Kai Nagata quits CTV

Is the news media too focused on style over substance? Kai Nagata thinks so

Less than a year after taking on the job of Quebec City bureau chief for CTV, Kai Nagata abruptly quit his post on Friday, publishing a long piece (one might call it a manifesto) on a new blog explaining why.

Nagata writes that his decision to leave is not the result of any falling out with CTV or any personal issues, but is more of a philosophical decision based on what he sees are the limitations of the news media, and television in particular. Among them:

  • “… there is an underlying tension between ‘what the people want to see’ and ‘the important stories we should be bringing to people’.”
  • “I admit felt a profound discomfort working in an industry that so casually sexualizes its workforce. … The idea has taken root that if the people reporting the news look like your family and neighbours, instead of Barbie and Ken, the station will lose viewers.”
  • “… the target viewer, according to consultants, is also supposed to like easy stories that reinforce beliefs they already hold.”
  • “the Kate and Will show. Wall-to-wall, breaking-news coverage of a stage-managed, spoon-fed celebrity visit, justified by the couple’s symbolic relationship to a former colony. … On a weekend where there was real news happening in Bangkok, Misrata, Athens, Washington, and around the world, what we saw instead was a breathless gaggle of normally credible journalists, gushing in live hit after live hit about how the prince is young and his wife is pretty. And the public broadcaster led the charge.”
  • “I have serious problems with the direction taken by Canadian policy and politics in the last five years. But as a reporter, I feel like I’ve been holding my breath.”
  • “Within the terms of my employment at CTV, there was a clause in which the corporation (now Bell Media) literally took ownership of my intellectual property output.”
Nagata makes it clear that his criticisms of the television news industry apply as much to the CBC (where he worked before) as to CTV. And presumably the others as well.

“I quit my job because the idea burrowed into my mind that, on the long list of things I could be doing, television news is not the best use of my short life. The ends no longer justified the means,” Nagata writes.

Nagata, who’s all of 24 years old, isn’t sure what he’s going to do next. But he’s already heading out west to Vancouver to be with his family.

“I’m broke, and yet I know I’m rich in love. I’m unemployed and homeless, but I’ve never been more free,” Nagata writes.

I had only one real question for Nagata: “Are you insane?”

His response: “Fair question, and one I’ve been asking myself for a week. … I mean what I say about feeling free. And calm, and happy. And yes, sane. The tradeoff, so far, is worth it.”

Of course, “so far” has been a matter of hours.

52 thoughts on “Kai Nagata quits CTV

  1. Beeper

    Alan Hustak also quit the TV news because it was driving him crazy too. He had this idea that it was stealing his soul. If I was this kid I would have stuck it out a few more years and put some cash in the bank. Presumably he has some kinda better offer?

    Reply
  2. Kirti Patel

    Good luck to Mr.Nagata. I admire his guts and his bravery for quiting without knowing whats next.That my friends takes huge stones.

    Reply
  3. Jimmy Zoubris

    One of the best most thoughtful things I have read in a long time.
    “Insane”…..jury is still out on that one……but happy!
    Good luck
    Jimmy Z.

    Reply
  4. Marc

    I think this line here:

    “Within the terms of my employment at CTV, there was a clause in which the corporation (now Bell Media) literally took ownership of my intellectual property output.”

    is what it pretty much boils down to.

    Reply
      1. Deano

        Well, are they paying me at 10 pm while I sit in my skivvies writing about 7th century Byzantine art? My guess is no, so why do they get to own it?

        Reply
        1. Anon

          Ask your boss.
          The Woz and Steve Jobs made the first Apple computer while working for HP, and had to present it to their bosses who said ‘why the hell do we care about this?’

          It’s a stupid clause leftover from the 19th century and shouldn’t be in modern-day contracts unless you’re paid salary without overtime.

          Reply
  5. AlexH

    Having read his entire post, I think it really becomes clear the problem he faces:

    Reporting requires you to not on be unbiased, but in some ways to be biased to the way your network / channel / station wants you to be. It would appear in the gap between being a student and being a reporter, he suddenly woke up and realizes where he was, and that isn’t very comfortable for a 24 year old who still wants to not only have an opinion but to be able to express it openly. Unlike what might be taught in school or thought about in the idealized world of journalism 101, the real world media have masters, and those masters have opinions, and those opinions aren’t always yours.

