Jour­nal­ism — if it’s bland, you’re do­ing it wrong

The Packet (Clarenville) - - EDITORIAL - Bob Wakeham

Forty-five years ago, I stepped from the el­e­va­tor on the third floor of The Evening Telegram build­ing on Duck­worth Street and en­tered, lit­er­ally and fig­u­ra­tively, the world of jour­nal­ism, a pro­found and in­te­gral part of my ex­is­tence ever since, one that has been in­cred­i­bly re­ward­ing, of­ten stress­ful and frus­trat­ing, but never, ever dull.

The news­room, a clas­sic news­pa­per of­fice com­plete with a horse­shoe-shaped desk (right out of a movie set) and oc­cu­pied by a clus­ter of edi­tors, reeked of cig­a­rette smoke, and there was a ca­coph­ony of sound that prompted me to won­der dur­ing those first few in­tim­i­dat­ing min­utes how in the name of God any­one could pos­si­bly think and in­ter­view and write in an at­mos­phere dom­i­nated by the ring­ing of phones, the bang­ing of type­writ­ers, the crack­ling of tele­type ma­chines and the con­stant bark­ing of or­ders re­quired dur­ing the daily push to­ward a dead­line.

Ob­vi­ously, I man­aged to sur­vive that morn­ing, and many morn­ings since, and it’s been a hell of a ride.

And I’ve been aw­fully for­tu­nate to have found my­self in an ar­ray of jobs over the years, an eclec­tic as­sort­ment of po­si­tions in print, ra­dio and tele­vi­sion that made a fas­ci­nat­ing oc­cu­pa­tion even more so: a news­pa­per re­porter for nearly a decade, cov­er­ing all of the ma­jor sto­ries of the 1970s; five years or so at CBC Ra­dio do­ing in­ter­views and com­men­tary for “On the Go” and “The Morn­ing Show” (I even did movie re­views for a while, and did the Trivia Show on “Ra­dio Noon” on oc­ca­sion with its cre­ator, the tal­ented and gra­cious Art Rock­wood; and 20 years or so at CBC-TV, where I was placed in charge of “Here and Now,” and a num­ber of doc­u­men­tary pro­grams, in­clud­ing “Land and Sea,” “On Cam­era” and “Sound­ings.”

Along the way, I fought booze and can­cer to a stand­still, although the Big C did bring my ac­tive par­tic­i­pa­tion in daily jour­nal­ism to a pre­ma­ture end.

Even in re­tire­ment, though, I’ve been able to peck away at the news busi­ness, mak­ing the odd doc­u­men­tary and writ­ing this weekly col­umn.

Yeah, I guess I’m guilty of brag­gado­cio here, but what’s wrong with en­gag­ing in a bit of self­cen­tred re­flec­tive navel-gaz­ing af­ter 45 years in the jour­nal­is­tic trenches?

The point I’m try­ing to make is that a slice of tal­ent, an ea­ger­ness to learn and be­ing in the right place at the right time com­bined to al­low me to ex­plore nu­mer­ous ways to tell sto­ries, which is, in its essence, what jour­nal­ism is all about.

I’ve had the chance to meet lit­er­ally thou­sands of peo­ple dur­ing my ca­reer, in­clud­ing the most pow­er­ful, prime min­is­ters and pre­miers, busi­ness and labour lead­ers, and the like.

But it was, it is, the or­di­nary New­found­lan­der I’ve al­ways en­joyed talk­ing to the most, peo­ple like fish­er­man Jack Troake in Twill­ingate, Ce­cil Mouland (a sur­vivor of the 1914 Seal­ing Dis­as­ter), and Iron Mccarthy of Re­news, 100 years old when he added an amaz­ing orig­i­nal per­spec­tive to a doc­u­men­tary I was mak­ing on the Florizel catas­tro­phe (he was an eye­wit­ness).

And I’ll never for­get meet­ing many of the rel­a­tives of the Ocean Ranger dis­as­ter dur­ing a piece the lo­cal CBC pro­duced for na­tional air­ing on the 20th an­niver­sary of that aw­ful event, brave souls who in­vited us into their homes and spoke with candour and bro­ken hearts about a night­mare from which they would never fully re­cover.

Or the trek I made with re­porter Deanne Fleet across Canada, track­ing down men who had sur­vived the hor­ror of Mount Cashel, or a sim­i­lar haunt­ing trip through­out the coun­try and into the United States to in­ter­view women who had been abused at Belvedere Or­phan­age.

I also worked with many tal­ented peo­ple over the years — re­porters, pro­duc­ers, pho­tog­ra­phers, cam­era­men and edi­tors.

Yes, there was the odd lazy good-for-noth­ing along the way I was forced to tol­er­ate, the scat­tered ce­ment head who treated jour­nal­ism as just a job, noth­ing more, noth­ing less, but they were rare. Most of my col­leagues were ded­i­cated and loyal to their craft.

I also had some ex­cel­lent bosses, and a few who were not so fine.

There were also knock-down, drag-out ar­gu­ments — some I won, some I lost.

I ex­pe­ri­enced the good side of or­ga­nized labour, in­clud­ing a suc­cess­ful ef­fort by a hand­ful of us who took on for­mi­da­ble man­age­ment types here and in Toronto and union­ized The Evening Telegram news­room, a cam­paign ac­cen­tu­ated by a long and bit­ter strike in the late 1970s. But I also wit­nessed the dog­matic and re­stric­tive im­pli­ca­tions of union­ism at times, and was forced to cir­cum­vent lu­di­crous con­tracts just to get sto­ries to air.

I made mis­takes, mi­nor and ma­jor, hard not to in 45 years. I wasn’t in­fal­li­ble.

But the bot­tom line is that it was never mun­dane, never bland.

A few years back, I had a chance to spend a few semesters shar­ing with MUN stu­dents a taste of the me­dia ex­per­tise I had ac­quired, and I would al­ways en­cour­age them to get in­volved in jour­nal­ism: what other job, I would ask them rhetor­i­cally, would re­quire you to seek out each and ev­ery day the most in­ter­est­ing story oc­cur­ring in your com­mu­nity, your prov­ince, your coun­try?

It’s what I’ve been do­ing for 45 years … and count­ing.

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