Tag Archives: Elizabeth-Thompson

We’re very proud of you. You’re fired.

Elizabeth Thompson: "Free agent"

Did you hear the shocking news today?

No, not Halak getting traded to St. Louis. We expected something like that.

What I didn’t expect was for Elizabeth Thompson, who was The Gazette’s Ottawa bureau chief* worked for The Gazette for 23 years – including eight as its Ottawa bureau chief – and then took a buyout in January 2009 (because the paper was closing its Ottawa bureau) in order to jump to Sun Media as one of its parliamentary reporters, to suddenly announce on Thursday that she has been dismissed from that job, a victim of an apparent housecleaning by new management there that has also booted Peter Zimonjic and Christina Spencer.

The move was enough to garner the attention of La Presse (and this blogger), particularly since Sun Media just announced it was launching a new all-news television network, which one would think requires hiring journalists instead of firing them.

As Vincent Brousseau-Pouliot noted in his article, this comes mere weeks after Sun Media was gushing over Thompson’s nomination for a Canadian Association of Journalists award, for her discovery that the government auctioned off high-priced silverware and china for insanely low prices, only to later discover that some of the objects didn’t even belong to them, forcing the government to buy some items back for up to 25 times the price they sold them for.

Sun Media’s piece on Thompson’s nomination included this ironic quote:

“Elizabeth is one of the most inquisitive people you will ever meet,” said National News Editor Mike Therien. “It surprises nobody who knows her that she is being hailed for news scoops. We are very proud of her sleuthing.”

Not proud enough, I guess, to keep employing her.

(Needless to say, this is one of the reasons a unionized job is better than a non-unionized one – you can’t be fired for literally no good reason.)

Thompson says she plans to stay in Ottawa and remain part of the press gallery there. But she’s running out of mainstream news organizations to work for, and there isn’t much independent media covering the federal government with the kind of cash to pay a professional journalist.

Thompson’s blog posts for Sun Media (and, for that matter, The Gazette) are still online … for now. And her Twitter account is still active (moreso with everyone retweeting about this news).

*CORRECTION: For some stupid reason this post originally had Thompson working in the Ottawa bureau for 23 years. I blame invisible gremlin editors for messing with my copy.

Elizabeth Thompson jumps to Sun Media

Elizabeth Thompson

Elizabeth Thompson (I really need to get a better picture of her), who was The Gazette’s Ottawa Bureau Chief until she accepted a buyout and the paper closed its bureau, accepted an offer for a job at Sun Media yesterday, she tells Fagstein.

As promised, she will continue to cover Parliament Hill, though instead of focusing on Quebec issues in Ottawa she will be dealing with national issues as part of its team of five reporters on the hill.

Her articles will appear in Sun Media papers, including Ottawa/Toronto/Winnipeg/Edmonton/Calgary Suns, the London Free Press, 24 Hours/24 Heures, Kingston Whig-Standard (and other Osprey papers) and, of course, the Journal de Montréal and Journal de Québec.

That probably means that her articles could be used in scabbing the Journal, but unfortunately she has no control over that (and neither do wire services like Canadian Press, or the journalists at the Journal de Québec).

Thompson wouldn’t comment on salary or other aspects of her contract, but a source close to the issue said she has been given her own office, assistants and corporate jet, along with a lifetime supply of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey and an apartment at the Château Laurier. (You know, I should probably stop using that source.)

UPDATE (June 18, 2010): Well, it lasted a year and a half.

Off the Hill, out of a job

In November, when Canwest announced it would be cutting 5% of its workforce, everyone at The Gazette started getting nervous. Would there be layoffs? How many people is the paper going to lose?

The last round of buyouts was less than a year before, and the paper is still paying those people not to work for it anymore.

Shortly after Canwest’s announcement, details of a buyout offer were circulated and people started applying. In the end, more people applied than The Gazette was willing to part with, and that number was less than some had feared (it’s less than 5% of the newsroom, probably in part because of those buyouts last January).

The cuts in the editorial department number only three. Of them, only one is a reporter. But, as Editor-in-Chief Andrew Phillips pointed out, combined they represent 95 years of service to The Gazette.

As of Jan. 1, all three are unemployed, albeit with a sack full of cash.

Elizabeth Thompson was The Gazette’s Ottawa bureau chief, and as it turns out she will be its last. With the establishment of Canwest News Service in Ottawa, coverage of Parliament Hill at Canwest newspapers has been centralized reporters from the regional papers have been sent home. Even the Ottawa Citizen has cut down its Parliamentary staff.

On one hand, it just makes sense to avoid duplication. In the United States, the number of reporters covering Washington has plummeted as smaller regional papers decide to simply rely on wire services than go through the expense of setting up their own bureaus.