    I think Kai Nagata work up and realized that he was on the fast track to middle age, that it sort of all slips away once you get on the treadmill. He could have easily stayed with it, and 35 and counting could have snuck up so fast. Instead, he has chosen (perhaps wisely) to get out before he gets sucked in any further, and at 24, to turn the clock back to “just graduated school, no idea what to do next”.

    The only bad thing for him is in journalistic terms, he probably will never work in this town again. He has pretty much burned off 2 / 3 of all Canadian TV spots, with only Global as a final resting place. I don’t think he will be back as a journalist, except perhaps doing independent documentaries or something.

    Good luck Mr Nagata.

    Reply
    1. qatzelok

      “he suddenly woke up and realizes where he was”

      And that the place where he was didn’t allow him to have his own opinions.

      What kind of place doesn’t let you have opinions, exactly?

      How *free* was this Western reporter? And by extension, how free is our source of information?

      Reply
  6. Ted Bird

    Better to regret doing something than regret not doing it. He’s young, but he’s no dummy. He’ll be fine.

    Reply
  7. Brian Daly

    Kai did something many of us have thought about doing form time to time, but once you’ve got a wife and kids, reality sinks in.

    Now is the only time Kai could possibly have done something like this, once you get deep into the rat race you make up all sorts of reasons why you can’t leave.

    Having worked with Kai at the CBC, I can definitely say the news business lost a potential superstar. He’s so talented that I’m not sure a shop wouldn’t take a chance on him again if he decides to get back into it.

    But maybe he’ll write books or something, and he definitely has a future in politics, though sometimes you have to make even more compromises in that business than in ours.

    Whatever you decide to do, more power to you, Kai!

    Reply
  8. James LaPierre

    It’s a modern tale of 1976 film Network, when you think about it. I think what his argument, in a nutshell, is there’s a difference between the truth and the facts. You can make facts look like anything you want, the truth not so much. I think he realized what the truth behind network journalism vs what is theorized in university programs. The only difference is, that once he saw the game, he had the balls and dare I say journalistic integrity to get out. The only difference, which Nagata is capitalizing so far without intention, is that he is using social media to voice his concerns, and gaining much more of an audience then he would have ever gotten on network TV. I say without intension, he is of that generation where social media is not a fad, it’s a staple, and rather than using it like people his age, to show snapshots of their crazy nights on facebook, he is using it to form intelligent and comprehensive arguments on his reasons for leaving. That itself, tells me his sincerity in his beliefs. If this happened 15 years ago however, he would have been blackballed and we would never have heard from him again. Viva internet.

    Reply
  9. Craig Carter-Edwards

    You asked if he was insane – what does that really mean? Is it a classification of mental illness, is it behaviour both anti-social and detrimental to one’s health? Running for political office is a risk to one’s relationships, one’s financial status and potentially one’s employment status. It’s a crazy thing to do, yet we commend those who display bravery by engaging themselves in the process. Or brand them as self-serving and assume they can do no good.

    Kai’s current process, his realization and even his feelings of “free” are mapped in his biology; dimes to doughnuts he’s had higher-than-normal levels of dopamine since making his decision, and as the social impact grows, will likely see an increase of cortisol and an inclination to either fight (defend his decision, possibly to the detriment of his message) or flight (change his mind and return to a “normal life). The alternative is that he finds balance his his new sense of social sentience and redirects his life with this new purpose as his map.

    What happens to him next will in no small part be impacted by the response he gets from society.

    Reply
  10. ATSC

    It seems he realized what a stupid business this is. And decided to call it as he saw it.

    Unfortunetly for us, we still get to see the dimwits on CFCF local news presenting useless stories, entertainment PR reports, babbling and giggling at their own comments on air, while trying to be the viewers friends. Friends are people you see in real life. Not some pandering stranger on your TV.

    Whenever Mr. Nagata showed up with his Quebec City report, he always seemed to actually be doing news stories that actually involved news. The only other person over at CFCF that also seems to do that is Stephane Giroux (spelling?). Probably the last best journalist at the station.

    But, lets not just blame CFCF. CBMT’s local news has taken a fall as well. Entertainment spots pretending to be news. And anchors that seem to be media fanboys instead of actual respectful journalist. I don’t think Arbec is capable of asking a single penetrating question. While her co-anchor looks like he’s having a feel good story hard on every time he presents one.

