By Hermona Kuluberhan
There’s a set of ideals many young, would-be reporters carry with them when heading into journalism school: romantic notions that have to do with speaking truth to power and producing the sort of fact-based storytelling that moves the needle just a little bit further, fashioning society into something—if only marginally—better.
Bright-eyed and anchored in these notions, the kids dash into journalism school eager to learn which buttons to push and levers to pull in order to make this happen. Yet reality will steadily chip away at those rose-coloured glasses and force the wearer to contend with society as it is, not as it should be.
Lisa LaFlamme was unceremoniously let go from CTV after 35 years with the broadcaster, 11 of which she spent anchoring its flagship news show, CTV National News. Announcing her departure in a video posted to Twitter, LaFlamme described feeling blindsided by what Bell Media executives informed her was a “business decision”.
Shortly after, the Globe and Mail reported that prior to her dismissal, LaFlamme had butted heads with company executive Michael Melling, who questioned her decision to “let her hair go grey”. Many were quick to point out that Lloyd Robertson, her predecessor, anchored the show until he was 77 and white-haired. Unlike LaFlamme, Robertson was given airtime to bid his audience adieu.
Unfolding along the news of LaFlamme’s dismissal are stories of women journalists, particularly women of colour, being targeted in misogynistic campaigns of harassment. Journalists Erica Ifill, Saba Eitizaz, and Rachel Gilmore recently described threats of violence they face for simply doing their jobs.
Prompted by the mounting safety concerns, representatives from the Canadian Association of Journalists met with the minister of public safety to discuss ways to support those targeted, and dozens of media organizations have signed an open letter urging the prime minister to take action.
There’s a tired banality that characterizes the outrage that follows these stories. The righteous indignation fuelling the “keep the grey” campaigns will inevitably flicker out. The shock expressed at the harassment faced by women journalists will fade away too. We’ve seen this cycle play out before. Despite the “how can this still be happening in 2022” hand-wringing we’ve witnessed these past weeks, there is nothing novel about ageism, sexism, or racism.
As cynical as this assessment may sound, LaFlamme will not be the last casualty of executives and their so-called business decisions. Every young woman entering the industry should know this: whatever change that comes will arrive at a snail’s pace—and almost always a couple of generations too late.
So set aside the rose-coloured glasses and get ready. Effecting systemic change will be a slow process, and the next generation of women journos will likely experience many of the same prejudices faced by women today.
Hold on to those ideals if you will, but be prepared to contend with reality as it is.