There’s a saying in radio that it’s not if you get fired, but when. People are pulled off the air all the time without notice, told their station is going in another direction, or has decided to make a change, or some other vague euphemism for the fact that they want a change behind the microphone. As someone who covers local media – and particularly broadcasting – I’ve seen quite a few of these. When I ask about it, both parties usually repeat the vague euphemism and offer some boilerplate about how they wish each other well in their future endeavours.
For those let go, it’s rarely good news. Even if they do end up finding a job quickly elsewhere, even if the reason for their departure isn’t their fault, it’s crushing to be pulled out of a public job like this, because you know they wouldn’t have done it if you were wildly successful.
I don’t particularly enjoy reporting on these things. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t take joy in seeing people lose their jobs. But a hiring is just as much of a change as a firing, and only the former tends to involve press releases. So I search them out (sometimes a difficult thing to do because they can’t be reached at work) and ask them for comment. Trying to manage the blow to their reputation, and protect future job prospects, they stay timid, keep a happy face and repeat management’s vague reasoning.
Nancy Wood is not one of those people.
It might be a character flaw, one that can do more harm to a broadcaster’s career than it does good, but Wood is just a bit too honest. When she was told in February 2010 that her contract as host of Daybreak on CBME-FM (CBC Radio One) would not be renewed, Wood didn’t issue any public statements, but it was very clear to anyone who knew her that she took the news particularly hard. She had been in the chair for only six months, but you could tell she really enjoyed the job and wanted to stay.
I talked to Wood last week, sitting down in a small conference room at the Maison Radio-Canada, to talk about her career during her first week as the new anchor of CBC News Montreal Late Night, a 10-minute newscast sandwiched between The National and George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight. She replaces Amanda Margison, who is leaving for southern Ontario (but has been doing some news reports while she’s still in Montreal).
The result is a feature story about Wood that appears in Saturday’s Gazette, beside another about the new weekend newscast on CBMT, which begin Saturday.
It was the first time we had spoken face to face, though we had conversed a few times via other media. I’d say it was the first time we met, but actually that happened about seven years ago, when as a temporary worker at CBC Radio, I did a single shift as a researcher for Radio Noon, which she hosted at the time. I don’t remember any discussions we had at the time, if any.
Letting it all out
I came into the interview a little nervous, wondering how I would handle uncomfortable questions about Daybreak while still making the interview mainly about other aspects of her career and her future as a TV news anchor. I wondered how many questions I could sneak in until she would shut down or the CBC PR people would shut it down for her.
Not only are people usually reluctant to discuss low points of their careers, but Wood was particularly frustrated because she had become defined by this. Search her name in Google and the Daybreak saga inevitably comes up. And, of course, I’m responsible for a lot of that. You can imagine how she wanted to move on. At 48, she’s had a long career as a journalist for The Gazette, Maclean’s, the Toronto Star and for 18 years at the CBC, including 11 as host of Radio Noon and other jobs including as a national TV reporter based in Montreal.
So I was surprised when Wood answered honestly to the questions I asked her. There were a few points where she said she didn’t want to go into details (like what negotiations were necessary to get her into the anchor job), but she said quite a bit about how it felt during that difficult time after being pulled from Daybreak and getting so much attention (much of it from Gazette columnists, particularly Henry Aubin) at the worst possible time.
To this day she doesn’t know why they pulled her off the show. CBC, like many organizations, has a policy not to comment on personnel issues, and cited that in communication with the public when there was outrage from listeners. Some people (particularly Aubin and myself) weren’t satisfied with that response. Learning since that such a move is described as a “casting decision” makes it even more odd that they feel they can’t comment.
Don’t blame Marquard
With the decision to pull Wood clearly coming from management, people angry at Wood’s dismissal focused that anger toward the managing director for CBC English services in Quebec, Pia Marquard. That’s the person who ultimately makes these kinds of decisions, but the decision was made the day before Marquard took her post. (This is not believed by most to be a coincidence.) Even Wood agreed that Marquard couldn’t realistically reverse a decision that had been made before she arrived.