    Just one point for both CFCF & CBMT local news. The U2 concert of this past week should not be the lead story of any newscast. Ever.

    Good luck Mr. Nagata. At least at the age of 24, you woke up. While others never will.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      Whenever Mr. Nagata showed up with his Quebec City report, he always seemed to actually be doing news stories that actually involved news. The only other person over at CFCF that also seems to do that is Stéphane Giroux. Probably the last best journalist at the station.

      If you think the only thing that should be on the news is serious stories, then the political reporter and the court reporter are probably going to be the ones you like.

      The U2 concert of this past week should not be the lead story of any newscast. Ever.

      While I agree that big music concerts tend to get a lot of attention on the news, this wasn’t just a rock concert. Not only did it cost millions of dollars and attract about 150,000 people, but it involved hundreds of workers (from police officers to concession stand employees to private security to bus drivers), street closures, major public transit changes (the metro stayed open over an hour longer than usual on both nights) and more. And on nights where there’s not much going on in politics or the courts.

      Not to mention half the city could hear the concert from their homes. Like it or not, this was a major news story because it was a major event.

      Reply
      1. ATSC

        News, serious news, should be on a news show.
        Entertainment should be on a entertainment show.

        Mixing the two up only further helps to blur the line between what is important and what is not.
        And once that is done. Then the serious reporters and their subject matters get compromised.

        Far easier to site around and be spoon feed by the entertainment media, and PR press releases, than to have to research your subject matter before you do your report. Or even to ask the difficult questions. But can they? Have they already been compromised from doing so?

        Back in 2008 during the US Presidential campaign, the CBS news anchor nailed Palin with the, what news magazine, papers she reads to qualify her for the US V-P job. She chocked. Was off guard. Excellent question. She had the journalist nose to smell out Palin. Now, how about the same question be asked of our news anchors, and journalists.

        Just something to think about.

        And I think Mr. Nagata threw out his commentary on his blog for just such a thing. Something to think about. Not just for himself, but for all of us that consume this so-called TV news.

        Reply
      2. Steve W

        I would agree with you the Hippodrome U2 concerts, it should be the lead story(although you still get some fluffy stuff during rest of the newscasts). It’s the weekend TV newscasts, when they really get lightweight. Every year Sunday it seems when it’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade it becomes the lead story on CTV Montreal & Global Montreal newscasts(I think last summer, CTV Montreal even had the Montreal Greek Day parade as the lead story one Sunday). If it’s not a parade, it’s to promote events like A Taste of the Caribbean or Weekend to End Breast Cancer type events. They also do it on radio newscasts. Then CJAD news director Derek Conlon told me several years ago, he has no problem using the CJAD weekend newscasts to promote events & causes. Or things, like having a reporter doing a report on BBQ tips at beginning of summer.

        Reply
    2. NTSC

      [quote]The only other person over at CFCF that also seems to do that is Stéphane Giroux. Probably the last best journalist at the station.[/quote]

      That may be so, but he is also the least articulate journalist at the station. Many people, including myself, unfortunately have difficulty following his words. On the plus side (and more importantly) he is a well seasoned, experienced and down to earth reporter, a rarity at CFCF these days.

      Reply
    3. Ted Bird

      Been in or around the news business for 33 years and I strongly disagree about the U2 story not being lead-worthy, for reasons already cited by Steve F. It was the talk of the town. Ignoring the obviously enormous impact on the city and ruling it out as a credible lead story just because they’re a rock band shows terrible news judgement.

      Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I have only one real question for Fagstein: who are you to judge?

      I’m some guy on the Internet who writes about media.

      But I’m not judging. Well, at least not yet. I leave that to the commenters.

      Reply
      1. ant6n

        “If you think the only thing that should be on the news is serious stories, then the political reporter and the court reporter are probably going to be the ones you like.”

        – sounds pretty judgemental to me.

        Reply
  11. walkerp

    Great point by James La Pierre. I rarely watch television news anymore and had never heard of Kai until this story broke (which I got via Twitter). Now I have heard of him and I hope he finds a place somewhere in the “new” media (whatever the hell that is), where he can present the public with a form of information that is in line with his strong ethical values.

