In 1997, as the Global Television Network was preparing to launch a new station in Quebec, it tapped a 31-year-old entertainment reporter for market leader CFCF to be one of its anchors. Jamie Orchard told the Montreal Gazette at the time that “it was one of those offers I couldn’t resist. Being part of a new station getting off the ground is rare opportunity and an unbelievable challenge.”
At first, she hosted an entertainment show on the local station. Then the morning show, another entertainment show, the late-night newscast, and since 2004 she has been the senior anchor and the face of the station and its local news.
Or had. On Thursday, Orchard announced that she had been laid off, one of apparently dozens of people across the country that Corus Entertainment has decided are no longer needed.
I'm very sad to let you know that tonight will be my final broadcast on @Global_Montreal. Like many of my colleagues, and many of you, I have fallen victim to pandemic layoffs. Very grateful to have been given the chance to say goodbye tonight. Please tune in at 5:30 or 6:30. xox
— Jamie Orchard (@secondactsis) August 20, 2020
While it’s usually standard procedure in broadcast media to have on-air staff escorted out the door when they’re told they’re being dumped, and certainly never put in front of a live microphone again, Orchard was allowed to stay on for another month, keeping the news secret that whole time, and give an on-air goodbye. (It doesn’t look like Global posted it online.)
It’s a testament to the trust Orchard has built with the station, and its viewers, and station manager Karen Macdonald, who has also been with it since the beginning.
Orchard’s social media announcement sparked a lot of reaction, including a message from Montreal’s mayor and its former mayor.
The union, headed by veteran reporter Anne Leclair, also issued a statement saying “Jamie is an excellent journalist who always approached every subject with great professionalism. She is a model for ethical journalism. We are also losing an important voice and key connection between our newsroom and Montreal’s English-speaking community.” The statement notes that the station has lost 10% of its newsroom permanent staff this summer, not including Orchard.
Naturally, the news angered Global Montreal’s viewers. Not that it has too many of them, falling well behind CTV Montreal in audience for its entire existence.
Its small audience may be loyal, but their threats to change the channel won’t matter. Local news is a money loser for Global in eastern Canada, and cutting costs has more of an effect on the bottom line than feeding that loyalty.
My reaction to this news isn’t so much anger as it is disappointment. Global seemed to be headed in the right direction. After years of cutting to the bone and centralizing the tasks of news production, there seemed to be an air of renewal, with new staff being hired and a new focus on online reporting as the future of journalism. But this summer, facing a budget crunch caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Global backtracked and laid off that young, diverse workforce it had just hired.
Since I first visited Global Montreal and met Orchard more than a decade ago, I was left with the impression that the small station with limited resources had one special thing going for it: its staff was close, like a family. That’s why, I was told at the time, staff turnover was so low.
It’s why Orchard said she would stay as the station’s anchor for as long as it would have her. It’s why she was allowed to say goodbye on air, because she could be trusted with that.
It’s unfortunate that, 23 years later, Corus Entertainment couldn’t be nearly as loyal to Orchard as she was to her employer.
UPDATE (Sept. 22): Rather than hire a new anchor, Global has decided to have Montreal’s local evening newscast anchored out of Toronto.