened and how it can be prevented from happening again.

By the way, back in the day at CTV News they had writers, tape editors and talented tape producers craft every single voice over. The mantra then was, it may only be 15 seconds but it had to be the best 15 seconds. Every shot, every word had to be perfect; tell a clear story with the very best visuals perfectly in sync with Lloyd's live vo. If you dared "wallpaper" you were in big trouble.

Howard in Lagoon City said...

From the comments I've read, the theme is a consistent "damn the fluff, give us some news".
Great storytelling, Claude, but a crappy outcome.

Jeffrey Dvorkin said...

Claude - this is the same mentality (writ smaller but just as toxic) as created the crisis now crashing over the British media. There's not a lot of difference (other than ratings and circulation) between NOTW and local CBC TV news. The nonsense spewed by Murdoch and Magid come from the same place. You and your work still matter. The supper hour show does not.

Anonymous said...

Bladder vs. accurate news show. You'd be suprised how often it comes down to that. I laughed at the 2 news writers plus a lineup producer. I worked for the CBC too and was the ONE writer and lineup producer rolled into one. It was nuts. Magid is the stupidest thing to ever happen to news. They are single-handedly killing local news in Canada.

Anonymous said...

Everyone I know at CBC and Global TV tells me Tony Parsons NEVER rehearses, never writes his own stuff and doesn't ever bother to scan it before being the "news reader" that he is. You're right, mistakes happen - someone else should be giving it a quick proof read. - how abut the anchor...

That dog story by the way was the talk of many water coolers. Not just because a dog was left in the car but because it was an RCMP dog and as usual, instead of telling the truth they had to lie about the circumstances of the dog being there in a hot car, that's what everyone I know was talking about.

Sanjay said...

Claude - that story definitely was eye opening - and I'm sorry that you were fired.

Thank you once again for educating us about parts of this world we live in.

But with your experience, I'm sure there will be other places who will revere and gladly publish any future work you do for them.

Kate said...

Hi Claude,
Thank you for your story, well told.
Kate

Johnny LaRĂ¼de said...

I'd expect no less from any of the corporate mainstream-media outlets (MSM) in Canada. But, coming from the CBC, this is a real concern. The Mother Corp. has been bathing in a sea of public-broadcasting credibility for so long, at least in comparison to the MSM, that it appears CBC's shiny veneer is now peeling to the point of exposing the very corporate MSM-management traits it used to eschew. There was a time when senior newsroom managers stood by their staff -- even when the dog didin't effing die. Those days, even at Mother Corp., are now long past. Second-guessing, dimestore psychology and paranoia is the newsroom currency now, not solid news-gathering. I may have to change my home page.

Andy Jukes said...

The dog is female.

But I feel your pain, man.

Anonymous said...

Really? I am in the business. What you were asked to do was very little in the time you were given. You have to work fast in this industry and be right. No excuses. I am sorry but you failed and I would have fired you too.

Anonymous said...

Really? I am in the business. What you were asked to do was very little in the time you were given. You have to work fast in this industry and be right. No excuses. I am sorry but you failed and I would have fired you too.

Anonymous said...

Claude,

It's apparent from this blog you're a very talented writer. Kudos to you for the great read and all the best.
Btw, the KFC double down story wasn't the highlight of my career either.

Tim

Tony said...

I never blog, but this story... experience, needs at least some comment (however short). In the few times we have met, or talked, I have found that you strive to find the story within the story. There is a story here but don't let it end in the one of being fired. That's their story, it doesn't have to be yours.

Stef said...

I admit it was the silly title to this article that made me click. But I have to say once I started reading the article I was hooked. You are a great writer, and it's unfortunate what happened. Just don't let it turn you into Harrison Ford in Morning Glory ;)

Stef said...

I admit it was the silly title to this article that made me click. But I have to say once I started reading the article I was hooked. You are a great writer, and it's unfortunate what happened. Just don't let it turn you into Harrison Ford in Morning Glory ;)

Anonymous said...

While I agree with much of what you wrote, there was one particular line I found to be disingenuous.

"I work my way furiously through seven voice-overs while the other writers, editors, producers and reporters enjoy lunch and toilet breaks."

You are the only one? Clearly you have never spoken or paid attention to how those other people are working.

Bathroom breaks... I am lucky to get one in every other day.

And time to eat? A really good day is when I can shove a crumb or to in my mouth while working at the same time at my desk. But that is generally only a once a month luxury.

GREENSPY said...

Good story Claude.

Its never usually one thing that terminates a part-time job. Having said that, like radio, tv is a fast-paced,high energy job, best suited for a younger generation.

We all need the money and love the business.Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding heartless - and I will:

You committed the sort of error that would a) lead a j-school professor to give a failing grade on an assignment; b) get any employee on probation released without notice; c) make any experienced, seasoned journo wince.

