“I guess this is my sign-off from CTV.” That’s the line that killed me most in the video that award-winning journalist Lisa LaFlamme posted to Twitter on Monday afternoon, announcing that she was leaving her job as anchor of CTV National News “in a manner not my choice” and that she was “blindsided, shocked and saddened” to be going.
Her “sign-off” line slayed me and thousands more in and outside the media because, at the very least, she deserved a proper send-off. Her broadcast has consistently led in viewership. She’s won shelves full of awards, most recently the Canadian Screen Award for best news anchor, national. When her predecessor, Lloyd Robertson, left the job, he announced his retirement in July, 2010, and then worked for another 14 months. He bade his audience adieu at age 77, from the anchor chair, during a broadcast that included a congratulatory message from then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Over at CBC, Peter Mansbridge received a similarly lengthy, laudatory farewell, when he was 69.
By contrast, LaFlamme – who pointedly mentions in her video that she is 58 – had to say her goodbyes in a two-minute video recorded on her phone at her cottage.
In a video released via Twitter on Monday, CTV National News anchor Lisa LaFlamme said Bell Media informed her on June 29 of the "business decision" to end her contract. LaFlamme had worked for the network for 35 years.
The Globe and Mail
She gave CTV 35 years of excellent work. CTV owner Bell Media didn’t even give her 20 minutes. At 2:06 p.m. ET Monday, Bell sent out a news release that read, “Recognizing changing viewer habits, CTV recently advised LaFlamme that it had made the business decision to move CTV National News and its anchor in a different direction.”
Nineteen minutes later, a second release went out, announcing Omar Sachedina, 39, as LaFlamme’s replacement. It was an MBA master class in how to screw up a trusted brand. Not only did Bell bungle their attempt to paper over LaFlamme – by 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, her video had 3.8 million views – they also hoisted Sachedina with their own petard. His tweet Monday afternoon that he was excited to be taking over taught many people, including me, the meaning of being ratio’d (when negative comments far outnumber positive ones). “Too soon,” people replied to him, along with, “Ouch, buddy,” “Read the room” and – my favourite – “Please let people exit the elevator before you get on.”
I don’t yet know all the facts of her ouster – LaFlamme respectfully declined to speak to me – but I know how this feels. It does not feel like it’s about “changing viewer habits” (all legacy media is dealing with the issue of declining numbers of readers/viewers). It feels sexist.
When a male anchor is axed, it’s usually for cause – see Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose et al. LaFlamme joins a long list of women anchors who appear to have been replaced for aging out (among others, Ann Curry, Gretchen Carlson, Meredith Vieira, Carol Anne Meehan). “Business decision” is often code for “She gets paid too much.” And on Tuesday, Canadaland reported through an unnamed source that LaFlamme was ousted by a white male vice-president who “doesn’t like it when women push back.” Allegedly, she fought for more funds to cover the war in Ukraine and to keep a long-time colleague. But the reason for replacing her is likely not what she fought for, it’s likely just that she fought – full stop.
LaFlamme’s ouster also feels ageist, but in a particularly sexist way. The satirical site The Beaverton joked in a post Tuesday that Bell Media expressed regret over unceremoniously replacing LaFlamme at 58, “when clearly she should have been fired the day she turned 50. … We cannot apologize enough for subjecting our viewers to the sight of a woman who is almost 60 years old.”
Twitter was ablaze with the idea that LaFlamme’s decision during the pandemic shutdown to grow out her naturally grey hair also contributed to her ouster. I don’t think it’s the grey but it could be what the grey represents: A woman who owns her own look, who is proud of her experience and who has better ways to spend her time than sitting in the chair every three weeks. (No disrespect to women, myself included, who dye their hair.)
The decision also feels chillingly corporate. To her audience, a successful anchor is not a number on a balance sheet – she’s a trusted figure invited into their homes, counted on to make sense of the world. Yet time and again, we’ve seen media companies taken over by conglomerates that don’t seem to value journalism or even understand how it works.
LaFlamme is a role model, not only to the legion of women on social media who are crediting her with inspiring them (among them, Stephanie Hinds, Adrienne Arsenault, Wendy Mesley, Farah Nasser, Annie Bergeron-Oliver, Jann Arden, Anne Murray, Dawna Friesen, Olivia Chow, Susan Ormiston, Althia Raj, Arlene Dickinson, Merella Fernandez and Jennifer Yang) but also to men, for showing them that a woman is not only capable of doing the job, but excels at it. Her salary reflected her reach, but that reach is priceless.
I appreciate and agree that old media has to make room for new voices, and that underrepresented people deserve to and must have a chance to lead. That’s the line Bell Media is trying to take here, but based on their treatment of Sachedina so far, I don’t buy it. I also wonder why it’s always the woman who has to make room. Where are all the white male executives willing to give up their jobs?
LaFlamme led a newsroom, so I’m certain that more information on her departure will be forthcoming. I’m also certain, sadly, that she won’t be the last woman to be let go so abruptly, unceremoniously and undeservedly.
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