    I have been interviewed twice for television and both times my words were manipulated to deliver a story whose message had been decided long before any actual reporting was done.

    Reply
  12. Newsmeister

    I’m not too sure a 24yo “kid” is qualified yet to judge how a news SHOW is put together and why it’s put together that way. It does have a lot to do with demographics and culture and if he’s such a newshound then he really should have been pitching his skills to more focused SHOWS like all-news channels, or investigative reporting.

    Sadly, his childish outburst will do him no good.

    Reply
    1. Vahan

      Why must people opposed to Kai’s view bring up his age and then finish off with childish???? When is he allowed an opinion? This is maybe the reason that more youth are not voicing their opinions, because boomers are telling them to basically shut up. Well I for one want to hear young voice, this is the time for them to develop their voice and thoughts, we as the “elders” have to encourage them to come out and mold the future. Stop silencing the youth and they will begin to act like adults who can take over the world. Don’t worry their growth does not take away from anything we have built it it simply adding to the strong foundation. Come on people let the youth speak they are smarter than you think if you don’t constantly snuff them out.

      Reply
  13. Elsa

    Wow, there are like tons of 24 year olds out there who would love the oppurtunity to be on CTV… but yah I guess his points are justified, I wouldn’t want to work in a place that is more based on looks than getting real stories out there.

    Reply
  14. James

    Count me amongst those very impressed with Mr. Nagata and less impressed with the whole “is he insane” line. Is that all you could come up with? The guy just wrote one of the most impassioned speeches which raises about 20 different issues.. and all you can say is “are you insane” and “well it’s only been a couple hours” insinuating he’ll regret it later.

    Blergh

    Reply
  15. Goaltender Interference

    He’s nuts.

    •”… there is an underlying tension between ‘what the people want to see’ and ‘the important stories we should be bringing to people’.”

    — you mean, your employer’s customers aren’t interested in exactly the same thing you are as an employee? If you find a job where people to pay you to do what you want rather than what they want, I’d love to hear what it is. Try becoming a pizza chef and see what happens when you add anchovies when the customer didn’t order anchovies.

    •”I admit felt a profound discomfort working in an industry that so casually sexualizes its workforce. … The idea has taken root that if the people reporting the news look like your family and neighbours, instead of Barbie and Ken, the station will lose viewers.”

    — Wow, attractive people are more popular. Profound revelation. Definitely a reason to quit your job.

    •”… the target viewer, according to consultants, is also supposed to like easy stories that reinforce beliefs they already hold.”

    — Nobody outside Quebec knows what’s going on in Quebec City. He had a blank slate to tell everyone whatever he thought was important about what was happening there, and threw it away.

    •”the Kate and Will show. Wall-to-wall, breaking-news coverage of a stage-managed, spoon-fed celebrity visit, justified by the couple’s symbolic relationship to a former colony. … On a weekend where there was real news happening in Bangkok, Misrata, Athens, Washington, and around the world, what we saw instead was a breathless gaggle of normally credible journalists, gushing in live hit after live hit about how the prince is young and his wife is pretty. And the public broadcaster led the charge.”

    — Two the world’s most recognizable celebrities come to Canada, as future head of state. Definitely something to ignore. News should also ignore the Olympics and World Cups, stop doing movie reviews, and avoid popular culture alogether because they should be covering day one billion of the Greek Debt Crisis.

    •”I have serious problems with the direction taken by Canadian policy and politics in the last five years. But as a reporter, I feel like I’ve been holding my breath.”

    — If everyone who didn’t vote for Harper quit their jobs in order to have free reign to criticize him, we’d have a pretty well depleted civil service, armed forces,

    •”Within the terms of my employment at CTV, there was a clause in which the corporation (now Bell Media) literally took ownership of my intellectual property output.”

    — you mean, they pay you to put your words and face in the media and then want to own the stuff that you put in the media? That’s crazy!!!! That’s like a medical company wanting to own the drugs that their scientists invent! How could they?

    Fortunately, he’s young enough to learn from his mistakes. Good luck, Kai, I hope you find something that you find fulfilling (and pays you at least 1/8 of what you would have made at CTV).

    Reply
  16. Beeg

    Isn’t it odd that it took an allegedly bright guy several years of working in local TV news to realize how vapid it is?

