Photographs, words and sounds



Sometime today, the CBC president will hold a “town hall” meeting with CBC employees and tell them that as many as 600 jobs may be lost in near future. There will be platitudes about hard times and budget cuts and budget overruns and lost revenue and changing media landscape and it’s all going to be utter bullshit.

My heart goes out to friends and acquaintances who work for our public broadcaster and many, many voices that over the years became a part of my Canadian experience. No matter how many times this happens, it never gets easier. And every time it happens, this country is a little bit poorer and a little bit less Canadian.

I don’t have it in me to write a long post. It just makes me too sad and too angry to even think about it so below is something I wrote in 2009:


I don’t remember the first time I listened to CBC radio. It must have been sometime in 1994 or 1995. I was a lanky teenager who just landed in Calgary armed with nine years of French classes and barely a word of English. In my mind, Canada was a bilingual country so the fact that my English was nonexistent didn’t bother me too much.

You can imagine how useful my French was in Calgary. That first year, I was taking English as a second language classes and struggling to understand news stories in the Calgary Sun, the only paper that ever made it into my uncle’s house. The first book I ever read in English was Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. I feel like I should apologize for it, but a 19 year old from Croatia who just crossed half a world on his own thought that was pretty deep stuff.

I believe it was my English language teacher who suggested that I should listen to CBC. And I never stopped listening. And secretly, deep down, I harboured the idea that one day, maybe, despite my accent and background, I’ll be a good enough journalist to work for CBC.

As a journalism student, I worked with my broadcasting professor on minimizing my heavy accent. I was reading out loud and taping passages from Winston Churchill’s memoirs. The aim was to soften my rolling rs, round my ws, form the th sound properly and clean up my guttural hs. It was hard work, much harder than I expected.

I have two CBC memories from those J-school days. I remember sitting in the auditorium with my fellow communications students from public relations and technical writing streams. It was funny, because we were separated even then. Tech writers and us, journalists, sprawled in the seats on the right hand side of the room and slickly dressed, sophisticated public relations students on the left. Our guest speaker was the host of Calgary Eyeopener – CBC’s morning show. He regaled us with stories from the front lines of journalism and then opened the floor to questions. A public relations student got up and asked him how does he prefer to receive press releases. His answer was something along these lines:

“Well, I have a routine in the morning. I get in. I make myself a cup of coffee. Then, I walk over to the fax machine and I gather the reams of paper that sit there. There is a garbage bin next to the machine and I just dump it all in.”

The right hand side of the auditorium exploded in howls of laughter, while the folks on the left sat in stunned silence. Of course, his point was that a journalist shouldn’t let PR people spoon-feed him the stories.

My second memory of CBC has to do with a paper I was supposed to write for one of my classes. I decided that I will interview Brenda Finley who, at the time, worked as an anchor for CBC Alberta. I don’t remember anything about it except that I felt intimidated and embarrassed because it was so painfully obvious that there was only one journalist in that room and it wasn’t me.

Eventually, I ended up working as a photographer and writer. I never stopped listening to CBC. As I crossed this massive land from west to east, I appreciated ever more the vastness of landscape and the work it takes to keep this country together. In all my years in Canada, CBC was there to teach me about places I left, places I arrived in and places so far away and so far out of my realm of experience that they appeared exotic. CBC introduced me to the stories of the far north, it told me about the shenanigans of my municipal government, it made me laugh, it made me angry, it made me think about things I would otherwise never be exposed to, but above all, it made me realize that this country and this world speak in a multitude of voices and that without CBC I would never hear any of them.

A few years back a friend of mine who works at CBC convinced me that I should give CBC a try as a freelancer. I was skeptical. I never got over the embarrassment of my accent and I am still not over it. Radio was a new medium to me and I felt unsure of my ability to do it right. My friend is a kind and persistent soul and only thanks to him my first CBC piece made it on air.

Later that year, I developed two short documentaries from Croatia for CBC’s Dispatches. That was my most rewarding experience as a journalist. For the first time, I felt that I did what a journalist is supposed to do, add another set of voices to our collective experience, voices that otherwise might not have been heard.

This week, my friend and hundreds of his colleagues at CBC might find themselves without jobs. If that happens, if they walk out of their newsrooms and studios in Iqaluit, in Sydney, in Medicine Hat, in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, in Toronto and Prince Rupert and dozens of other communities across this land, if they walk out and don’t come back the next day, and the day after, and the day after that one, there will be thousands of voices and thousands of stories we will never hear. Some will argue that in the grand scheme of things, those voices and those stories don’t matter anyway, but somehow, I doubt that’s true. I think those voices and those stories are the only things that really matter.

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