50 Shades Of Greying

Here's what I know: Lisa LaFlamme -- the main anchor of CTV News, one of Canada’s national nightly newscasts -- was fired.

There are multiple versions of why floating around. The one that seems to have served as a rallying point for those looking to support LaFlamme is that she was fired because she was getting old. During COVID, she decided to let her hair go to its natural grey. That, according to the popular version, prompted network brass to pull the pin on her contract.

I suspect the real reason why was not quite that cut-and-dried. The owners of the network, Bell Media, have been relentlessly trimming their payrolls at their various news organizations over the past several years.

I know of one such story through a personal connection. The way this one scenario played out sounded very similar to what happened to Lisa LaFlamme -- minus the accusations of ageism and gender double standards.

In this case, it was largely a matter of dollars and cents. TV news is struggling financially. Long-time on-air talent have negotiated a salary over their careers that is no longer sustainable. Something had to give.



These are probably just the casualties attributable to a dying industry. A hundred years ago, it would have been blacksmiths and gas lamplighters that were being let go by the thousands.

The difference is that the average blacksmith or lamplighter didn’t have a following of millions of people. They also didn’t have social media. They certainly didn’t have corporate PR departments desperately searching for the latest social media “woke” bandwagon to vault upon.

What’s interesting is how these things play out through various media channels. In LaFlamme’s case, it was a perfect storm that lambasted Bell Media (which owns the CTV Network). As the ageism rumors began to emerge, anti-ageism social media campaigns were run by Dove, Wendy’s and even Sports Illustrated. LaFlamme wasn’t mentioned by name in most of these, but the connection was clear. Going grey was something to be celebrated, not a cause for contract cancellation. Grey-flecked gravitas should be gender-neutral. “Who the f*&k were these Millennial corporate pin-heads that couldn’t stand a little grey on the nightly news!”

It makes excellent fodder for the meme factory, but I suspect the reality wasn’t quite that simple. La Flamme has never publicly revealed the actual reason for dismissal from her point of view. She never mentioned ageism. She simply said she was “blindsided” by the news. The reasoning behind the parting of the ways from Bell Media has largely been left up to conjecture.

A few other things to note.  LaFlamme received the news on June 29, but didn’t share the news until six weeks later (Aug. 15) on a personal video she shared on her own social media feed. Bell Media offered her the opportunity to have an on-air send off, but she declined. Finally, she also declined several offers from Bell to continue with the network in other roles. She chose instead to deliver her parting shot in the war zone of social media.

To be fair to both sides, if we’re to catalog all the various rumors floating about, there are also those saying that the decision was caused, in part,  by an allegedly toxic work environment in the news department that started at the top, with LaFlamme.

Now, if the reason for the termination actually was ageism, that’s abhorrent.  The same is true if the reason was sexism.

But if it’s more complex, which I’m pretty sure it is, the incident shows how our world doesn’t deal very well with complexity anymore. The consideration required to understand complex issues doesn't fit well within the attention constraints of social media. It’s a lot easier just to sub in a socially charged hot button meme and wait for the inevitable opinion camps to form. Sure, they’ll be one-dimensional and about as thoughtful as a sledgehammer, but those types of posts are a much better bet to go viral.

Whatever happened in the CTV National Newsroom, the situation shows that business decisions in the media business will have to follow a very different playbook from this point forward. Bell Media fumbled the ball badly on this one. They have been scrambling ever since to save face. It appears that Lisa LaFlamme -- and her ragtag band of social media supporters -- outplayed them at every turn.

By the way, LaFlamme just nabbed a temporary gig as a “special correspondent” for CityTV, Bell Media’s competitor, covering the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II and the proclamation of King Charles III.  She’s being consummately professional and comforting, garnering a ton of social media support as she eases Canada through the grieving process (our emotional tie to the Crown is another very complex relationship that would require several posts to unpack). 

Well played, Lisa LaFlamme -- well played.

1 comment about "50 Shades Of Greying".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, September 13, 2022 at 12:33 p.m.

    You may be right, Gord---who really knows but the folks who fired her.

    One thing, though. I don't think that thinning out the ranks of highly paid news reporters, anchors, etc. is a sign of a medium---TV news--- in deep trouble. Not necessarily, at any rate. Why? Because we see the same pattern repeated in many companies in many industries---especially after they are taken over by new owners. Yet most of these industries continue to function profitably ----even after the lyoffs of older, well paid staffers. It's sad---but it's nothing new.

    I can't speak about CTV, but TV news on a national and, in particular, the local level continues to be either profitable or very profitable, depending where you look. And the audience ---in terms of time spent---isn't dropping off alarmingly nor is it aging---it was always very old in terms of average minute ratings. 

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