Firing of Lisa LaFlamme sends discouraging message to young journalists, experts say

Lisa LaFlamme, pictured in 2019, speaking about truth in journalism. On Monday, LaFlamme said she was 'blindsided' by CTV's decision to end her contract. (Yanjun Li/CBC - image credit)
Lisa LaFlamme, pictured in 2019, speaking about truth in journalism. On Monday, LaFlamme said she was 'blindsided' by CTV's decision to end her contract. (Yanjun Li/CBC - image credit)

Experts say Bell Media has sent a discouraging message to young journalists, particularly female ones, by unceremoniously terminating the contract of veteran news anchor Lisa LaFlamme.

And they say the decision to end her contract after 35 years at CTV National News is a sign that broadcast journalists can likely enjoy a career of only 20 to 30 years at best because of the changing nature of the industry.

Nana aba Duncan, an associate professor and Carty Chair of Journalism, Diversity and Inclusion Studies at Carleton University, said the termination of the contract was done with a lack of care and fairness.

Duncan, who previously worked for CBC as host of Radio One's Podcast Playlist and Fresh Air, said the lack of care was evident when LaFlamme had to say goodbye initially in a Twitter video and later in a news release, her team finding out when they did, and when LaFlamme was told to keep quiet about it until details were worked out.

"I can say for sure there are even young journalists, women who are writers and producers at CTV, who are wondering, 'Well, what am I here for? What am I working so hard for if, after so much time, someone we consider the queen can be so unceremoniously let go?'" Duncan said.

In a social media post on Monday, LaFlamme, 58, said she was "blindsided" by Bell Media's decision to end her contract as chief news anchor and senior editor at CTV National News..

In two subsequent news releases, both issued on Monday, CTV said the decision to end LaFlamme's contract was due to "changing viewer habits" and that national affairs correspondent Omar Sachedina, who joined the network in 2009, will take LaFlamme's place as chief anchor.

WATCH | LaFlamme revealed on Monday that CTV was terminating her contract:

Duncan said young journalists want to work for companies that show they care for people at large and would care for them as employees individually.

"This just doesn't show that," she said. "People see themselves in Omar and people see themselves in Lisa. People are watching."

Duncan said it was also a bad public relations move on the part of CTV to announce LaFlamme's termination and her replacement in news releases on the same day. She said there was no time given to her replacement to step into the job.

"It's unfair all around," she said. "You just did it badly."

Unceremonious layoffs not new, editor says

Connie Thiessen, editor of Broadcast Dialogue, a trade publication about Canadian broadcast media, said unceremonious layoffs are not new to the industry, but this termination is getting a lot of attention due to LaFlamme's fame.

"I think this is probably the first time in recent memory that we've seen someone as high profile as Lisa exited from her role preemptively," Thiessen said.

Thiessen said she thinks LaFlamme had a champion to get her into the role of national anchor in the first place and lost that champion when Wendy Freeman left as vice-president of CTV News in December 2021. Freeman was replaced by Michael Melling in January 2022.

"This is ultimately about return to shareholders," she added.

Thiessen said she thinks the termination signals that a broadcast journalism career is only going to have a lifespan of 20 to 30 years if a journalist is lucky.

"Certainly we are losing a generation of wisdom and knowledge and lived experience," she said. "It's unfortunate way to go out for a journalist with as much tenure as Lisa LaFlamme."

In an editorial for Broadcast Dialogue, Thiessen wrote: "What is new is the near certainty now that most journalists and other media workers will be packaged out prematurely, cutting short careers and in the process the earned wisdom, experience and knowledge that have historically been the guiding editorial lights in newsrooms everywhere."