Last week I received an anonymous email purportedly from CBC News staff that was sent to CBC President Hubert Lacroix. It took a few days to determine that this letter in fact came from inside the CBC and further that it was truly meant to go to Mr. Lacroix. I don’t know if he actually received the letter but I do know it really did come from CBC News staffers.
It is a terrible indictment of where CBC News is at today. Low morale, poor leadership, and a general malaise have overtaken the place. Perhaps this is part of the reason it has taken so long to launch the new CBC National News.
Here’s the letter:
Dear Mr. President,
A concerned group of staff are writing to inform you that CBC English Radio and Television are in a state of crisis and desperately require intervention.
Our current managerial structure seems to have been inspired by the mythical hydra whose many heads frequently consumed one another. Former executive vice president Harold Redekopp’s notorious “pylons” have now been replaced by “the Stursberg Labyrinth,” where daily management decisions have to be run up multiple reporting lines. While it was certainly a challenge to work efficiently and effectively in the previous management structure, the current system is an unmitigated disaster where everyone is forced to serve not two but ten masters.
Mr. Stursberg’s leadership choices have also strongly impacted daily News operations. When John Crookshank, the best thing to happen to CBC News in a decade, suddenly resigned a scant few months into his tenure, Jennifer McGuire was made head of News despite the availability of candidates with superior news-gathering credentials. That decision continues to have repercussions.
In a similar vein, Jill Troyer was made Director of Regional Programming, where she has utterly failed to gain the trust or confidence of those she was intended to represent. Ms Troyer is directly implicated in the sudden departure of Mike Linder from the CBC this week. We understand that Mr. Linder was an award winning journalist in his own right. He was, by all accounts, one of the most creative, charismatic, effective and popular managers in the entire English service. The Edmonton News show he re-built from the ground up is now universally regarded as one of the best in the country. While the specific reason for Mr. Linder’s departure is not known, we’ve learned that CBC Edmonton staff were so outraged they nearly rioted when the announcement was made, and would likely have “stormed the Bastille” if their jobs were not at risk. With his outstanding journalistic and managerial track-record, Mr. Linder will no doubt be scooped by the competition and CBC News will be exponentially poorer for his loss.
Even more disturbing than the above is the fact that Mr. Stursberg was overheard by CBC employees making highly disparaging remarks about you and your attempt to build strong, collaborative bonds between CBC management and the unions. We would like to state for the record that we greatly admire you collaborative management style, in particular, your willingness to listen openly and fairly to concerns staff have raised. Genuine honour and integrity are not qualities commonly associated with CBC’s senior management and your unique approach is deeply appreciated. We think it is very unfortunate that some who claim to represent you do not also share your ethical code.
Sadly, these are ugly times and we recognize that were the authors of this letter ever to be identified, our careers, incomes and pensions would all be jeopardized. As such, we regret to inform you that this email account will be deactivated as soon as this letter has been sent.
Mr. President, morale at every conceivable level of CBC English Services is at an all time low. As such, it has become necessary to publicly declare that “Rome is officially burning.” What is desperately needed now are more fire fighters and less fiddlers throughout CBC’s management system.
Yours in dismay,
Concerned CBC staff
Okay, it’s not the best written letter and it does get a bit childish when it points a finger at Mr. Stursberg’s alleged disagreement with the President’s direction. But the letter is a symptom of a very diseased operation.
A lack of money because of budget cuts, the remaining fallout from the lockout a few years back, the changes in leadership and the quality of the new people in charge, the project to renew the news and the subsequent changes, all these things have been piled on a beleaguered news staff. Any one of these things could hurt an organization, together they are deadly.
Where is CBC News at today? The latest fallout starts with the new direction of the news that practically bans all news documentaries. This was the one thing CBC News did that differentiated it from CTV and Global. On many nights it was the most interesting part of what has become a pedestrian newscast. From where I sit, it is a huge mistake.
Then came the reassignment of the staff that produced the documentaries. Some very talented people are cooling their heels in places they do not fit or would rather not be. Some have been pushed out of the Corp completely. Most of the people I speak to at CBC News claim they still do not know what is expected of them. The new National is supposed to start next week! Worse, when they speak to their bosses they are told they too do not know what is expected. Mixed signals abound. How long can a story be? Where will it run? Who do we pitch to? Staffers with 20 and 30 years experience don’t know where to turn.
At the same time some of CBC’s best on air talent has been banished to radio, Newsworld and retirement. The CBC News was weak on air before the changes, now they are close to laughable.
Finally, from what I have seen of the “new” direction so far, because in reality the news has already changed, only the new set, opening and music are still to be introduced, the content that has replaced the documentaries feels like filler. Non stories are being padded up to 3 or 4 minutes to fill the last 20 minutes of the program. In one such item I saw a group of kids, all of whom looked under 20, interviewed on the street and asked about what they will do to prepare for swine flu. Interestingly the script talked about those who remember the 1976 swine flu outbreak. These people were not even born in 1976. This is poor judgment, bad supervision and inexcusable journalism at the highest level of broadcast news in Canada.
The National, like any newscast succeeds or fails based on the people who do the work, their morale, their talent and their understanding of their jobs. It is a given that morale is as low as it has ever been at CBC News, and that’s saying a lot. It looks from the outside like there is little understanding of the expectations of management. And finally, the talent level both on air and in management seems to be highly suspect.
Is it any wonder that The National’s ratings are less than half the audience at CTV National News?