Tag Archives: CityPulse

Writing News With A Union Label ► Throwback Thursday

Gather ’round, kiddies, and I’ll tell you the story of when I was a News Writer for Citytv’s BreakfastTelevision [sic] and wrote the perfect news script.

I worked at CityPulse for just over a decade. During my time there I cycled through every newscast they had: CityPulse at 6, CityPulse at 11, the weekend Pulses, and the short-lived LunchTelevision. However, most of my time was on BreakfastTelevision, some 8 years. I was with the show the day it was launched. While the station had an idea of what the show would be, it was up to us to give it shape and flesh it out.

I enjoyed the hell out of my job, but everything changed for me the day I wrote the perfect script.

The News Segment Producer, the person who gave the News Writers, Editors, Control Room their marching orders, had a soft spot for animal stories. I knew that whenever there was an animal story, either local or off the feeds, she would make sure to devote precious air time to it. On this particular morning she handed me some wire copy, told me there was VID on the overnight satellite feed, and tasked me with writing the script for it. It was a simple, but heartwarming, story of a university in the east closing en entire parking lot because an endangered bird chose to build a nest and lay eggs in it.

Kevin Frankish was one of the nicest people I wrote
for. “Choose alternate routes” is an homage to him.

Because it wouldn’t come up until later in the show — the last News Pack at 8:30 — I pushed it aside. In the meantime there were stories to write for earlier packs. As I handled those first, it came to me in a flash how I should treat this purple plover story. I quickly banged it off, polished it, and then sheepishly took it to Kevin Frankish, which was not the normal chain of command. However, let’s face facts: If Kevin refused to read it, there was little point in giving it to the producer for approval. I handed him the script and asked what he thought.

Kevin took one look at it, laughed, and said, “I love it!”

With his approval under my belt I took it to the News Producer who said, “Kevin will never read this.”

“I just showed it to him. He loves it,” I replied.

She yells across the room to the Assignment Desk, “ABOUT THIS SCRIPT OF HEADLY’S?!?!”

Kevin yells back, “I LOVE IT!!!”

That’s exact moment my fate was sealed. Here’s how it opened:

In Pembroke a pair of purple plovers picked a patch of parking lot to procreate.

The rest of the script was just a quick rewrite of the wire copy to match the footage. I printed out the obligatory 12 copies of the script and hand delivered Kevin’s to him, leaving the rest for the intern to distribute as usual.

The Purple Plover

For the next 2 hours, whenever he wasn’t on camera, I could see Kevin practicing the script. I couldn’t wait to hear this jewel delivered. However, the minute my script hit the TelePrompTer, it all fell apart. Kevin started sputtering like Porky Pig, tripping his entire way through the opening line.

Finally he broke and said, “See the things they get me to read here? Headly, what are you doing to me?”

I was always thrilled when my name was mentioned On Air, because it was so infrequent. However, that was one of the last thrills I ever had at Citytv.

When my boss arrived there was steam coming out of his ears. As he passed through the newsroom, he screamed at me to get into his office, where he yelled at me and swore at me for a good 15 minutes. “WE DO NOT GIVE OUR ANCHORS TONGUE TWISTERS!!!”

“But it was approved up and down the line.”


“But we’re told to make our scripts cheeky and interesting.”


“I was thinking that it would have been great had Kevin not flubbed it.”


Here’s my takeaway from that meeting:

  1. We do not give our anchors tongue twisters;
  2. That day was the first of a non-stop campaign of harassment that continued until I finally left Citytv.

That was the day I became the office goat.

I had seen it happen to others before. Newsroom management would tag someone as the goat either overtly — “Get the fuck in my office right now!” — or it might be a covert whisper campaign that one could watch trickle down from up high — “They’re not our kind of people.” It could be someone new. Or, it could be someone that was there for years and had never been disciplined before, like me.

However, the newsroom staff quickly learned who was the Goat Du Jour. Everyone up and down the chain of command fell into line, treating that employee as toxic. Over the years I saw one goat after another. Eventually the goat would quit or a newer goat would be chosen. Or both.

When I became the goat the harassment was relentless. My newsroom mentor — someone in the know, who attended the management meetings with The Big Boys — told me they wanted me to quit. Because I loved my job, I decided to tough it out convinced they’d eventually find a new goat. I was mistaken.

They started finding every little thing wrong with my performance. I took too long to write some scripts. I didn’t spend enough time writing others. Because writing is subjective, and there’s no sentence that can’t be improved with enough editing, they kept finding individual sentences, out of context, that didn’t meet their suddenly high standards. Keep in mind I had never been tagged for any of this in the previous 8 years.

Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada

Eventually management scheduled a weekly meeting with me and my union rep to rake me over the coals in a discipline hearing. Every fucking week.

It only made management madder at me when I first refused to even meet with them for these punching bag sessions unless they allowed my union rep to attend. Insisting on my union rights just became an invisible black mark, because they couldn’t write it down. But, it sure pissed them off.

In the end I grieved the entire deal. It went to arbitration, which was a mistake. Arbitration is another word for compromise. I was off work for an entire year. At first I was off on a [possibly-related] Medical leave. When I was deemed well, they refused to allow me to come back to work. However, because I had started the grievance process, I couldn’t look for work, otherwise Citytv could say I had quit and abandoned my job. I had to borrow money from family and friends to stay alive and my union advanced me some money as well.

In the end I was sent packing with a lump sum that felt inadequate, but my union told me it was the best I was going to get. Oddly enough, I was never asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement with Citytv, but they agreed to give me a letter of recommendation and promised not to bad-mouth me to prospective employers. That promise was broken when I had someone in the industry call to say they were thinking of hiring me.

After a lawyer told me I would have trouble suing for that, I stopped using Citytv on my resume. The decade I spent there mattered for nothing in the job market.

Post script: In the end all of those people who yelled and screamed and belittled and harrassed their underlings were fired in a purge when ultimate boss Moses Znaimer found out how they were really treating the people below them, including the on air talent.

If I had it all to do over again, I wouldn’t write the perfect script.

Murder and Morning Television

299 Queen Street West became the CHUM/City Building.

There are some news stories that hit harder than others. That describes yesterday, which left me bereft.

Back in the ’90s, as many of you know, I was a News Writer for BreakfastTelevision on Toronto’s Citytv. In many ways BT was, and still is, the template for almost every newsy, happy talk, morning show since.

However, not many people know that before I started writing news for CityPulse, I was hired at Citytv as a Security Guard. For several years I worked at the front desk in the lobby for 12 hour shifts. It was 2 weeks of days followed by 2 weeks of nights, both 9-9. Night shifts were easy. Once an hour I would walk around inside the locked 5-story building, rattling doorknobs and taking note of who was still working.

Day shifts were a whole ‘nothing thing. One could be called upon to do anything and everything, from guarding talent live on the air on the sidewalk to finding a way to sneak mega-stars in and out of the building (which is why there is video footage of me and George Harrison doing a Walk & Talk; a story still to be written).

Any number of things could go wrong while doing live segments, all of them out of my control. Luckily nothing ever happened on one of my shifts. However, while setting up for live segments, I witnessed first-hand how people had a strange, proprietary interest in our on air personalities. Maybe because they came into everybody’s living room, people felt they were approachable in ways that, say, Hollywood celebrities are not.

Whenever we were out in the field, the hard part was getting rid of all the people wanting to talk to the talent as we were about to go live. The potential for someone stumbling into the shot was always great. I stopped more than one person from walking up to David Onley while he was delivering the weather.

The Now Now Silly Newsroom chooses not to post the videos of this heinous act. If you absolutely have to see it, it can be found at: Vester Lee Flanagan: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know, which has some other good info.

One thing I never considered were guns. Because there are far fewer guns in circulation in Canada, it would never have entered my mind.

A screen cap from the gunman’s perspective

When the news flashed across the Not Now Silly Breaking News Desk yesterday, I did as most people: started channel flipping to learn as much as I could. What was this? Domestic Terrorism? Foreign Terrorism? A grudge against a news department? A grudge against a tee vee station? Domestic violence? A Right Wing whack job? Left Wing whack job? Plain old whack job?

None of the above. It was Workplace Violence by a whack job, a very narrow category. A disgruntled employee held a grudge for 2 years before he finally went off yesterday. The gunman’s rambling manifesto mentions grievances against the station and the 2 employees killed. He claimed to have been radicalized by the murder of 9 Black folk in a Charlestown church in June and described himself as a “human powder keg” … “just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”

For maximum effect, the murders were timed to occur when the reporter was live, and for a while the footage was played on a loop on CNN before cooler heads prevailed and they yanked it off the air.

However, there were greater horrors to come. The assassin posted his own version of the murders on Facebook from his point of view. While both Twitter and Facebook suspended his accounts almost immediately, the video had already escaped into the wild and there is no pulling it back. Ever.