    Reply
    1. TK

      I’m kind of surprised he didn’t figure this out before getting into the business. It’s hardly a secret.

      Reply
  17. Fassero

    Funny – wasn’t it a few months ago that people were saying that the Quebec City reporter job for CFCF was kind of the job nobody wanted to take and kudos for Nagata for stepping up to it? (his age probably being a good reason why he could take it on).

    Anyway, I kind of thought the guy was a little nuts for walking away. Then a couple of days ago I watched a CTV news clip where Tom Walters was covering William & Kate’s visit to California and, in the report, he actually had to describe and name the designer of Kate’s dress. I cringed (okay….after I checked I wasn’t watching “ETalk” by mistake.)

    Bravo, Mr. Nagata. Bravo. Maybe there will be a good opportunity in investigative journalism (via some kind of media.) Unfortunately, the type you would be interested in I don’t think will be in Canada.

    Reply
  18. MM

    CTV’s gonna have to dig deep (and shell out some $$$) to find someone to take over as the QC reporter.
    Nobody else besides him wanted the job after John Grant retired.

    Reply
  19. Francis

    My close-up pont-of-view in point form:

    -sound like Kai saw he was about to get canned at CTV
    – Kai knows how to make himself look good…just check out banner photo…hes like a suburban Marlboro Boy
    just teasing us enough with a glimpse of his tatoo, and rugged lifestyle (SUV with bike on back, near a garage door).
    – his blog must mention 20 times how “excels”, and in a FB-gen style, always makes sure you know he is doing (more than) ok – and was too!
    – and what’s the long blog for??..he can sum it up in 2 lines…a very old topic about how looks matter in TV…
    I don’t suppose that’s why he got the CTV job?
    – cbc radio and web covered him because…like when he left cbc, the same hopeless producer directors of all 3 radio shows made sure to reach out to him because they know he’ll fool the system and be successful, and could help them down the line..they are all stuck in their cbc jobs because of families to support only, not because they love media-journalism…or are gay beacuse cbc is a good place to work if you’re gay.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      sound like Kai saw he was about to get canned at CTV

      Some people have suggested this, but all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Management did not want him to quit, and are peeved that he did so on such short notice.

      Reply
      1. Francis

        thanks for considering this idea, I have no facts to support it, but it really smells like that’s the situation,
        why would he want to peeve off the management too?

        Reply
      2. Steve W

        Did you contact CTV Montreal to get a response from them, on Kai quiting? According to Kai, being interviewed by Tommy Schnurmacher on CJAD Monday morning, he originally asked for a leave a absence to think about it for the summer.

        What I find interesting the one local Montreal media person in radio or television I’ve found critical of Kai on this publicly, is of all people Dan Delmar(he tweeted on Twitter, that Kai needs a ego-check & etc.). And he also totally twisted what Kai said to Tommy in the CJAD radio interview, claiming he was saying to Tommy ‘he argues that viral attention makes him a legit news story.’ Dan, what he was saying was that media people were only contacting him because his blog post had become viral(otherwise it wouldn’t get coverage). Not that he deserves all this coverage. Dan who often covers fluffy tabloid topics on his radio shows, with daily segments like ‘Gossip Girl’ talking celebrity gossip(I don’t understand the media obsession with celebrity gossip). And he milks ‘sex’ related topics(eg. Anthony Weiner recent troubles or ex-school secretary Quebec porn star) to death.

        Reply
    2. Francis

      it is a minor point, just didn’t want to leave out anyone who didn’t have kids to keep them in their job there.
      and one more point I forgot to mention:
      Quebec City is really boring for someone of Kai’s age and ambitions…he says he like it there…but he really wanted to bail on that town…sure its a center of QC politics, but Kai really wants to go US!

      Reply
  20. Vahan

    It seems to be that we are seeing a trend now. Young voices are being silenced on both sides of the border. MSNBC had hired Cenk Uygur, who had an online show The Young Turks, for their 6 P.M slot once Keith Olbermann left the station. He had great ratings, but was told to town it down. He left, even with money and a smaller role was offered to him. Young voices are being pushed aside. Thankfully the internet will pick up what networks drop and we will see evenhanded opinions.
    Here is Cenk explanation.
    http://youtu.be/HrKKkGl3TnY

    Reply
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