A freelancer, an undead dog, and the CBC

Every once in a while, a story comes along that goes beyond telling us one person’s experiences in freelancing and manages to encapsulate what working conditions are like for many freelance journalists working in Canada today. It shows trends in the business we’ve all seen but find hard to explain to friends and family who work in other fields. A recent blog post by freelancer, documentary filmmaker, and teacher Claude Adams does just that.

Adams worked as a “casual writer” at a CBC TV news station in B.C., and he describes the incredible pressure he was under during one of his shifts. No time for lunch or even bathroom breaks and an unbending deadline looming, while Adams edited tape, wrote intros and scripts, and created “supers” (on-screen titles with the names of the people being interviewed). Adams’ last story of his day seemed like an easy one: a police dog was left in an SUV in hot weather. Adams, with no time to read the reporter’s script, wrote the anchor’s intro with just minutes to spare. But Adams assumes a key fact of the story (that the dog died), and the anchor announces the pooch’s death on air. What’s that saying? When you assume, you make an “ass” out of “you” and “me”?

Well, in this case, Adams felt like one and so did the station. Only the station had no time for regrets, apparently. Adams was called in the next morning and fired. In fact, he was told to “leave right away.” You could argue over the seriousness of the error. It was a key fact of the story, of course, but fired over a dog? Adams notes in the post that no one at the station had criticized his work until then.

But the broader question raised by Adams’ story is: what forces came together to cause that error? How was it that Adams didn’t have time to read the script and therefore had to “assume”? He asks: “How did a highly trained journalist with 42 years of experience both overseas and in Canada find himself in a newsroom, sweating bricks, writing nonsense about a dog that was left in a SUV for 3 hours?”

Adams laments the changing focus of TV news. “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,” he writes. Is this pandering, this scrambling after the latest news bite—no matter what its value—just to keep up with the pace of other stations and online media leading to the kind of error Adams made, and more serious ones? It’s getting harder to argue that it’s not.

Read the full story here.

Posted on July 13, 2011 at 9:43 am by editor · · Tagged with: ,

One Response

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  1. Written by Gayle Mavor
    on July 13, 2011 at 10:51 am
    Reply · Permalink

    First of all, it’s a drag to be fired, especially when you feel you gave it your all. Obviously you would be aware that firings sometimes happen for reasons that are not the stated reason. Ageism? You were a freelancer, not a full-time staff person, so even more disposable. After 40 years in the biz, why would this surprise you? Anyone who works in journalism knows how disposable they are in a job that pays crap, expects an amazing array of skill in writing and so many other things including new technologies all to get out information that can be found faster on Twitter. Maybe they did you a favour. It’s time to find that measley little pay cheque another way. Good luck.

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