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CBC Radio Number One → 

May 29 2015 |

cbc number one

A message from CBC Daybreak North:

“This morning, a big THANK YOU to our listeners. Once again, Daybreak North is the NUMBER ONE radio show in Prince George northern British Columbia, and CBC is the most-listened to radio station all day and all week. On any given morning nearly 1/3 of radios in cars, homes, offices are tuned in to us, and we’re honoured to wake up with you. We love the north, and we’re glad the north likes us back. Thanks for listening.”

In Spring 2014, CBC Radio as whole has a 23.8% share of listeners in Prince George- that’s seven days a week, all day. And when Daybreak North is on we have an unbelievable 31.8% audience share. We’ve been sitting at number one for a while now, but this is the first time we’ve increased our share three years in a row, and the first time I’ve ever seen a station crack the thirties. It’s humbling.

Street Sounds

May 28 2015 |

Over the past couple of days I’ve been reminded of the joys of simply wandering around with a microphone and seeing who wants to talk to you. Here’s two little snippets I’ve gathered – they’re nothing earth-shattering, but they sure are fun to make.

listen to ‘”Come get some lemonade”’ on audioBoom

listen to ‘Station ID: Civic Centre’ on audioBoom

Hire local → 

May 28 2015 |

Bill Phillips on the latest hire at city hall, Rob van Adrichem from UNBC:

“Give them credit for hiring locally. That’s two in a row, as city manager Kathleen Soltis was named Beth James’ successor earlier this year.

“Mayor Lyn Hall and the new council elected last fall, wasted no time in getting rid of former city manager Beth James and erasing James’ fingerprints on the city. Communications manager Todd Corrigal left the city at the same time as James, although reasons for his departure were never disclosed. Several key staff members shown the door by James, have found their way back to the city.”

Given that six out of nine of the current city council was on the previous iteration (Hall included), I’m not sure how much sense it makes to be talking about a “new” council. But this doesn’t certainly seem to be a new era for the reasons Phillips lays out – more interest in using local talent at city hall, including some names who were previously taken off the organizational charts.

I’m also told that one of van Adrichem’s first jobs will be to help organize community meetings. One of Hall’s election promises was to bring city call out to the neighbourhoods, with meetings in College Heights, the Hart, and other places outside the core, in order to make things more accessible. It will be interesting to see how far this goes towards erasing the perceived disconnect between city hall and the city, and how it plays out at the next election.

As an aside, with the loss of Ben Meisner’s views on city hall at 250 News and Bill Phillips’ editorial space at the Prince George Free Press, it certainly is nice that Phillips has found a space at 250 News.


So a magazine called you a name: a survival guide from Canada’s Most Dangerous City™

May 27 2015 |

boring vancouver

Dear Vancouver,

I understand you’re going through a bit of a phase. It seems the Economist magazine described you as “mind-numbingly boring” recently and, well, you didn’t take it well. Not just the mayor, but the premier, have had to comfort you, and commentators have penned pieces firing back, even at the magazine itself.

First of all, let me just observe that this feels like the scene where the straight-A student has a minor meltdown because they get a C in gym class or something. I mean, you’re consistently ranked one of the best places in the world to live and here you are freaking out because of literally two sentences in a minor masthead. Speaking as someone where this


was prominently printed in a national magazine, I’ll admit it’s hard to take your concerns all that seriously. But let me be the John Bender to your Claire Standish and teach you how to handle it when a magazine calls you a bad name.

Step one: don’t lash out

We might be a little late on this one, but it’s worth remembering: you’ll never get better if you don’t think there’s anywhere to improve. When Maclean’s called Prince George the most dangerous city in Canada, people got upset. We tried things like changing the parameters. Sure, we might have more crime per capita than anywhere else said the mayor (paraphrasing), but the important thing is how many volunteers we have!

I’m not arguing, having volunteers is great, but if crime is an issue it doesn’t really solve things. Likewise, just because you think the Economist is boring, it doesn’t mean you have more places for garage bands to practice their new songs. Look inward. Is there something you could be doing better? If not, great. But if there is, try and improve it.

Prince George being most dangerous had to do with a number of other factors (including overflow from gang jostling down in Vancouver), but the RCMP and city started looking at what they could do better and through a variety of outreach and strategic programs, things turned around and there has been a decline in serious crimes. And we still have lots of volunteers.