On the other hand, Quebec-Ottawa relations are complicated to say the least, and Thompson had carved a niche for herself covering the Bloc Québécois and other Quebec interests in Ottawa. Her final story, which appears in Friday’s Gazette, is an interview with Official Languages Commissioner Graham Fraser. It includes a video.

I spent Thursday evening with Thompson, resolving some issues about the Fraser video which for some reason couldn’t be read or uploaded. Because she was based in Ottawa, her presence in the office was rare (we’d communicate over the phone), but she was in town so she stopped by the office. During various uploads, downoads and processing cycles, I asked her what she’ll be up to next. Though she has a few ideas, nothing is set in stone beyond a few freelance gigs she’s lined up. But she says that, for now, she’s not leaving journalism and she’s not leaving Parliament Hill. She’s promised to let Fagstein readers know when future projects launch.

UPDATE (Jan. 24): Thompson has accepted a job as a parliamentary reporter for Sun Media.

In her final goodbye post at her On the Hill blog, Thompson looks at the history of The Gazette’s Ottawa bureau, and the legacy that is leaving with her. She mentions the difficult choice she had to make, between returning to Montreal with The Gazette and leaving altogether.

The buyout money probably helped with that decision.

Peter Cooney was The Gazette’s Insight section editor, soccer blogger, as well as the author of its weekly Bluffer’s Guide. He was also the person who setup the Quark-based publishing system that’s still being used to put out the paper (with Quark 3.32!)

He was also one of my journalism professors at Concordia, where he taught me a class on, funny enough, copy editing. He taught me British words like “lorry” and “petrol” and “spot on” and “Wolves rule“. I promptly forgot everything he taught me.

Cooney doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’ll be up to next, though he plans to keep blogging for The Gazette for now. If you have any suggestions, let me know and I’ll pass them on.

Finally, Leon Harris is the Ted Stevens of Gazette copy editors, and worked for the paper most of his adult life* (almost half of those 95 years of service are his). He retires as a copy editor, though I knew him best as the night assistant city editor, which meant he was the guy who city reporters filed their copy to in the evening.

Harris had a reputation as being a grumpy old man (hence the Stevens reference), but also someone who demanded a lot of his reporters, especially younger ones. Summer interns would quickly learn to fear him, with the knowledge that every error, every weak lead or insufficiently explained fact would be called out with an angry demand that it be fixed.

On the other hand, when he handed out praise, even faintly, those same reporters would take that as a badge of honour, knowing they achieved a near-impossible task.

Harris was also, due to his decades of experience, a walking encyclopedia about Gazette style, Gazette history and Montreal in general. Many questions would be more easily answered by asking Leon than by looking it up in a book.

Since he was close to retirement anyway, the buyout was almost a no-brainer. For a man who doesn’t even own a computer at home, the revolution in the media landscape gave extra incentive to take the money and run.

*UPDATE: Leon tells me The Gazette wasn’t actually his first job, but he started working for it in 1967, so he’s been at it 41 of 65 years.

Over the top

Being a journalist makes you a quick enemy of a lot of people who take things very personally. They’ll take something you say as evidence of a personal bias against them, and start taking a fine-toothed comb to everything you write, pointing out every mistake and interpreting everything you say in the most negative way possible.

Political journalism is the worst. People take the most minute things in politics very seriously. I got a good taste of that in university covering the Concordia Student Union. National politics is worse because there’s a much larger audience, because it’s professional (people get paid big bucks to be politicians), and because people think that it’s really important.

So you can imagine what happened to The Gazette’s Elizabeth Thompson (an otherwise straight-faced reporter whose copy I have mercilessly slashed to bits lovingly edited with care many times) when she made a few good-natured but insensitively snarky jokes at the expense of the prime minister’s director of communications, Sandra Buckler, who’s having surgery as part of cancer treatment.

Though there was no malice intended, making fun of someone who is being treated for cancer is a bit lacking in taste, the kind of insensitivity I’ve shown myself on many an occasion when I post before I think.

Reading the comments attached to the post, however, you’d think she started cheering for her to die:

  • I’ve called the Managing Editor to bring it to his attention, and will be contacting CanWest advertisers to let them know I will be actively boycotting their products.
  • Liz Thompson of the Montréal Gazette whose lack of common decency and narcissism has lead the Parliament Hill reporter to refuse to take the high road and apologize for her vile blog in which she defamed the Director of Communications of the Prime Minister
  • That is about the worst thing I have ever read.

There are also other (Conservative) blogs that have picked up on the issue and gone so far as to call the paper’s managing editor to express their outrage (another reason I do not covet his job).

To her credit, Thompson apologized to Buckler, and has left (most of) the comments attached to the post, many of which are a bit less hot-headed about her crossing the line.

In the end, hopefully everyone has learned that behind all the politics and professionalism, everyone is human.

UPDATE: Thompson follows up with a heartfelt, honest mea culpa, explaining the lessons she’s learned.