An important point: if you're engaged on a casual basis, that means that you're called in when and if you're needed. You don't owe the company anything, and they don't owe you a thing either. You can't get fired from a job you don't have. Your employer has decided, rightly or wrongly, that it's time to "see other people". I expect you'll find that things will be forgotten in time.

It's the sort of thing we all have nightmares about. Many (if not all) have had something similar happen to us. You have to wear it. All the context of having to wear multiple hats, ridiculously tight deadlines etc. is all true - but still, more correct information gets on the air than incorrect information.

There are definitely changes that need to be made at the CBC and elsewhere, in terms of getting back to what news really is and should be about. There also needs to be a serious review of what is being expected of people in news operations - and by that I mean not only reporters in the field, but producers, writers, hosts, shooters, editors, EVERYONE.

Laurie Few said...

Ah... the magical, wonderful writing of Claude Adams... if only a tenth of the rest of us in the journalism world had his talent and heart.

Laurie

Howard Bernstein said...

I had the pleasure of working with Claude when he was reporter in Toronto. I have followed his distinguished career over the decades since. It is a sad commentary on our profession when an extremely talented writer and journalist is having trouble finding work while so many mediocre people find themselves in positions of power.

mahigan said...

Capitalism is just wonderful isn't it!

Patti Larsen said...

This is why I left journalism. Fiction is easier. And less of a slap in the face.

May I say, good job for all your years of hard work and dedicated service and f*$k you CBC.

BritaWater said...

That was a great piece of writing- thank you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

My kingdom (if I had one) for journalists who are just that, not pretty faces on the TV screen.
I guess it is a reflection of my age that I yearn for the days when news was NEWS & not some "suits" bottom- line interpretation of what people want to hear. Your story is great but the circumstances leading to it are dreadful.

Hotson Hayes said...

This was a little eye opening. I had no idea the "writer" on a news show had to do so much! And in such a short amount of time (and that day you had even less). If they can't appreciate what you have done in the past and your experience then they are losing out. Of course you are losing out as well with the loss of the work/money. I'm disappointed in the CBC. Also, do they really believe that the viewers cared THAT much about a mistake like that? After all it was corrected moments later. Their fault for not having a system that allows for some sort of editing before a story actually goes on air. How frustrating for you. Dam dogs.

Anonymous said...

I remember commenting at the time: "The dog was fine , there is no story". There were a million more impoortant things to write about that day I'm sure, but they never get aired on mainstream news. You could fill a few news shows on the treatment of BC Hydro by the BC Government alone, but nary a word.
My sympathies Claude, I rarely watch TV any more, it is one thing I can do in an effort to maintain my sanity.

Bob W said...

I remember that green men 'story', and I remarked to my wife, "This is news?" and switched the channel to CNN. I constantly ask myself what they are doing with news.
This questioning started for me in 1980, when Mount St. Helens, blew up. I was watching US coverage of the event, but it was also a CBC Canadian channel. CBC stopped it in the middle of the eruption and went to their own stories, saying they'd have a wrap up at 11. What could have been a life threatening event for millions was okay to shift to 11PM.
News coverage today is disheartening and disgusting.
Gook luck on continuing your work.

Dave Spragge said...

Well, you're obviously too good a writer to continue wasting your talents at the CBC, although I sympathize with your need to make a living. The good news is, you're also too good a writer to stay unemployed for long. Somebody out there needs you...the Tyee, perhaps?

Unknown said...

I'm sorry you lost your job. Workers have very little value to the employer anymore, this is something that we have to change. But as they say... when one door closes another opens, you will do better than you were at the CBC. Working under those conditions is not worth it.

You probably already read about Kai Nagata quitting CTV, but just in case you missed it here is the link: http://kainagata.com/2011/07/08/why-i-quit-my-job/ You and he should get together and start your own media company that tells the important news instead of Lady Gaga, royal fluff and live dogs.

HBird said...

Heartless bastards.....

No6655321 said...

As a TD in broadcast television, I too am put in similar pressure situations...

I can only hope that I'm not put into a similar situation (you know how bad a TD can mess up a show, I'm sure) that will lead to the end of working for a station...

A very knee-jerk industry it is. Very much so.

no one said...

Anyone who thinks this story isn't about ageism is kidding themselves ... most likely because they're not there yet and can still get away with kidding themselves. It's kind of like the parable of the guy who stands by doing nothing as the government comes to take all his neighbours, one at a time, until at last they come for him and no one is left to do anything. If people of a younger generation don't see the ageism and stand up against it, there won't be anyone standing up for them when it's their turn. And that turn comes for all of us who live long enough for what goes around to come around.

Chris said...

As a viewer, I've been wondering for years why TV "news" tells me nothing -- nothing! -- I give a damn about. Thanks for shining a bit of light on why that is.

