I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

TV doesn’t know Jack

Anyone can be a great manager, boss or journalist when everything is going right and one is able to plan for the events of the day. It’s when the manure hits the fan that the real management and journalism stars  begin to shine.

This has been an amazing week of news in Canada and abroad. There was a terrible plane crash in Nunavut, a devastating tornado wiping out large parts of Goderich, Ontario, the end of the line for the cruel and criminal Ghadafi regime in Libya, and as if all of that is not enough to fill the plates of our national newscasts and newspapers we were all shocked and surprised by the announcement of the death of Jack Layton.

That’s an awful lot of important news to consider.

Any journalist worth his or her salt lives for this kind of news week. It is always better to deal with too much to cover rather than be stumped on how you are going to fill your newspaper or newscast.

In other words, this week was an opportunity to shine.

For my money the brightest star on the block was the Toronto Star. I don’t see the local dailies from across Canada so forgive me if I missed some excellent work from outside Toronto. (Let me know what I missed.)

The Star was all over the Jack Layton story. They had it covered from almost every angle. The best story of any I have seen was a touching description of the bond between Jack and his wife Olivia Chow by Linda Diebel. But there were many terrific stories in the paper about the man, his politics, the future of his party, and the future of Canada. It was a great effort that proved to me that The Toronto Star editors are on top of their game, thoughtful and thorough, even in the face of a fast breaking story at a particularly busy time.

The Globe and Mail did a pretty good job too. They too had most of the angles covered but their material felt more institutional. The Globe stories were on target but failed to get personal or capture the sadness that Layton’s passing brought to Canada and Canadians. I must admit, had I not read the Star’s coverage I would have been impressed with the work of The Globe.

That all being said, where the heck was television? Are too many people on summer vacation? Was the staff sunning itself on a downtown patio sipping lattes?

You knew it was going to be a terrible day at CBC when the best guest that CBC NN could get in the morning was Peter Mansbridge. My first question was why isn’t he hosting the thing? My second, why is an announcer being interviewed when the city and the country is filled with people who were close to Jack Layton and knew him intimately?

Neither CBC News nor CTV distinguished themselves. Both networks resorted to the cheapest and easiest form of reporting, I won’t call it journalism, talking to people in the street and trying to coax reactions from them. I’ve always hated this. It’s unthinking, uncreative, unjournalistic.

Both networks did the big obituary, and both did it well. Heck the material was all there. The story line was obvious.

The CBC especially took a turn that showed how unprepared they were and how little thought they put into their coverage. If all you can come up with is a commentary by Rex Murphy that was as usual for him, long on words and short on insight or emotion, I worry about their commitment to their work. Then, to add the political panel of regulars, people I like by the way, to discus the subject of Jack Layton’s death as if it were another political turn in the never ending twists that politics take in Ottawa, what were you thinking? Where was your imagination?

CTV and CBC News should be forced to read this morning’s Toronto Star. Perhaps they will begin to understand the possibilities that were open to them, the personal and the political.

It was a sad day for all Canadians, whether you voted for the NDP or one of the other parties. Jack’s loss is greater than his position as Leader of the Opposition. It is the compelling story of a man who was just beginning to make his mark on the history of his country. A man with a seemingly great future, lost at far too young an age. His loss deserved far more than the formulaic response that I saw on CBC and CTV. Jack deserved coverage that matched his thoughtfulness and humanity. On TV at least, he didn’t get it.

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2 Responses

  1. Well written Howard. I think it would have been wise to leave politics out of the mix completely, focussing instead on his personal deeds and triumphs.

    To bring up his political career ;necessitates a look at both sides. We know his wonderfjul accomplishments, his popularity and campaign strengths but to mention them now forces us to look at the other side as well. He was still a man who made a deal with a separatist for a chance at power. It’s is a painful blemish on an otherswise sterling political career.

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