Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Gobble gobble journalism

The press is pretty tame in Newfoundland and Labrador these days compared to a couple of hundred years ago.

When journalists and politicians practically tore the faces off each other.

Our early newspapers were rowdy and opinionated, to say the least, which I was reminded of in December.

The Commissariat House, an 1800s-style museum in St. John’s, opened for a weekend leading up to the holidays to give people a taste of Christmas in the colony.

Out back, in the Carriage House, was a display of our first newspapers and the passion that spawned them.

Get a load of this quote:

“As British subjects claiming protection from the English law and the British Constitution, we have beheld with abhorrence and detestation the cruel and ignominious punishment inflicted on the bodies of Philip Butler and James Lundrigan."

William Carson.

In July 1820 when the courts insisted that fishermen Philip Butler and James Lundrigan be whipped for defaulting on their debts, Scottish-born doctor William Carson leapt to their defence. Arguing that Newfoundlanders deserved the same rights as British subjects elsewhere, he help public meetings, drafted petitions, wrote political pamphlets, and submitted letters to the press. Thanks to Carson and others, the “Butler Lundrigan Affair” became the reform movement’s cause célèbre, eventually leading to Responsible or self-government in Newfoundland.

Here’s another quote from roughly the same time period:

“Merchants who resist self-government are vainly putting forth their paralyzed arms to arrest the progress of justice and civilization — they have the will to keep us in bondage and barbarism; but, thank God, they have not the power.”

Patrick Morris.

Morris, an Irish Catholic merchant living in St. John’s, wrote some of the island’s first political pamphlets arguing for self-government in Newfoundland.

I was reminded of the newspaper display after reading a recent column, Turkeys and journalists, by Bob Wakeham of the Saturday Telegram,

Wakeham took the local CBC to task for serving as the driving force behind the Christmas turkey drive.

Wrote Wakeham:

You know there's something wrong with the picture, so to speak, that priorities are out of whack, when the "Morning Show" host is seen in a promotional video chasing a guy dressed as a turkey down the sidewalk outside the CBC studios, or when an awkward news piece is aired, involving just about the entire newsroom, centering around which CBC journalist would be dressed in a turkey outfit to welcome donors to the station. Americana personified.”

And another gem:

“I'm sure I'll get flak from friends at the CBC who'll accuse me of being an old stick-in-the-mud, a killjoy, of stabbing them in the back when all they're trying to do is help the needy. But they certainly can't accuse me of being inconsistent on this point; they know I always argued vehemently that when journalists become participants — rather than observers — in even the most laudable of causes, conflict of interest is sure to follow.”

I was surprised that Bob didn’t bring up the recent John Furlong controversy.

Furlong, host of CBC's Fisheries Broadcast, has been expressing his opinion as of late.

Which doesn’t sit well with some.

As editor of The Independent, I never allowed reporters to write opinion pieces on the subjects they were covering.

A final quote:

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!"

Arthur Carlson, one of the stars of the 1970s hit sitcom, WKRP in Cincinnati.

That quote is from the famous episode where Carlson, the station manager (played by Gordon Jump), arranged to have live turkeys dropped from a helicopter as an advertising stunt.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a serious mistake, with the poor birds plunging to earth.

Their tragic "last flight" was relayed to WKRP listeners by reporter Les Nessman (played by Richard Sanders):

A final, final quote.

"It's a helicopter, and it's coming this way. It's flying something behind it, I can't quite make it out, it's a large banner and it says, uh — Happy... Thaaaaanksss... giving! ... From ... W ... K ... R... P! No parachutes yet. Can't be skydivers... I can't tell just yet what they are, but — Oh my God, Johnny, they're turkeys!! Johnny, can you get this? Oh, they're plunging to the earth right in front of our eyes! One just went through the windshield of a parked car! Oh, the humanity! The turkeys are hitting the ground like sacks of wet cement! Not since the Hindenburg tragedy has there been anything like this!"

Here’s to 2012.

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