By Sally Barnes
The world is going to hell in a handbasket of fires, drought, floods, and crazed people.
Meanwhile, here in Canada, we have our knickers in a knot about a TV news anchor who insists on being self-confident and glamorous at the age of 58.
The nerve of this woman!
Truth to tell, the miracle is that Lisa LaFlamme’s celebrity career lasted as long as it did after giving the finger to the small army of purveyors and enforcers who prepare TV personalities for the bright lights and armchair and professional critics.
In an industry that cookie cuts blondes with identical hairstyles, LaFlamme insisted on being her own woman.
During the pandemic, LaFlamme eschewed the hair colouring that is purchased by the vat for those in the entertainment business, public life, corporate boardrooms, and various other endeavours where ageism has been added to other “isms” which dictate the value of people.
“Looking young” is the modern requisite giant step in climbing and clinging to the ladder of success.
Young (and less experienced) staff is also cheaper staff—a big consideration for media outlets struggling to meet payrolls as the competition for advertising dollars increases.
There are few people who are over 55 left in the business and those veterans who do remain must have nightmares about pink slips and unrequited love by their employers.
Lost in the shuffle are senior journalists with many years of experience who are put out to pasture and their expertise and institutional memory go with them. Hosts, pundits, and so-called experts who help fill time on news and current events programs seem to get younger and better coiffed and made up by the day.
From the TV ads to the movie screens and material produced by various professional groups, today’s main characters try to conceal wrinkles and strut-perfect teeth and hair of every shade but grey.
After 35 years as a reporter and anchor at leading TV network CTV, LaFlamme had earned the big salary and self-confidence needed to flaunt her swath of long, grey hair that turned silver under the studio lights.
Insiders say LaFlamme’s decision to go au natural disturbed some of the hierarchy at Bell Media, the parent company, while viewers maintained their loyalty to this leading journalist and the award-winning flagship nightly newscast she anchored.
Her dismissal was a “business decision” about taking a “new direction,” said the powers that be. If that wasn’t hard enough to swallow for someone at the peak of her career and the pinnacle of her profession, they denied her a gracious sendoff and personal goodbye to her millions of viewers.
Viewers mourn her loss and are angry about how her dismissal was staged.
To the company’s chagrin, the public backlash has been swift and bitter—from colleagues to politicians and ordinary TV watchers alike.
There were stories of Lisa’s personal relationships—her acts of kindness to colleagues over the years, her charitable causes, her membership in both the prestigious Order of Canada and Order of Ontario.
A colleague recalled her coverage of foreign wars—Afghanistan, Iraq, and most recently Ukraine—where on the front lines toilets don’t exist and luxury was finding a sink where she could wash her hair before doing her next live broadcast.
Her goal was always to get viewers back home the truth about the war.
Social media and public commentary about the LaFlamme dismissal are full of threats by viewers to boycott CTV and its advertisers. Whether that happens remains to be seen.
People who don’t watch television news (and there are many—especially among the younger generation addicted to and dependent on social media) probably had never heard of Lisa LaFlamme until this week.
News broke that Bell Media had shown her the door after 35 years of service as one of its most acclaimed TV performers with not even a public “here’s your hat..what’s your hurry?”
Defenders of LaFlamme were quick to point out that her CTV predecessor, Lloyd Robertson, was 77 when he retired, and over at CBC Peter Mansbridge was 69 when he handed over the anchor position on the flagship, The National.
Both must have looked in the rearview mirror and saw the creeping and resolute trend of ageism and diversity closing in on them.
Once all-white and mostly male newsrooms have been transformed into career opportunities for a wide range of racial, cultural, and gender-diverse people reflective of today’s population.
LaFlamme’s hold on the top job at CTV news cannot be viewed as an impediment to diversity. In fact, she was an icon for talented and hard-working women who overcame adversity to rise to the top and mentor many along the way.
I consider her a trailblazer—along with so many other women like Flora MacDonald, Judy LaMarsh, Jeanne Sauve, Laura Sabia, Pauline McGibbon, Barbara Frum, June Callwood, Doris Anderson, Christina McCall and so many, many more.
Dammit, the trouble was Lisa LaFlamme was considered too old by bosses at Bell Media struggling with the rest of the media to attract a younger audience, advertising, and the money to stay in business.
I say, forget it, boys. The younger generation has declared newspapers, radio, and TV their grandparents’ media.
All you’re doing is ticking off and failing the mature but loyal audience who grew up wanting to hold a newspaper in their hands with their morning mug of coffee, listen to clever and intelligent CBC Radio programming and tune into the immensely talented and always well-informed Lisa LaFlamme on CTV.
This is all unfolding in an age of wild conspiracy theories, false news and mad politicians and their crazed followers. Public respect for and confidence in the media—along with our other democratic institutions—is under duress in Canada as elsewhere.
Only this week, the legitimacy of the legendary and very staid New York Times has come into question amid allegations of political conflict of interest and tampering with the facts.
In the U.S., the media is so polarized that viewers can choose cable news that reports only stories and opinions slanted to what their audience wants to hear and believe.
FOX News adores former president Donald Trump and supports his re-election hopes. CNN meanwhile hates both FOX and Trump and they daily attack each other.
In the controversy here in Canada over Lisa LaFlamme, the integrity and reliability of CTV and its powerful parent company Bell Media have been tainted.
Our fragile and shrinking media world and our right and responsibility to be well and factually informed, have taken another hit.
All in the name of fearing and disrespecting age and the eternal quest to look younger than we really are.
Why can’t we just grow up for heaven’s sake!
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
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