I've already come to the conclusion that TV is a dead medium. Sadly, I get all of my news from the Internet, where, if I look around hard enough, I can at least find some actual news.

killick said...

Good story, well told, Claude. But surely you have known for some time now, that broadcast news (not just TV) is no longer (for the most part) news. Infotainment. And not much info at that. I don't watch TV news anymore...and listen less and less to radio news. After 25+ years, I left the biz in 1999... and I haven't missed it. There is life after journalism.

Anonymous said...

Hate to go against the flow, but your yarn is not a classic bit of writing. It is moderately interesting. As is much pathos. Sorry you have lost a gig. But to spin the CBC dropping you into a treatise on all that is wrong with 21st century television journalism, is a bit of a stretch. I wonder what the people who used to work with you think. Anyway, good luck.

Anonymous said...

Very sorry to hear about your departure under these circumstances Claude. I guess Wayne completely forgot about CBC's "Respect in the Workplace" policy. My guess is you'll bounce back with a much better job with employers who appreciate your talent.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Claude. Much as we need to cry about the woeful state of local AND national broadcast news globally... It's one hell of a lot healthier to laugh!Thanks for enabling me to do so! Ned Colt

Anonymous said...

Canadian broadcast news is drivel. Quickly dumbing-down to an American level. You're well clear of it, Claude.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry to hear about this too.
In fact it brings to mind my experience with the CBC.
And my experience left me feeling cold in the knowledge that no one has your back there.
And perhaps, some people even take pleasure in seeing you do poorly.
Management certainly doesn't consider themselves in anyway responsible for the failure of their employees.
You're on your own there.
And yes, unless you insist on training or feedback they will throw you to the proverbial wolves every time they are given the chance.

Anonymous said...

"Death is the seed from which I grow" - W. Burroughs

Excellent read Claude. Thanks

Moira Dunphy said...

My sympathies, Mr. Adams. I despair at the story, as well as the evident hostility towards the CBC. Brian Mulroney is a patient farmer. He planted the seeds of disrespect and suspicion of the national broadcaster, then regularly fed it a diet of a thousand cuts. He (and others both alongside and after him) must be pleased to see the tree bearing fruit. Despite its many faults, I look with pity on CBC, and continue to hope for the best.

Claude Adams said...

Jon Ferry's July 15 column in The Province.

Hulking Heritage Minister James Moore, Tory MP for Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam, has warned the CBC to prepare for a budget cut of at least five per cent, saying it's silly to think it can't make the necessary "efficiencies."

However, I think the $1.1-billion-a-year national broadcaster has to do more than simply become increasingly "efficient."

It should tackle things in a whole new way, at least when it comes to local TV news.

Indeed, the recent dismissal of my longtime buddy Claude Adams from a badly needed, on-call job at CBC TV in Vancouver has bolstered my belief that The Corpse, as it's been unkindly called, should get out of the regular ratings race altogether.

The CBC shouldn't be using taxpayer dollars to compete with other Lower Mainland TV outfits, covering crashing cops and overheating canines. It should leave that to private stations such as Global TV and CTV which, judging by the numbers I've seen, do it more efficiently.

No, it should become a far different animal, focusing instead on questioning, "quality" journalism. It's where the doggedly earnest CBC is more comfortable anyway.

Overheating canines? Yes, as Adams recounts with biting wit on his blog (claudeadams.blogspot.com), it was a story about one particular young canine that got him turfed last week from CBC's supper-hour news show after eight months as a "casual" worker.

Under intense deadline pressure, he was tasked to write an intro to a Vancouver Island story about a police dog reportedly locked in a sweltering SUV while its RCMP handler went fishing. Adams assumed the dog was dead, which was what veteran anchor Tony Parsons faithfully read on air.

The problem was the dog, a 10-month-old German shepherd, survived. Which was good for the dog and even for Parsons, who calmly delivered an on-air correction.

But it was bad for the 62-year-old Adams, a former University of B.C. broadcast journalism instructor. And the next day, he was called into executive producer Wayne Williams' office and given his marching orders.

Williams told me Thursday he couldn't get into personnel issues, but pointed out that "accuracy is a cornerstone of what we do."

So what has all this to do with the CBC's overall role in local broadcast journalism? Well, as Adams points out, animal stories are, along with murder, fires, celebrities and weather, the staples of TV "action news" fare. And the daily battle for ratings requires "an embrace of the flashily trivial."

His view, and mine, is that the CBC doesn't have to be part of this dog's breakfast. It can break from the pack and set its own distinct agenda.

Not everyone thinks it should. Former BCTV News boss Cameron Bell, who agrees with Williams that the dog story at issue was far from "trivial," says he wants the CBC to continue duking it out with the other broadcasters: "I think the market needs as much competition as is humanly possible."

