“You only have one chance to make a first impression.”
It’s a cliché, but I thought it was funny when I heard it come out of the mouth of Martin Spalding, the vice-president at Astral Media who is in charge of its three English-language stations in Montreal: CHOM, Virgin Radio (CJFM) and CJAD. The fact that we were talking to each other was kind of proving that assertion wrong. Or at least it was strong evidence against it.
Eleven days earlier, I called Spalding at his office to talk to him about the return of Terry DiMonte to CHOM, a move he arranged. But our conversation was brief.
“I know who you are,” he said after I introduced myself. Just as I was starting to feel relieved that I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of convincing him to speak to some guy on the Internet as if he was a journalist, Spalding put the brakes on the interview. “I’m not in the mood to have this conversation,” he said.
I asked why. “Let’s just say you should be careful what you post on Twitter,” he said, without elaborating. He followed that with “this conversation is over.”
There was a slight hesitation in his voice, as if even he couldn’t believe he was saying this.
I didn’t know how to react. I don’t expect that everyone I contact will be interested in talking to me – mostly because I’m not a traditional journalist and my audience is not that of a metro newspaper or a supper-hour TV newscast. But I’d never had someone answer me like this before. This conversation sounded like it would be in the script from a bad movie.
What got me most is that I had no idea what set him off. Other than quoting some press releases with his name in them, I’d never talked about him on my blog. I’d never mentioned his name on Twitter. I didn’t even know what he looked like.
And I’ve posted thousands of things on Twitter. Plenty of stuff has been negative about CHOM and other Astral stations. I couldn’t really narrow it down.
The call was just before the end of business on June 23. My post about DiMonte – with the bit about Spalding at the end – was published the next day.
An email from Spalding was dated 9:05am the next Monday. He said he realizes he may have been a little “curt” in our phone conversation, and offered to take me out to lunch to explain. We scheduled a meeting for the following Monday at noon – July 4.
After seeing Spalding’s office – a corner office with wood panelling – and meeting Virgin Radio Brand Director Mark Bergman, we went to a Chinese place nearby and discussed our respective pasts a bit. Everything was cordial.
It was actually quite a while into our conversation at the lunch table until Spalding set the record straight about that minute-long conversation.
He said he had taken exception to something I tweeted the day before, suggesting that CHOM’s promotions department was lacking because its website had no mention of DiMonte a day after a press release announcing he was coming back to the station.
Spalding explained that it wasn’t because they’d simply forgotten about this or were lazy about it. Because DiMonte was still contracted to Q107 in Calgary, Spalding said that CHOM couldn’t use his image or promote him. Even issuing the press release was “playing with fire,” he said.
Spalding took my ill-informed tweet as an attack on the employees who work for him, and for me to then call and ask for comment after bashing his radio station didn’t exactly put him in the mood to cooperate.
By Monday morning, he had read my post on DiMonte, and his mood changed. He apologized for the curt tone on the phone, and went out of his way to compliment me on posts I had written, including the DiMonte one and an earlier one on Cogeco’s CRTC application for all-traffic radio stations, which he considered much more solid journalism than some of the shoot-from-the-hip tweets that are based on incomplete information.
It’s amazing how a simple conversation can change your perspective.
I, in turn, asked Spalding to apologize on my behalf to CHOM’s promotions department, an apology I repeat here. I jumped to an incorrect assumption (not the first time I’ve done so with CHOM-related news), and I should have checked. Just because it’s on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s exempt from basic journalistic rigour. I’ll try to do better in the future.
So we’re good now. Spalding gave me his card (asking me to call him before I tweet next time), paid for my lunch (the next one will be on me – I want to try to have at least some journalistic ethics here) and gave me two hours of his time – even pushing back a conference call so he could give me a few extra minutes.
The image of the super-professional businessman that DiMonte had painted for me during our conversation turned out to be a lot more accurate than I had thought after that brief phone conversation.
So, now on to the good stuff. I had a good bank of questions related to recent events at his radio stations, so I posed as many as I could fit in before I started to feel really guilty about taking him away from his real job.