It has been over a week since Richard Stursbeg was shoved off the gang plank at CBC. There is still no reason given or available as to why the man who ran the corporation for six years was so unceremoniously dumped. If you read the letters to the staff from Kirstine Stewart, the interim new boss, and Hubert Lacroix, the President of the CBC you get the idea that everything was just fine. Management loved the new direction the CBC was taking. ‘Hubie’ and ‘Kit’ are over the moon over the big ratings increase. Nothing is going to change they shout in unison. Just to make matters really surreal, news honcho Jennifer McGuire sends out a missive extolling the benefits of the changes brought in at CBC news and sends hero-grams out to the folks who covered a few of the stories that CBC news actually got to including sending hosts to the Vancouver Olympics and the Gulf of Mexico oil spill; in the past the coverage would have been a given, now it demands extra notice.
I have a question for Hubert Lacroix, Kirstine Stewart and Jennifer McGuire. If everything at the ‘corpse’ is so hunky-dory, why did the leader who brought us all this success have to spend the last week and a bit removing the knives from back? Stursberg was the unquestioned leader and catalyst in the changes that you all claim were so successful, so why dump the genius before he has finished the job?
The truth is there is an awful lot of “bull” being spread since the manure hit the fan. Guys like John Doyle who got most of it right from the get-go was way off the mark with his characterization of Stursberg as a strong leader the CBC needed and the whining troops were always destined to resent. Stursberg was not a strong leader he was a tyrant and a bully. The CBC needed change, it like any large organization always does. But change cannot be accomplished without the help of the staff. You are talking about 5500 union workers and maybe a thousand more managers. If you ignore them or push them around they will rebel and make your job a lot tougher. Good leaders have the ability to convince the people they lead that they have a plan that will work. They get the majority on side and the workers not only help make the changes happen, they come up with a few ideas for change of their own. When they feel like things are being shoved down their throats they fight back. If John Doyle was right many of the people who were the winners in the Stursberg shuffles would be coming to his defense. So far, I have heard nothing but joy coming from inside the CBC since Stursberg was fired. The folks who worked under him knew him and they didn’t like what they saw.
Then there’s all the spin about the ratings. What a hero Stursberg was because he raised the ratings. How only the CBC would get rid of such a successful boss. What a load. The rating of CBC went up for two reasons: the new people meters added 30 to 40% viewership across the board. CTV and Global saw their numbers jump even higher than CBC did. The second reason: reality programs and American quiz shows. In fact most of Stursberg’s “successes” get poor ratings. Little Mosque on the Prairie is typical. It got a huge starting audience of well over a million viewers. We never hear the end of those numbers. How come we seldom hear about the loss of over half of that audience? In fact of the new shows that came in under Stursberg’s reign, only Dragon’s Den and Battle of the Blades are genuine CBC hits. The dramas and the comedies, whether you like them or you hate them, are getting about the same numbers that the CBC got for dramas and comedies before Stursberg.
Interesting, the purveyors of the great ratings argument come from the right wing press. David Akin who is one of the people behind the new Fox-like news coming to Canada, and the Ottawa Citizen, part of the National Post chain who distinguished themselves by criticizing every CBC move during Stursberg’s tenure are among the leaders of the woe is CBC for dumping Stursberg cabal. Folks, these are the people who want to kill the CBC. These are the people who want the CBC sold off. These are the people who say the CBC is a communist plot against right-thinking Canadians. Yeah, let’s buy into their spin.
I don’t know what’s going to happen at the CBC in the coming months and years but I do know this: if things were really meant to stay the same, Stursberg would not be gone. There are changes coming, no matter what Hubie and Kirstine say. When a new permanent V.P. is chosen we will get a hint of the direction those changes will take. I will bet real money that the news will be the first place that returns to sanity. I believe there will be room for the odd serious drama to take its place among the fluff. I’m not holding my breath but I would like to see the arts make a re-appearance on the network. There’s no guarantee we will like the direction the new boss has in mind any better than we liked what Stursberg did but if the CBC is going to survive it will have to not only get new viewers but it will have to win back and retain the loyal audience that supported the network before the changes wrought by Stursberg and his gang. That’s how successful enterprises remain successful, they appeal to new consumers while keeping their loyal customers happy. Stursberg threw out the baby with the bathwater. He pissed off the typical CBC type while attracting too few new acolytes.