Among the jobs I’ve never wanted is being the person responsible for designing, creating and installing a sign for a company that makes signs.
It’s a very public display of your core competency: You absolutely cannot afford to get it wrong.
That’s how I feel about CTV this morning, one of Canada’s national broadcasters. They’re in the business of communications. They should be great at it.
But the fiasco surrounding the termination of CTV National News anchor Lisa LaFlamme, and the announcement of her replacement, is a master class in how not to treat star employees and how to mishandle public relations.
LaFlamme has been at the helm of the network’s flagship broadcast since 2011, racking up countless awards including being named Best National News Anchor five times at the Canadian Screen Awards. The paint on her most recent award hasn’t even dried yet — it’s from 2022.
The sheer speed of the move is a big part of the problem. Other Canadian television journalism icons got the chance to say long goodbyes and sign off for a final time.
Lloyd Robertson was feted on air in his last broadcast for CTV News in 2011 by then prime minister Stephen Harper. His newcast ended with a montage of photos and memories from his stellar career. He was 77.
At CBC, anchor Peter Mansbridge got a king’s sendoff as well.
“Thanks for watching all these years,” he said in his final broadcast in 2017. “It’s been quite the ride for me but always a privilege to be a part of bringing the national story home to you from wherever that story may be… Goodbye, and goodnight, from Ottawa.”
Mansbridge was 68.
LaFlamme didn’t get the same sendoff, or even the opportunity to say goodbye to the national audience from her anchor’s chair. Instead, her final words came via a video she shot herself from home and posted to Twitter.
She was a class act in the video, though clearly stung by the sudden firing.
“At 58, I still thought I had a lot more time to tell more of the stories that impact our daily lives,” she said. “While it is crushing to be leaving CTV National News in a manner that is not my choice, please know reporting to you has truly been the greatest honour of my life, and I thank you for always being there.”
The way her replacement’s announcement was handled added fuel to the fire. Less than an hour after LaFlamme posted her video, Omar Sachedina tweeted that he was “honoured” and “excited” to follow in her footsteps.
Sachedina is, by all accounts, a great journalist and a qualified replacement. But it was all too quick, too celebratory and too cold to an employee with more than three decades experience.
“Recognizing changing viewer habits, CTV recently advised LaFlamme that it had made the business decision to move its acclaimed news show, CTV NATIONAL NEWS, and the role of its Chief News Anchor in a different direction,” a press release issued by parent company Bell Media read.
Twitter was not kind to the broadcaster.
“Instead of ‘footsteps,’ it’s more like you were following her ‘heel marks’ as she was unceremoniously dragged out of the position you’re so ‘honoured’ to have,” wrote @lori_lm.
“Lloyd Robertson got a weeks-long send off, a documentary, and a tribute website,” wrote @DrKateTO. “Lisa LaFlamme got a 6-week gag order until she could send out a message on her twitter account that she recorded from home. These are not the same. Please explain this to your employer.”
“Always leave room for people to get off the elevator before you on yourself,” wrote @kjvos.
It was all so unnecessary and predictable. Now, Bell and CTV are facing accusations of sexism for pushing a female anchor out of the seat unceremoniously, in sharp contrast to how men in her position were treated.
Parting ways is never easy. But when you have a high profile, respected employee — you have to go the extra mile. If the transition had to happen, for whatever reason Bell Media identified in its research, it could have done it with class.
Instead, it decided to rip the Band-Aid off and cast aside a household name with a great reputation.
The result? Canadians are driving by, looking at an ugly, dilapidated sign hanging a little off kilter outside the signmaker’s shop.