The point is this: you’re a big city. You’re going to receive some criticism. That matters less than how you handle it.

Step two: recognize you probably care about this waaaay more than anyone else does

Honestly, I’m not sure I would have even heard about this thing if it weren’t for Vancouverites collectively freaking out about it. Do you really think that people are going to stop coming to the seawall based on this thing? It’s the same deal with Prince George. The first year we were called most dangerous, there was a big news conference and days of press. Second time, similar reaction, but more muted. By the time the third year came around, the city basically shrugged its shoulders. Now the ranking has gone away. Last year, Initiatives Prince George asked people across Canada what comes to mind when they hear “Prince George” and, yeah, “crime” was on there but so was “friendly” and “community”. It’ll be OK.

Step three: haters gonna hate

It’s time to make like Taylor Swift and shake if off. Over the last few years, various community organizations have embarked on campaigns showcasing the benefits of coming here. And rather than target people who are thinking to themselves “geez, Prince George is so dangerous” they’re looking for people who are interested in the lifestyle Prince George has to offer.

Put it this way: ever go to a party where everyone’s having a good time except that one dude going on about what a terrible party it is? Why try and change his mind? Whenever someone comes at me about how they would never want to live in Prince George it’s like great! I won’t have to deal with you! If “Gulliver” doesn’t want to come to Vancouver, who’s really losing out?

Step four: make your own headlines

Prince George got national media coverage again this year when it hosted the 2015 Canada Winter Games. People from all across the country came to the city to discover that not only did they not get stabbed, they had a pretty OK time, too! Already, more major events are showing interest in the city because of what was pulled off earlier this year, and national press showcased a side of Prince George most of the rest of Canada had never seen.

So get at it Vancouver! Show the world you know how to party. Is there maybe some sort of major international sporting event you could hold next winter? Something like maybe the- oh, you did that already?


Well, maybe you can get the royal family to name a baby after you or something.



Filed under: British Columbia

Why wasn’t I consulted? (a working theory)

May 26 2015 |

Last night, about a dozen people took two-and-half hours to tell city council they are adamantly opposed to an RV sales lot being built on the site of a former golf course. They were worried about traffic, light, and the overall character of the neighbourhood being ruined. They were also upset that they hadn’t been consulted on this earlier.

Councillour Garth Frizzell asked staff what sort of consultation had actually taken place.

“There are several points in the process where there’s consultation sought from the neighborhood,” replied Walter Babicz, general manager of administrative services. They were:

  1. It was on the agenda at the February 2 council meeting
  2. There were ads in the Prince George Citizen
  3.  Nearby properties got a letter a hearing notice about the proposed change
  4. A sign went up on the property

And yet person after person after person said they hadn’t heard about this proposed change until the last minute.

NOW. Let me be clear: I am not saying city staff didn’t do their job (in fact, it sounds like they went beyond what was required). I am also not 100% positive that what I am about to say is true. This is just my working theory as to why there might be this disconnect where the city does all these consultations with citizens, and citizens say they weren’t consulted:

There’s a difference between consultation and engagement.

Here’s a look at some of the steps that were taken to consult people. Here’s one of the ads in the Citizen:

zoning bylaw




Here’s the letter that was sent out:




I’m not positive what the sign looked like, but here’s an example of your average bylaw change notification sign (here’s one for a liquor store):




Upon reading these things you can, I think, parse what’s going on. But the question worth asking is whether they want to be read. How much effort is being made in attracting attention as people sort through their mailboxes, scan the newspaper, and drive to work? Do these jump out, or do they fade into the background?

I write for a living, and I can tell you it isn’t always easy to stick to plain language. I sympathize with the challenge it presents. But I can also tell you that if I’m wanting to get someone’s attention I don’t lead with words like “amendment”, “facilitate” and bylaw codes. Those are the things that make people’s eyes glaze over and ears turn off.

I’ve cited before and I’ll cite again Dave Meslin’s TedX talk “The Antidote to Apathy,” about precisely this topic. Meslin says expecting people to get engaged in civic politics by posting notifications like these is akin to Nike trying sell shoes with ads like this:

meslin shoes

He proposes a better public notification from city planning departments would look something like this:


This new sign clearly illustrates what’s happening, and what you can do to voice your opinion.

“But wait!” I hear you say. “People did show up! The process works!”

