Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. New posts: Mondays & Wednesdays.
It’s difficult to believe that Canada’s top newspaper chain – which publishes 20 dailies and 150 weeklies – goes around making job offers that aren’t genuine. I mean, my opinion of the media isn’t high, but even I’m not that cynical.
People don’t contact you, meet with you, share their vision of a groundbreaking television station, and invite you to be part of it if they aren’t sincere. What kind of organization does this and then – a few months later – shrugs and mumbles that it was all a practical joke?
Surely you didn’t think we were serious? When a senior executive with our company said we wanted you to challenge David Suzuki how were we to know you’d order copies of his books at your own expense and then actually read them?
When we told you you’d be appearing regularly on television, how were we to know you’d get religion about losing 10 pounds? [TV cameras really do add a few.] When you were cycling your heart out in the summer heat and turning down those ice cream cones, you didn’t think we actually meant any of that job stuff, did you?
But that is what happened. I’ve described how I was approached by Kory Teneycke, the person in charge, offered a job with SunTV, and asked how much money I’d need to join the Quebecor team. That was a Friday.
Over the weekend I thought about how poorly the public has been served by the media’s climate change coverage. I also considered the fact that my personal revenue stream has slowed to an anemic trickle because I’m so busy working on my book.
Television isn’t my natural habitat. But Quebecor was offering me a megaphone to communicate with the public. Billions of dollars are now being spent on climate change programs aimed at preventing hypothetical bad things 100 years from now. Meanwhile malaria claims the lives of thousands of African children every day. It’s important that we talk about these facts.
On the following Monday, I sent Kory an e-mail. I said that, for writing a column once a week plus spending a day a week in the television studio, I’d require $4,200 a month. On Tuesday, May 11th, Kory responded with the following brief message:
Excellent. In Montreal yesterday and today for board meetings. Let’s connect later in the week to discuss further.
In subsequent telephone conversations, Kory confirmed that the dollar amount I’d suggested wasn’t a problem, and said I could expect to begin writing shortly. Personnel changes were in progress at the Toronto Sun (the TV station was being built across the street), but the identity of the editor I’d be working with should soon become clear.
Having been one of the early recruits prior to the launch of the National Post newspaper in 1998, I know that a venture of this magnitude is chaotic in the early stages. SunTV administrative personnel weren’t in place yet, which was why I hadn’t been called in to sign any paperwork. I was cool with that. Why would I have objected? Some of us strive to be team players rather than narcissists.
I had already made plans to spend the entire month of July out-of-town on a book-writing retreat. In June, I grew concerned that I might be interrupted during that retreat by a call from an editor looking for my first column.
I therefore counted the number of words in a few already-published Toronto Sun columns before writing and polishing my debut piece ahead of time. I titled it: David Suzuki is a Drama Queen.
Eager to complete as much of my book as possible before new responsibilities began distracting me, I extended my retreat to August 8th. Immediately afterward, I spent two weeks migrating my blog from its old location to this new one – a task I was thrilled to have accomplished prior to the start of a new chapter in my professional life. I attended an out-of-town wedding and, before one could say Rajendra Pachauri, summer had drawn to a close.
Not having heard from Kory in weeks, in early September I contacted him, observing that it was probably time to get my show on the road. Before he could respond, however, he held a press conference and announced his resignation from Quebecor.
It has since become clear that, when Kory left, so did the bold vision he described to me in that Starbucks early in May. Prior to broadcasting even one hour of content, SunTV has been neutralized.
I’m not the kind of commentator they’re looking for anymore. In a few months, I went from being courted by the person in charge of the television station to someone whose request to meet for coffee was brushed aside. Instead, a news director gave me 10 minutes over the telephone a couple of weeks ago to explain what, exactly, I bring to the table.
A few moments later I was advised that, well, global warming had been a personal interest of Kory’s but things have now changed. The news director told me I could perhaps write for Quebecor occasionally. He didn’t explain what would possess me to imagine that this offer is genuine when the previous one evidently was not.
Quebecor feels it owes me nothing. Not even, I might observe, an apology. I’m terribly sorry about this are five words I have yet to hear from anyone. Since I have no paperwork, Quebecor is choosing to pretend that none of the above really happened. I’ve pointed out that:
Let us just say it looks like I’ll be seeing Quebecor in small claims court. (Stayed tuned.)
But this story is far bigger than me. I’m a footnote in a larger, more important drama. The bold, irreverent, alternative voice that SunTV once promised to deliver to Canadian television viewers has vanished. A left-wing American lobby group, together with novelist Margaret Atwood, slew the unicorn before it even found its feet.
In my next post I’ll elaborate on the series of events that led to Quebecor losing its nerve.
to be continued… read Slaying the Unicorn here