I have viewed all the video there is to see, so you don’t have to. It’s not a macho thing. It’s a newsman thing. While it is the most chilling video I’ve ever seen, because you know what’s coming but it takes almost 30 seconds for it to happen, it’s not the worst video I’ve ever watched. That would be a tie between footage of the massacres in Rwanda and brains all over Highway 427 after a car crash, which the cameraman kept shooting and framing artistically and lovingly, even though he knew there was no way the footage would ever make it to air. I had to watch it to see what we could put on the air.

So, I watched the footage made by the gunman, knowing it would not be the worst thing I’ve ever seen. However, I had no idea how close to home it would hit.

I only watched it once (because once is enough), but can describe the entire thing. Vester Flanagan made Rookie Mistake #1: The camera is tilted to portrait, not landscape. As he moves closer to his targets, he adjusts the zoom, in and then out again. Then you see his hand holding the gun enter the frame. It moves from one person to another, as if he can’t believe no one’s paid any attention to him yet. Cameraman Adam Ward has panned off to the right and has his back turned to Flanagan. Alison Parker is so focused on interviewing Vicki Gardner, of the Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, that she doesn’t even notice the danger as Flanagan waves the gun back and forth in what may have been her peripheral vision. Then the shooting begins.

I’ve been there! I’ve guarded live shots!! I have stood right there!!!

I spent the rest of the day shivering and reliving that footage in my head. This one hit a lot closer to home and a lot closer than I expected when I started following the story.

►►► R.I.P. ◄◄◄
Alison Parker and Adam Ward
both described as having a very bright future. 

The Tee Vee Newsroom Race to the Bottom

The weeks of uncertainty and ultimate tragedy of Malaysian Airliner MH370 has — once again — brought into our homes the utter failure of ‘Merkin Tee Vee News. The ravenous viewing audience tuned in seeking answers. Because there were no answers, we were fed a non-stop diet of BS, speculation, and out-right crazy talk. Even worse: The ratings went up.

No real surprise, however, if you’ve been paying the least bit of attention. Every major BREAKING NEWS story in recent years has demonstrated how far is the distance is between Edward R. Morrow and Megyn Kelly. Between Walter Cronkite and Don Lemon. Between Huntley-Brinkley and Mika and Morning Joe.

Conclusive proof I worked on BreakfastTelevision because
it’s not like you could just buy these mugs at the Citytv store.

But, before I rip them all a well-deserved new one, let me put forth my bona fides: I’ve been a
professional writer for some 40+ years. I’ve been everything from investigative journalist to Queen’s Park Correspondent; from writing record reviews, to interviews with Rock and Roll Royalty, to band bios, to corporate brochures, to software manuals. I have often joked that the only writing I’ve never done is the Greeting Card.*

However, what really qualifies me as a reputable critic of tee vee news is the decade I spent as a News Writer at CityPulse, the Citytv News Room in Toronto. During that period I cycled through every news show Citytv had. At one time or another I wrote for Weekend Pulse, CityPulse at 6, CityPulse at 10, and LunchTelevision. However, my longest residency, of 8 years or so, was on BreakfastTelevision.

Tee vee news was changing during my time in CityPulse, to be sure. Tee vee news was always about brevity, but during my decade in a newsroom it became even more condensed. When I began the rule of thumb for a “clip” — whatever a person says when you stick a mic in front of their face — was to try and keep it to 20 seconds. If it was a really good clip, you might be able to stretch it, but you better get permission from a producer first. When I left a decade later, clips were deemed best if they clocked in under 10 seconds.

Scripts also became shorter. One morning I was assigned a story on Israel. “Give me 60 words!” demanded my producer. But, a lot of things had happened in Israel overnight. I summed up the skirmishes with 20 seconds of choppy language. Like this paragraph. The rule of thumb: anchors average 3 words a second, only the rare anchor speaks faster.

[That paragraph was 60 words.]

However, no matter how short scripts might get, truth and honesty were still the pillars that held up the entire structure. We didn’t speculate.

I’m using this New York Post front page not to
illustrate a Not Now Silly post about tee vee news.
That would be silly. I’m doing it to promote my daily
look at the headlines called Headlines Du Jour. And,
because the Post is owned by News Corp.

These days tee vee news has become a Speculator’s Market. We only need to go back 11 months, to the lock down following the
Boston Marathon Bombing. All the stations filled endless hours with the
rankest of fear-mongering and speculation. Having to fill vast amounts of time without any concrete
information creates a syndrome in which the anchors’ mouths detaches from their brains. You never know what crazy shit might tumble out of their mouths.