Well, yes, although a number of residents said they didn’t know about the process at all until they saw this sign (photo by Brent Braaten):

stop bylaw

Compare that sign to the ads posted by the city. There’s a clear call to action (stop bylaw-8642).  There is a map that actually shows the geography of the place, rather than abstract squares with lot numbers on them. There is a picture of RVs, indicating what is being proposed visually, not just in form of small text. There are clear labels pointing to how the traffic patterns would be affected. Somebody is making an effort to get people to understand what is going on here.

Was the proposal a good idea? I’m not commenting on that. I’m simply suggesting that if the city of Prince George would like to avoid future meetings where staff tells them the community was consulted and then the community tells them they weren’t, they may want to look into why that gap exists.

Further viewing: Dave Meslin – The antidote to apathy

Filed under: cities, Prince George

City council takes the bus → 

May 23 2015 |

From 250 News, an interview with councillour Jillian Merrick on her experiencing taking her fellow city leaders for a trip of Prince George’s transit system:

“I think it was especially telling for me, the number 11 from out of downtown at quarter to five, and on the bus it was mostly working women.  The bus was full and a lot of women and a lot of people who were wearing uniforms and clearly had come out of fast food-type jobs.  A lot of ethnic diversity too, so some of them perhaps were Indo-Canadians so I think it’s just good for people to see exactly what the ridership was on the bus and how important it is to those groups.”

Also telling is the fact that most of the other councillours had never taken a bus before. This is why it’s worth at least talking about diversity in leadership – what sort of priority is a transit system going to get if all the decision makers drive cars? And where does that leave the people who can’t afford them?

As the saying goes, “An advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it’s where even the rich use public transportation.” Getting some of them to see it in action, at least, is a step.

By the way, the whole interview is worth reading for some insight in the direction transit could be going (less routes, more frequent departures, yessssssssss).

Filed under: cities, Prince George

Layers of sound

May 22 2015 |

One of the discoveries of audio production discoveries I’m most grateful for is the layers of sound hidden in silence. This morning I went outside to record some bird song, but as soon as I had my headphones and microphone on, I started hearing whole new layers of crows, distant traffic, early-morning chores, a helicopter. In the words of the Kitchen Sisters, a “microphone is a is a divining rod. It’s a Geiger counter. It’s a stethoscope.” It’s a whole new way of hearing the world.

Best heard with headphones.

Tabatha Southey spells it out → 

May 17 2015 |

On this whole incident, Tabatha Southey nails a key point:

“‘Surely there was some way this could have been handled without Mr. Simoes losing his job?’ some have said. Likely, yes, but that wasn’t Hydro One’s call. And Hydro One is not Mr Simoes’s parent or his therapist. It’s not nanny-Hydro One, and they’re not obliged to coach or reform him or employ him, and there’s no question the man made himself, through considerable effort, not a momentary one-line lapse, a liability.

“Hydro One has other employees to consider, people who might not feel comfortable working under or beside a man who has made it clear that sexually harassing women while they work is something fun that he’s entitled to do, and if they object they are failing in their duty to feel grateful they don’t have a vibrator in their ear.

“It strikes me “he lost his job” is mostly said in a graver tone than “she lost her job.” Somehow, one often senses that a woman losing her job is just not considered as serious a thing.”

Bill Phillips is back

May 14 2015 |

Just two weeks after the Prince George Free Press shut down, editor Bill Phillips is back, writing a column for the online-only 250News.com (which, incidentally, just celebrated its ten-year anniversary). Glad we’ll still have his voice.

Why are there so many fires downtown Prince George?

May 7 2015 |


May 4, 2014: a fire downtown Prince George destroys a new store and damages a popular restaurant.


May 6, 2015: a fire downtown Prince George destroys a new store and damages a popular restaurant.

These are the two that stand out the most in recent memory, but there have been others, as well, including one that destroyed a portion of George Street in 2006.

Anecdotally, it can seem like an unusually high amount of fires.

@akurjata I’ve never lived anywhere with as many fires.

— Dr. Zee (@docdez) May 7, 2015

Last year, I posed that question to fire chief John Iverson. However, he said he wouldn’t consider it anything unusual, just about what you would expect for a city this size. But even so, why are so many downtown buildings being hit?

“Anytime you’re dealing with older buildings you have some challenges. These buildings were obviously built to the code of the day… and there’s been huge improvements in the fire code to prevent fires from spreading outside the room of origin, let alone to other buildings. “None of those buildings had a fire separation between them, they were basically woods walls built against wood walls.”