I like competition, too. But it's pointless to flog a dead horse. And The Corpse badly needs a valid reason to justify the money we're throwing at it.

It also needs seasoned news pros like Adams — and to understand they're human, too.

Mike said...

I had the pleasure of working alongside Claude in London, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. He is a fine journalist. That it should come to this, Claude, is reprehensible and yet another sad commentary on TV news. You deserve so much better and so do the viewers. I confess that I am glad I got out of it when I did as I certainly wouldn't want to have to play in today's infortainment circus.

Anonymous said...

CBC has a team of writers? The station I work at has one part writer for an entire 2 hour news show. Reporters write their own intros and two show producers write as well.

Aaron Goodman said...

Good thing you're outta there...
Any good doc stories on your horizon?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I think I will start following your blog after reading this story!

Anonymous said...

Wow. This has made me seriously consider my own career. The other day, I heard a man say "I've been a casual at CBC for 20 years"...if that's not shocking enough, but at a union ta boot. Claude, I agree with many of the other commentators here - your writing without a doubt surpasses what sounds like a highly defective and disorganized newsroom, not too mention seriously understaffed..Id say you should be doing your own journalism and getting paid a high wage. It breaks my heart and makes the future look a loss less bright when I see and hear of so many fellow journalists experiencing this type of treatment..the stories from Britain, that Kai shared and that Ive been hearing of our very own CBC post-Stursberg. And for people that are on here saying this *is* a type of mistake that deserves termination, that's idiotic. Anyone who has worked in a newsroom is familiar with vetting, and the host should at the very least give a quick read over. If they put that much stock into one "casual" writer then I think that writer should have been given a more higher up position. And again, Claude, your writing is brilliant. As I was reading I was thinking, this guy better be older then me, or I'll feel like a total hack. Just excellent writing that far surpasses my and many other writer's level.

Toronto Burby League said...

you're obviously a talented story-teller, it's too bad you were pushed out for that one mishap. You should be working on a book anyways. best of luck.

mike said...

You're obviously a talented story-teller. It's too bad you were pushed out for that mishap. I think you should be working on a book anyways. best of luck.

"The Book of Don" said...

17 minutes to script check, write an intro, and file supers ? Luxury. Luxury, I say. Why when I was in local news we had to get up in the morning in the freezing cold and write intros BEFORE the story was assigned. And we had to write on a bloody typewriter. Luxury, I say.

Anonymous said...

Don, you had it easy. When I started in local news, we didn't "get up" because we never slept, and we had to write the intros before the story even HAPPENED, and we didn't have typewriters, but we had to chip out the words with a hammer and chisel and if we made a mistake we were beaten with a curtain rod.

dr. lattice said...

This is so emblematic of what is wrong with CBC-TV news and in fact almost all television news these days. Magid has created a dumbing down of the medium to the extent that it is now no longer of much value to the community. I can rarely stand to watch TV news anymore. When I do, I record it, zip past all the animal stories and photo shoots of the runs for cancer and other unimportant 'reporting'. Usually, watching a TV newscast takes 5-10 minutes.

I also worked in broadcasting on the radio side. I don't get called back, even though at one time I was one of the foremost trainers used through the 80s and 90s.

I would say, Claude, that you are best no longer associated with the confederacy of dunces that runs that TV operation.

Anonymous said...

Whilst in the print Journalism program, I completed a practicum over a couple of weeks at a television newsroom. Exposure to the tough characters for this length of time was enough for me to know I would never to go this direction. Tony was an anchor there at that time.

Brian said...

I have been a CBC employee for many years now and found your story to be a very accurate "snapshot" of a day in the Vancouver newsroom. You asked a couple of whys? in your story. Well, you are not alone. Most of the staff there have a mortgage to pay so will also ask these same questions, but away from the CBC walls with ears. This whole event is probably God's way of steering you into a job that you deserve. CBC news will not miss you because they don't operate on quality, they operate on quantity.

RLucy said...

Easy Ed Whalen gave me a summer job in Calgary, just before heading to Carleton Journalish. We shot 16mm, and I did one story a day. The whole thing. Research, write, edit, voice.. etc. Ed said "You've got one chance. Do it right." Technology's great... I love editing now, on my time. But younger Execs think 'N' stories can be done with the same polish...'because technology will allow you'. Nope. And you got caught in this surface-to-air, rapid fire ka-ka machine. By the time you read this, I hope the silver lining to this travail has started to appear.

Resilientmichael@gmail.com said...

Very nicely said. To be fired over misinformation about a dog story? Very sad. Speaks volumes of management's inability to take responsibility to have staffing levels at the levels required to ensure the staff/talent have breathing room to get it right.

Frank Mc said...

Claude, you were simply forced by the system to violate the first law of news...get it first...but first get it right.
Sorry they fired you. However from what I know of the CBC, I am not surprised.