Under the theory
that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, it was inevitable that
with so many conspiracy theories some were right. Then came more fear-mongering and speculation about the lives of the accused terrorists.

exact same thing is happened with the Malaysian airliner. Worse yet, once Malaysia announced the plane had gone into the ocean with no survivors, the speculation and fear-mongering only continued: WAS IT TERRORISM?!?!?! And, if that turns out to be the case, these MoFos will use that to continue to fear-monger. It’s the vast circle of life.

However, I don’t want to make it seem that this all just started yesterday, or last year, or the year before. If I were forced to peg a date on when the Tee Vee Newsroom Race to the Bottom™ began, it would be October 7, 1996, the day the Fox “News” Channel went on the air. Prior to that CNN, with Darth Vader’s voice, ruled the airwaves as far as 24-hours news channels go. It had become staid and square. But, it was the most trusted name in news, as its slogan told us.

The Tee Vee Newsroom Race to the Bottom™ really started the day Australian press baron Rupert Murdoch married Roger Ailes and the worst of their DNA birthed the Fox “News” Channel. By then Murdoch already won the race to the bottom among the British print medium. Ailes, on the other hand, was a political animal, for the most part, but he understood the power of television to shape opinion. He helped Richard Nixon get elected and was a long-time GOP operative, whether he was actually on the GOP payroll, or not. And, he was during a lot of that time.

IRONY ALERT: Now pollsters say Fox “News” is the “most trusted name in news” with CNN the least. Proof of the efficacy of what’s described in the next paragraph.

Fox “News” started its operation by spreading lies. One need not examine the news stories for the lies. It’s all in the framework constructed. Start with the empty slogan “Fair & Balanced.” Thinking people still laugh over that. Also laughable is the next lie: “We report, you decide.” Since all stories are massaged, you get to “decide” based on the half truths and outright fibbing presented. The next lie in the framework? The rest of the mainstream media are left-leaning; Fox “News” is the antidote. (Which reinforces the fact that “Fair & Balanced” is just an empty slogan.) Want another? How’s about the one that says, “We’re they only station telling you about this,” when “this” is total bullshit? However, the biggest lie Fox “News” ever cocooned itself within is its victimology: How it’s just this little, upstart, beleaguered tee vee station, fighting for Mom, Apple Pie, and the ‘Merkin Way™ against the vast onslought of the Evul Librul Left Wing media that won’t tell ‘Merka the truth about this Socialist President from Kenya.

Thinking people laugh, out loud and everything, but all of that mendacious victimology spoke to a certain segment of the country, those who considered themselves under the thumb of Big Gubmint. Those MoFos ate it up like flapjacks on Pancake Tuesday. During Nixon’s (Ailes) day they’d be called The Silent Majority, but there was no name for the future Fox “News” audience in 1996. With the benefit of hindsight, it turns out the Fox “News” sheep were just nascent Teabaggers. Once Fox “News” realized this was its core audience, it heavily promoted Teabagger rallies on the channel, until they started to turn ugly. Then Fox defended them.

A gratuitous eye-catching headline to remind you about
Headlines Du Jour, available daily on your browser.

There is no denying that Fox “News” became a ratings juggernaut, when compared to other 24-hour news channels. When compared to SpongeBob SquarePants, not so much. But, there’s no sense comparing apples to oranges because CNN and MSNBC are the only stations comparing their ratings with Fox. It’s been a race to the bottom ever since because RATINGS!

So, CNN and MSNBC started trying to outdo Fox “News” in making the news about the news and not about the news they were supposed to be covering when covering news. And, that accounts for The Tee Vee Newsroom Race to the Bottom™. It didn’t happen overnight, but the Malaysian Airliner tragedy is a new low for them all. Until the next time, of course.

It’s far too simplistic to blame Fox “News,” or MSNBC, or CNN, or even SpongeBob. However, it’s not simplistic too blame YOU, the viewer. If you stopped watching that crap, they’d stop producing it. The only thing these stations are truly committed to — once they decided that actually informing viewers was so old fashioned — are bums in the seats. RATINGS!!! If they thought they could get ratings with a live camera feed of a drinking fountain, you’d be seeing that 24 hours a day.

* Something that qualifies me to criticize Fox “News,” even though it’s ‘Merka’s favourite parlour game, are the years I wrote for NewsHounds, the motto of which is “We watch Fox so you don’t have to.” Here is a compendium of my posts, written under the nom de plume of Aunty Em Ericann.