The former CBC boss shook up my work world, got fired and wrote a book. Time to catch up.
This article originally appeared on The Tyee.
Richard Stursberg’s new book includes one particularly perceptive passage: “They would look at me as though confronted by the Great Satan himself. The stench of sulphur and charred flesh seemed to follow me everywhere. Employees looked aside when I came into view.”
He’s describing the climate in Toronto after the 2005 lockout at the CBC, but that searing hatred never completely dissipated during his tenure as executive vice-president in charge of English services. He was the engine pushing toward a more populist, commercial CBC. He also oversaw the elimination of 800 jobs in 2009. Sitting across from him on the patio at JJ Bean, I ask if the ill will we wished him ever affected his day to day mindset.
“Yeah, it slowed me down dramatically,” replies Stursberg. “The level of resistance within the news department, despite the fact it was failing, was unbelievable. I was very conscious of the fact that people were worried and resistant. But at some point it was pretty clear that if we didn’t do something, the whole thing was just gonna kind of vanish.”
It was thus that under Stursberg’s tenure, local newscasts were stretched from 60 minutes to 90 — with the same staff. New, high-tempo graphics and music were brought in. And we had to be live, all the time. I remember as a videojournalist, editing my own news piece, having to abandon everything and run to the roof at 5:00 and 5:30 to deliver gasping, breathless “lives,” before running back up for a third time at 6:00 to intro my barely-finished story. Some days in Montreal there were only four reporters to fill an hour and a half of airtime.
“When you look now at CBC News,” I ask Stursberg, “do you see your vision realized?”
“Yeah, up to a point. But I had always thought there were two steps involved. One of which is, it had to be this sort of promise of breaking news, 24-hour-a-day breaking news. And going faster than the privates…”
I interrupt him. “I don’t ask this out of disrespect, but have you ever broken a news story?”
“Of course not, I’m not a journalist. Why would I break news stories? I’ve never worked as a journalist in my entire life. But that’s neither here nor there. I can still count. I can count how many news stories get broken.”