So is wood as a building material safe (for example, the Wood Innovation and Design Centre)

“When those buildings are properly constructed and their protection systems are maintained, they are safe buildings to occupy. I would have no problem living in a wood building.”

Full interview is below:

listen to ‘Two major fires in two weeks “random” says Prince George fire chief’ on audioBoom


May 4 2015 |

After nine months of filling in as the producer at Daybreak North, I’m going back to associate producer today.

People have been asking me how I feel about the move. The best way I can describe it is it’s like when you’ve been working and studying for weeks, but now you’ve finished all your exams, and all you have to do is go to your job. It feels like I suddenly have a lot less to do.

As with any higher-level job, producer came with a lot of extra responsibilities. The buck for many things stopped with me. There was a lot more time management and long-term planning necessary.

It was hard at times, but I enjoyed myself. We did multiple series, a bunch of original stories, held live election debates, live specials, and more. I also had a great team to work with.

But I’m not sad to be stepping away. It was always the plan, so it’s not like a surprise. It was a great opportunity, I’m grateful to have had it, and maybe I’ll get it again someday. But for now I’m happy to step back for a bit and let someone else take the reins, while I get ready for whatever else comes next.

Prince George Free Press Shutting Down → 

April 30 2015 |

Bill Phillips reveals Prince George Free Press is shutting down:

“Two newspapers is good for a community. Having two newspapers provides readers with different perspectives on the same issues, different looks, different voices.

“Sadly, competition is good for the consumer, it’s not good for business.”

Unfortunate news. I’m trying to ballpark how many journalist jobs have been lost in Prince George in the last decade. Double digits, for sure.

Note: normally I would post an excerpt and a link, but when I try to share this story on Facebook I’m told there is a security error. So I’m posting the whole thing for now, until the problem is resolved.)

Sad day for newspapers

It is truly a sad day for us here at the Prince George Free Press, and for the community of Prince George.

As of May 1, the Prince George Free Press will cease publishing.

The first issue of the Free Press hit the streets on October 31, 1994 and the last issue today, May 1, 2015 … just over 20 years of telling the stories of Prince George.

But it’s sad for the community as well.

Two newspapers is good for a community. Having two newspapers provides readers with different perspectives on the same issues, different looks, different voices.

As journalists, it keeps us sharp because we’re always trying to beat the other guys (that goes for all media) … trying to get the “scoop” as it were.

Sadly, competition is good for the consumer, it’s not good for business.

In most of B.C., newspaper chains have made concerted efforts to get out of each other’s way, rather than take on the other guys. Black Press and Glacier Media have been carving up the landscape geographically so they don’t directly compete with each other in communities big and small.

The Free Press is owned by Aberdeen Publishing, a relatively small newspaper chain, so we haven’t been a part of that rush to competitively not compete.

For us, it was simply a matter of revenues disappearing.

When I started at the Free Press in 2006, we had 27 people on staff and we were publishing between 40 and 48 pages twice a week. Now, as we close, we have 10 people on staff and have been publishing, on average, 32 pages once a week.

You don’t need to have a UNBC MBA to figure out that, as our owner Bob Doull said, “we just weren’t moving the needle in the right direction.”

And it’s not a case of advertisers flocking to our competition. The Citizen isn’t publishing as many pages as it used to either. The advertising dollars just seem to be going away. So, these days, newspaper wars are battles of attrition. It becomes a question of who can hang on the longest.

Here, it was the Prince George Citizen. Just last year the Kamloops Daily News, which was a sister paper to the Citizen, lost the attrition battle to our sister paper Kamloops This Week.

So, Prince George is not unique. Declining revenues are an issue facing the industry everywhere and if I had a solution to that problem, well, I’d be rich.

As for me, I don’t know what the future holds.

It was on the May long weekend in 1985 when I was hired as the sports reporter for the Fernie Free Press. Almost 30 years to the day.

When people have asked me what I like about being a newspaper reporter and/or editor, my response been the same over those 30 years: “Every day is an adventure. You never know who’s going to come through the door or where the day will take you.”

Today, another adventure begins.