Where Marquard did make a difference is in Wood’s career since then. Wood credits Marquard for helping secure the post at Enquête, and in convincing her to accept this new job as late anchor.
Marquard left her job at the end of March, citing her declining health. Her replacement, Shelagh Kinch (a former news director here), started last Monday.
I don’t know if this sufficiently repairs the damage caused by Wood’s departure. Wood said she still gets emotional when thinking about Daybreak, and almost cried during our interview. (I considered for a moment whether it was a mistake to not have set up the video camera I had brought with me so I could capture that moment on video.) But even Wood admitted the Enquête experience was wonderful for her and this new anchoring job will be a great chance to learn new skills.
Little change in ratings
The rumour circulated that a large part of the reason Wood was pulled from Daybreak was due to ratings. Either they had dropped or had not gone up as much as management would have liked.
As Mike Boone noted at the time, there was a slight drop in Daybreak’s numbers, but not one large enough to normally cause people to panic. There’s a lot of error in broadcast ratings, and small changes have to be taken with a grain of salt.
In the end, like most radio ratings, there hasn’t been much change in the past few years. Daybreak has an audience share of about 10%, sometimes as low as 9% and as high as 13%, but there aren’t any big spikes or collapses. It’s hard to do direct comparisons because of the change from written diaries to automatic meters to determine BBM’s ratings in 2009, but it’s pretty clear that the ratings don’t change that much. Daybreak has an average audience right now of 64,000, according to figures I’ve been given.
A great experience, but imperfect schedule
Though being on the screen for 10 minutes a day in front of about 15,000 average viewers might not seem like a big career boost for someone whose reports were regularly seen on The National, Wood sees her new role as a fantastic opportunity because of all the new things she’s learning. In addition to anchoring the newscast, she lines it up, edits reporters’ pieces into briefs, and in general does most of the editorial work to create the eight or so minutes of news that appears in that newscast.
She also pointed out that, though more people might see The National, her appearances there were unpredictable. She recounted anecdotes of people saying they missed her when in fact she’d still been filing regular reports. Being an anchor makes her more of a presence for the few that do see her, and ensures she’s there every day at a specific time (at least, when playoff hockey doesn’t push back the schedule).
The biggest downside to this job is the shift: 3:15 to 11:15pm weekdays. It means she doesn’t spend weekday evenings at home with her two teenage kids, and has to work to ensure what time they do have together is spent wisely. She even joked that she had to arrange a date with her own son.
Having a family also means she can’t sleep in until noon like some people who have shifts like this do. Instead, she gets up around 7:30am, runs errands, takes a nap and then goes to work. That, combined with some evening yoga, has helped her make the schedule work for her body.
Or maybe she just thinks it does. “What parenting teaches you is that you can do anything exhausted for several years,” she said with a laugh.
If there’s any reason to think she might not stay in this job forever, that would be it, though her kids are old enough that the need to spend evenings with them at home might disappear in a few years.
Of course, hopefully that decision would be hers to make.
In researching this story, I came across a lot of work that Wood has done through her career. Some of it is online, like her pieces for Enquête. But most of it isn’t. Dozens of articles for The Gazette in the late 1980s, most from the Quebec bureau. Work for Maclean’s and the Toronto Star similarly is held captive in a database somewhere, as are countless hours of broadcasts of Radio Noon.
I wish I could present it all here to give a more complete picture of Wood’s career. She’s certainly proved herself as a journalist and as a broadcaster.
The best I can do is settle the Daybreak story here as best I can, so that the next time I write about Nancy Wood (and I’m sure it won’t be long), I won’t have to use the D word.
More importantly, having taken a proper photo of her in her new studio, I can stop using the one of her holding a hot dog that she dislikes so much.