The Garret Tree
Sunday, October 02, 2005
  CBC 126: Who leaked the Common Workman mess?

I got an e-mail last night asking who is the villian in the Paul Workman-David Common mess?

Let's review who is involved.

Antonia Zerbisias reported the facts as she knew them. She can be faulted for not making an extra effort to contact David before blogging. She says this morning:
Finally, while I admit I did not try to contact Common for ''his side of the story," I wasn't presenting "sides." I was reporting that Paul Workman was leaving Paris and that Common would replace him.

I had no trouble getting hold of David and he told me Saturday his phone was ringing all day.

David Common received an offer from Global in the middle of a nasty lockout. He clearly wanted to stay at CBC, but he had no income apart from lockout pay and the part time job, and a new mortgage and a new baby. What was he supposed to do? It is a grey area. But also this kind of thing seldom comes up in other industrial action. Whether it is mill worker, miner, teacher or pilot, a person on the picket line in other industries is not usually in the position to be subject to a bidding war as a promising TV correspondent might be.

Tony Burman and George Hoff, both middle managers in this mess, were faced with at least one case where they needed to keep a promising correspondent in the fold. In that area, they too were caught in the middle.

So we come down to the question of who leaked and why?

David Common did not leak the story. Burman and Hoff as far as I can tell, had no reason to leak, there is no upside on this for them.

There was a confidentiality agreement on both sides. David Common did not talk to me until that agreement was apparently broken first by someone inside the Toronto Broadcast Centre.

Zerbisias also knew that there was confidentialiy clause because she also mentions it in her blog.

I must add however that there was also a confidentiality agreement tied to the CBC's offer which may have been broken -- rendering the understanding ''null and void."

Zerbisias has said, also on her blog
, that she will not reveal her source.
The other thing is who leaked the David Common offer and why... You won't be getting an answer from me.

If we're playing the "who is the source" game, then a little intelligence analysis must conclude that the inside leaker was someone close enough to the top to know and to tell Zerbisias that there was a confidentiality clause in the agreement. Another party, perhaps a manager a couple of times removed, who was not so close to the deal may have known the basics enough to give out the story, but not likely the confidentiality clause.

So it appears that the leak came from a real insider. Then the question is why? That's harder to tell. As all reporters know, people leak for all kinds of reasons. I once got a leak from an official who had been passed over for promotion and wanted to get in a dig at his managers.

This is a highly volatile situation. So was the leaker in this case just a gossip who gave no thought to what would happen? Or is the leaker throwing fuel on the fire for reasons we don't know?

Everyone in journalism has been on the receiving end of leaks, we depend on them, we protect our sources. Now we are seeing in our own house what a messy leak does to everyone. That doesn't mean we should give up getting information from our sources, but perhaps we will be a little more wary of their motives in the future.

The other factor in all this is the apparent move by news management to ease out the older generation of correspondents, both at home and overseas. What this lockout has done has made what was before August 15 a matter of hall talk an open issue of fairness to veterans, the correspondents who were those responsible for CBC's reputation for good journalism for years. It also makes other older workers wondering if they are next on a hit list.

I also find the attacks on other blogs on David Common's lack of experience compared to Workman rather unfair. The fault is not his, but the previous generation of news managers. The problem as I said before, was that in the 1990s every news organization in North America, not just the CBC, trimmed to much, laying off many promising young people while keeping the experienced boomers. If you look at CBC and CTV, there are not that many "middle generation" correspondents around. There are either the veterans or the up and comers.

There is the old story about many news organizations, a decade ago, ignoring the death of Kurt Cobain and how that was a sign they were out of touch. Well the kid who 10 years ago would have told the desk that Cobain's death was news would, if many managers across the continent had an ounce of vision, be an established foreign correspondent by now. (And some networks and newspapers did have that vision or were in the right place at the right time, CNN was hiring as others were layling off in the early 1990s).

So now these current managers are trying to kill two birds with one stone. Get young faces on the screen and fill in the gaps as veterans either retire or are eased out because "they don't fit the demographic," (That last quote comes from a TV reporter from Los Angeles I met a couple of years ago. He was on contract and fired on his 50th birthday for that very reason).

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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