Talkback App → 

April 29 2015 |

This is really clever. From the “The Longest Shortest Time” podcast:

“We ask a question; you answer it. We’ll feed our favorite answers back into the app for your listening pleasure. Some of your answers will wind up on our show (like here). And sometimes we’ll collect questions from *you* for a special podcast guest. (Think: sex advice.)


Smart way to tap in to the community with ready-made audio clips. I imagine we’ll be seeing more of this in the future.

Killing CBC will not save newspapers

April 21 2015 |

Note: As always, opinions are my own.

In the Prince George Citizen, Neil Godbout argues CBC needs to be killed off for a number of reasons, among them:

“Its very existence actually poses a threat to journalists and members of the media working in the private sector. As a government agency, CBC is competing with private sector media outlets for audience and those audiences have value or CBC would not be able to sell advertising on television or on Radio 2. Every audience member and advertising dollar CBC takes hurts the viability of local media outlets across the country (and the good-paying jobs those outlets provide), starting locally with the Prince George Citizen and the four local private radio stations and one local TV station.”

To put it bluntly: this is absurd.

The Prince George Citizen was founded in 1916. CBC Radio started broadcasting in 1936 and CBC Television began in 1952. I imagine that if the existence of a public broadcaster were some existential threat to local media- especially print- it may have dealt the death blow at some point during the previous seventy-odd years when radio and TV were the hot new kids on the block. To act is if the CBC of today is the reason for declining revenue in private local media is just irrational. We’ve been bleeding resources for the last twenty years or so. If there was any correlation between the fortunes of CBC and the fortunes of the Prince George Citizen, surely they would be cashing in on these cuts.

CBC is not the reason for the tough time print is having. We have no reporters in the Peace, one of the fastest-growing parts of the province, and yet the Citizen’s parent company, Glacier Media, shut down the Dawson Creek Daily news in 2013, merging it with the Alaska Highway News. CBC has just two staff members in Prince Rupert, compared to many more decades ago, and yet the Prince Rupert Daily shut down in 2010. Similar stories have been happening across the country, despite plummeting government support for CBC.

Neil suggests that a better model for CBC would be a community radio station like CFIS or CFUR in town. I may not know much about how the Citizen sells ads, but having been the station manager for CFUR for a number of years, I’m well aware of how that model works, and let me tell you this: there is no way they can afford to be a replacement for the CBC without a significant increase in the government funding they receive, and then we wind up back where we started. I love community radio, but it ain’t no CBC. This holds in communities across the country.

I’ve written before about how I don’t see all media as being in competition with each other. I’m not alone in this. On a recent episode of Canadaland, the Tyee founder David Beers talks about how he was happy when the CBC started covering the temporary foreign workers in Tumbler Ridge scandal, after the Tyee did the initial investigation. To summarize, he saw it as a win because the Tyee got a good original story for its audience, and CBC helped make it a national story (full thing starts around the twenty-seven minute mark).

“You go back to my idea of there being an ecosystem. And the creatures there aren’t always predatory and competitive, you know? If you have a healthy enough ecosystem with enough creatures swimming around it big and small they can be cooperative, they can be collaborative, they can do better because of the diversity.”

Exactly. I love reading the Citizen. It consistently reports on stories- court, civic, community stories- that we don’t have the time or resources to cover. If it were to fold, it would be a loss, and not one that could be replaced by a community paper run by volunteers. I truly believe that having a healthy media ecosystem is good for everyone, the journalists who work within included, and the loss of any outlet is a loss for all. I cheer when they succeed, and I’m saddened when they are diminished. I only wish Mr. Godbout felt the same.

Journalism 2015

April 17 2015 |

So yesterday, 241 people at CBC stations across the country, including a few I know, were told their jobs are “redundant”.

That brings the total for this year alone to 1,400 cut jobs.

I remember when I started at CBC. We had tens of millions more in our budget. We had a robust slate of overseas correspondents. We had a radio drama department. We had much more ability to invest resources into investigations, arts, training, long-term thinking. The CBC of today can do much less than the CBC I started working at.

I started working at CBC five years ago.

This isn’t some political post. I know the Liberals gutted the CBC before the Conservatives took over the job. I know Conservatives who strongly support the CBC (I also know plenty who don’t). Honestly, this isn’t even about the CBC. This is about journalism.

* * *

I’m writing this post with the presumption that I don’t need to convince you that a robust, independent media is an important component of a functioning democracy. If you disagree, I suggest you turn to the People’s Daily and 24seven for your news coverage and enjoy slowly slipping away from reality.

