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Four veteran news professionals depart as Bell Media slashing hits CTV Edmonton

Serena Mah

Fallout from the mid-November "restructuring" at Bell Media continues to be felt at CTV operations across the country, including here in Edmonton.

If you have particularly sharp eyes, you might have noticed the momentary farewell on one of CTV Edmonton's December 3 news broadcasts to four veteran news department employees who had agreed to take buyouts, with the voluntary nature of their departures heavily emphasized by the weirdly grinning anchor and his grey-suited male sidekicks.

If you blinked, though, you probably missed the cheerful little item on the departure for new opportunities of veteran journalists Serena Mah and Kim Taylor, 32-year camera operator Robin Cleator, and former camera operator turned full-time editor Brian Fletcher from the station previously known as CFRN-TV.

As far as I can tell, the impact on Edmonton news coverage of the foundering broadcaster's head-office decision was not mentioned anywhere in a mainstream media text story, or by any other broadcaster -- an all-too-typical omission as big-shot media bosses in Central Canada pare their operations nationwide to skeletal levels. This leaves news like this to be covered by the blogosphere, where you risk getting what you pay for.

Needless to say, none of this will do much to improve the quality of CTV's coverage of Alberta politics -- Mah was assigned as a political reporter in the broadcaster's Legislative bureau -- or any other stories in the Edmonton region.

Meanwhile, the same media execs, like the CTV bosses’ counterparts at debt-ridden Postmedia Network, are scratching their heads about the way the Internet is wrecking their business model. Well, it's conceded here that the Internet is part of the problem, but decisions like slashing news staff in a provincial capital aren't going to do much for the enterprise's success either.

And, actually, the situation is worse in Edmonton than it appears on the surface. In addition to the four unionized staffers who are known to have taken buyouts, several part-time and casual employees were laid off, including another journalist, low on the seniority totem pole. I'll leave him unnamed as an act of kindness during his job search.

Three producers are said to have lost their jobs at Bell Media’s CTV2 operation in Edmonton, the "educational" arm of CTV Alberta that began life as the provincial government’s Access TV operation. Access was sold off in 1995 during premier Ralph Klein's privatization spree and eventually found its way into Bell Media’s portfolio.

Moreover, four mid-level managers were also shown the door. Not long before them, veteran station manager Lloyd Lewis also departed. The Edmonton station will now be run out of Calgary, insiders say, sort of like the way the Edmonton Sun for years had a managing editor based in the former Cowtown.

I'm also told that when the layoffs were finally done, the bosses in Toronto realized they were still one short for the high jump -- so they canned the staffer who'd been loyally processing the departees' paperwork!

Regular TV news viewers will be interested to note that after the CTV News departures, no changes were made to CTV Edmonton’s broadcasting schedule. All local shows remain on the air at the same length. So that squeaking noise you hear in the background of future broadcasts will probably be the sound of the treadmills spinning ever faster. 

As bad as things seem at CTV Edmonton, the carnage seems to have been worse in other Canadian centres. By the sound of it, more than 400 people lost their jobs at CTV operations across the country, maybe more. In the national capital, a popular anchor, a morning show host and a well-known sports reporter, all women, were quickly skidded out the door last month.

Alas, this is unlikely to be the end of it, here or elsewhere, as the chaos in the conventional Canadian news business continues through a destructive combination of digitization and executive myopia.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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