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.”
“I DON’T FUCKING CARE!!! WE DO NOT GIVE OUR ANCHORS TONGUE TWISTERS!!!”
“But we’re told to make our scripts cheeky and interesting.”
“I DON’T GIVE A FUCK!!! WE DO NOT GIVE OUR FUCKING ANCHORS FUCKING TONGUE TWISTERS!!! WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING???”
“I was thinking that it would have been great had Kevin not flubbed it.”
“HE FLUBBED IT BECAUSE IT WAS A FUCKING TONGUE TWISTER. WE DO NOT GIVE OUR ANCHORS FUCKING TONGUE TWISTERS!!!”
Here’s my takeaway from that meeting:
- We do not give our anchors tongue twisters;
- 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.
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.