Meanwhile, I’m going to tell the rest of you about my story file. Actually a bunch of files – there’s a Google Doc, a notebook full of jotted down ideas, an email folder, and a few actual physical folders with newspaper clippings and notes.

All of these are full of stories I want to do stories on but haven’t had the time/opportunity to yet. Among them:

There’s lots of other stuff, too. Some is interesting, but small scale. Others are much bigger and more important to the point I don’t feel comfortable putting even a teaser out here because I haven’t had time to fully fact-check.

And that’s sort of the problem. I don’t know a journalist out there who doesn’t have a whole list of meaty stories they’d like to delve into, but require more time, research, and editorial judgement than a quick one-and-done about a traffic accident or the latest city council meetings.

And the quick one-and-dones are important, no doubt, but so too is original, investigative journalism. Unfortunately, the latter requires resources that are increasingly scarce.

Look, CBC and other outlets across the country are still committed to hard-hitting, boots-on-the-ground, analytic reporting. But they are also committed to telling you all you need to know about the news of the day. And eventually, something’s got to give. In many ways, it already has.

I am not a veteran journalist. But I’ve talked to them, read interviews with them, heard them talk about the old days. And the journalism of old had far more resources than the journalism of today. People could get on planes, spend weeks going through papers and reports, attend full days of meetings. There are still people who can do that, but it’s increasingly rare and increasingly difficult. Sometimes it’s tough to even leave your desk for lunch, let alone to meet a contact for a story that you don’t know will immediately produce results. There are just too many deadlines to invest time in potential stories.

Jonathan Kay, formerly of the National Post, now of the Walrus, did a pretty good job describing the state of journalism in Canada in 2015:

“Rank-and-file comment-section staffers are now expected to write multiple pieces per day, help out with editing, write headlines, browse freelance submissions, libel-check the comment threads, do radio and TV hits when necessary, and promote the hell out of themselves and their colleagues on social media. And even when it’s time to go home for the day, everyone’s expected to keep his or her smartphone on: you never knew when the media-party action is going to get good on Twitter.

“It’s a lot of work for not much money. In 1998, I took a 30 percent pay cut when I left my job as a tax lawyer to become a journalist. These days, the equivalent pay cut would be more on the order of 75 percent.”

And that’s if you get a decent job. I am exceedingly and utterly lucky to be in a position where I can have a mortgage, a pension. Assuming things don’t get worse for the CBC (which, today, feels like a pretty big assumption) I could actually do this job until I retire and be comfortably middle class. That is not the case for many of my colleagues in the private industry. In Prince George, I have seen newsrooms everywhere shrink as, like the CBC, people are expected to do more with less. I have seen many talented people parachute out of journalism to jobs elsewhere. As one former newsroom director told me, she was making barely more than if she were to take a job at Dairy Queen, and she wasn’t sure it was worth it anymore. Being a journalist has become akin to a backpack trip around the world: something relatively-well-off people do in their twenties before getting a real job.

That’s the thing. Critics of the CBC will often say it’s time to cut loose and let the market decide. Unfortunately, the market doesn’t seem to be sure it wants to pay for journalism or, if it does, how those payments will be made. There’s a lot of promise in the world of online, and I’m a big believer in those models, but there are no internet startups that are providing coverage as robust as even today’s diminished CBC. Many of the communities we cover have no other media outlets, or just one of those small “community announcement” newsletters you find at coffee shops. Believe it or not, there are still people and places where the internet as a news source isn’t viable, and newspapers like the Globe and Mail and National Post will no longer deliver. The further north I drive, the more likely it is someone will recognize my name, because CBC radio in a small resource town of a few hundred is a vital link to the rest of the country in a way that is tough to grasp in a bigger city.

* * *

Again, this isn’t a critique aimed at any specific person or policy. This is just a statement of the way things are.

Not so long ago, I went on a Twitter spree explaining the constraints of my job in response to someone wondering why CBC wasn’t at an event in the city. I said that the answer to why we aren’t covering a story is never because we don’t think it’s important. It’s because we don’t have the resources to be in the many places we would like to be. We don’t have the resources to do all that we want to do. And the resources we have left are shrinking.

I’ve seen direct action happen as the result of journalism. Important policy changes are made, or someone who needs help connects with someone who can provide it. There is no doubt in my mind that journalists makes positive difference in ways big and small, all the time. I am certain of that.

I am also certain that fewer people practicing journalism means journalism in this country will be less effective. You can only “work smarter” for so long. Eventually, you just don’t have enough people or time to practice effective journalism. I’m not sure we’ve hit the breaking point yet. But from where I stand- one of the lucky ones to not be among the hundreds and hundreds of journalists in the private and public sector to not lose my job in the last decade- I fear we’re getting dangerously close.

Filed under: Canada, CBC, journalism

CBC eliminates 241 jobs → 

April 16 2015 |

When I started at CBC, we had millions more in our budget and hundreds more people working for us.

It was five years ago.

Bitch Bitch Bitch → 

April 8 2015 |

On the subject of listening to more female voices, here’s the owners of Home Sweet Home, a local grocery store/cafe in town:

“Recently surveyed Home Sweet Home customers would like less bitchiness from us at the store. This is problematic for us, since we are bitches.”

Worth a read.

Of dictionaries, buttercups, and time → 

April 8 2015 |

Dezene Huber:

“So what do the recent changes to the Oxford Junior Dictionary mean? I think it’s fair to say that it means that school-aged children – the target audience of this dictionary – aren’t holding buttercups under chins. They aren’t catching amphibians. They aren’t listening to birds. They aren’t playing games among tangles of willows. They are, instead, being influenced toward corporatized indoor loneliness instead of towards a corporate outdoor solitude.”

Like Huber, I’m in a community that is still surrounded by nature, but also like him, I worry. Even as an adult living in the same neighbourhood I grew up in, I notice that woods I used to wander in are now subdivisions, and the elementary school I attended with a forest on the side is now among many that are shut down. I didn’t fully understand the psychological impact nature had on me until I lived in urban China and experienced a profound sense of relief after discovering a small wooded area after months of nothing but concrete. I hope that future generations will also get to grow up with dirt and trees and birds.

Incidentally, Huber is a professor at UNBC whose blog recently came up in a performance review:

“you have made numerous contributions to the community through.. your blog”

Agreed, and I hope it encourages more academics to get involved in non-academic writing informed by their area of study.

Female Voices → 

April 8 2015 |

Matt Gemmell:

“I very much fell into the trap of only being exposed to the voices of men. My blog subscriptions were all to male writers. Those I followed on Twitter were almost all male. I spoke at many conferences, and in every case, the speaker line-up was either almost completely or exclusively male. Those men then amplified other male voices, perpetuating the effect.

“It’s vital, for all our sakes, that we make an effort to change that.”

I’d also make this recommendation for other voices. During #IdleNoMore, I made an effort to follow more indigenous voices, and during the initial events of Ferguson last year I added African-American voices.

I don’t know what my ratio is, but I do know having more diverse voices in my Twitter feed has helped make me more aware of and empathetic towards viewpoints that, pre-Twitter, I simply didn’t know about. One other tip I’d add: once you’re following those voices, don’t challenge, argue or question. Just listen.


April 2 2015 |

Word this morning that Ben Meisner, legendary broadcaster, has died. As a longtime journalist, he was known for his no-holds-barred interviews, tough questions, and his signature line, delivered in his perfect, old-school radio voice: “I’m Meisner, and that’s one man’s opinion.”

The first I knew of Meisner was when I was a kid, and he was the owner of the business Crazy Willys here in Prince George. He’d show up during my Saturday morning cartoons, in commercials for the deals. I didn’t get a good sense of who he was as a journalist until years later, when I was an intern working in the B.C. legislature.

I was in government caucus communications. Gordon Campbell was still the premier. Some years earlier, as the host of a talk radio show on the now defunct 550 AM in Prince George, Meisner had Campbell on to talk BC Rail.

I didn’t hear the interview myself, but it had grown to the stuff of local legend. Meisner wouldn’t let Campbell off on why he sold the railway. He kept questioning him, rather than moving on to the next subject. Or so I heard.

There are a number of versions of the story about what happened next. In one, the station owner in Vancouver became so enraged about the interview that he personally flew to Prince George to fire Meisner. This is probably not true. This is where the “legendary” status comes from. There are legends around the guy.

Either way, not so long after this interview Meisner was off the air, and the two events became conflated.

He resurfaced, of course. He started the website 250 News in the early days of the internet-as-a new-source, and started broadcasting on community radio. That’s where he was when I started my internship.

So anyways, in government communications there was a job called media monitoring. Tracking what people are saying about the B.C. government. There were only about four or five columnists that the government cared about, because of their ability to influence public decision. All of them were in either Victoria or Vancouver. All of them but one, that is: Ben Meisner.

* * *

I didn’t actually meet Meisner until I started working at CBC. It was on Campbell’s last visit here as premier.

Funny thing is, they acted more like old friends than people who had very publicly sparred. This was a pattern I would see a few times. Despite often being the one to most hold people’s feet to the fire, Meisner was also the one they would chat and laugh with. That’s a tough thing to do.

I got to know Meisner later. When he heard something he liked on CBC, he would reward us with a visit to the office and an invitation for coffee. He would put his face against the glass door, and peer in with a smile. “What’ll ya have, bud?”

Waiting in line, there were always friends and people he’d helped. “Hi there, old-timer!” he’d exclaim.

About three years ago, he ended his radio show. Shortly after, he told us what motivated him. As he told it, he was in the office but the station manager didn’t know it. Ben overheard him talking about what would happen if he stopped broadcasting. “He’ll never quit!” said the station manager. So he did.

Of course, he couldn’t stay away. He came back to the airwaves last year in order to interview every last candidate running in the municipal election. That’s the thing about him. He was absolutely driven by the chase of the story. He always had some investigation on the go. “Oh, let me tell you,” he’d say slyly. Always some new scoop or tip.

“It’s not about the money, it’s never about the money,” he’d say. It was about the story.

When I took the job as producer of the local CBC show last year, we wanted to have someone on to comment on city issues. I invited Meisner.

He warned me it probably wouldn’t work out.

He recorded a few episodes, opining on spending issues, municipal priorities, that sort of thing.

One piece he wrote ran longer than the time allotted, and I thought there were some extraneous lines that we could do without. I emailed him to make the suggestion.

He replied, “Please do not run this editorial in any shape or form… I don’t feel it necessary to justify each and every paragraph I write.

“Consider last week’s submission to be my final column.”

He was getting paid, but it wasn’t about the money. It was never about the money.

I stand by my suggested changes, but I don’t begrudge him the decision not to be edited. He had his own platform. He had earned it.

* * *

A few weeks ago, Meisner paid his last visit to our office. Peering through the glass doors. “What’ll you have, bub?”

This time, we talked about his upcoming vacation plans.

He had asked his wife Elaine where she wanted to go. Hawaii? She said no. Mexico? Nah.

“You choose somewhere,” he says she told him.

He smiles, slyly. Here comes the punchline.

“So we’re going ice fishing in Dauphin, Manitoba!”

We talked about how much he was looking forward to it. How Elaine would like it.

* * *

A few weeks later, another breaking story is published to 250News.com. “Meisner battling cancer”.

Damn. Damn damn damn.

And of course his top priority is getting back to Prince George. “That is my town, and I owe so much.”

And this morning. “Voice of the North Falls Silent“.

That’s the headline. But look at the web address. It ends with “meisner-finally-coming-home”.

He was born in Saskatchewan, started his career in Manitoba, and moved on to Toronto, Red Deer, Kamloops, and more. But Prince George was home. He loved this city. And it loved him back.

I’m seeing tributes coming in from people from all walks of life. The premier has issued a statement. The comments section on 250 News is, as always, full of voices.

Here’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to remember all the times he chose the tough questions over the easy conversation. The times he chose his journalistic instincts over money.

In these days of shrinking newsrooms and the ever-vanishing line between “journalism” and “PR”, he stood as an example. He would work for other people, but not if that meant changing what he wanted to say. He’d sooner quit. And he did, again and again. If no one would give him the platform to say what he felt needed to be said, he built it himself.

There are a number of critiques you could throw at him, but no one can say he wasn’t true to himself. And that’s no small feat.

Rest in peace, Ben. You deserve it.

That’s one man’s opinion.

* * *

I should add, I think it’s only fair that the fullest portrait of who Ben was comes from the man himself. Fortunately, the Prince George Oral History Group conducted an interview with him about ten years ago that gives you a full picture of his life and values.

You can also listen to my interview on CBC about him:

listen to ‘The legacy of Ben Meisner’ on audioBoom

And Dave Barry at CKPG put together an excellent overview of his life:

Filed under: journalism, personal, Prince George


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