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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

End of an Era: Barbara Budd Leaves CBC Radio's "As It Happens"

The announcement was characteristically brief. CBC Radio announced that after seventeen years, Barbara Budd's last day as co-host of the long running "As It Happens" would be April 30.

AIH is a Canadian institution. (Full disclosure: I was responsible for AIH when I was M.E. at CBC Radio in the 90s). The program in all its depth and quirkiness is also heard in the US on American Public Media and is hugely popular. When I lived in Washington, DC, heading home late from NPR, I often heard it on a taxi radio. The drivers always explained that it was one of the best ways to hear news from their various and respective homelands.

Barbara, whose voice is distinct, to say the least, and whose humor can be sharp, was often recognized by Somali cabbies in DC as soon as she opened her mouth to say where she wanted to be taken.

The announcement of her departure comes as a shock to many of her friends and fans. Barbara, true to form, was not quite so sanguine. Quoted in the Toronto Globe and Mail, she was gracious but did not disguise her disappointment:

“I would never, never, ever walk away from a show that I still truly love. This is difficult for me,” Ms. Budd said. She paused, then said, “If there is something they see that they want in the program that requires other skills, then I understand that. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not sad to leave.”

This comes as a number of longtime CBC Radio voices are being shifted. Bernie MacNamee was the longtime co-host of the flagship newscast, "The World At Six." He was recently told that he would henceforth play second banana to Alison Smith who came to radio after being CBC TV's Washington correspondent. Peter Armstrong, another CBC television reporter has taken over the main morning newscast on CBC Radio - World Report, replacing Judy Maddren, another longtime radio person. If past is prologue, then Barbara Budd will likely be replaced by another TV "name."

The ostensible reason for Barbara's dismissal is because the CBC says it wants to replace announcers with journalists. But good announcers and good journalists are not mutually exclusive. They may have been at one time, but not of late.

Barbara started out as an actor -  and a good one too. She did commercials, voice-overs and other gigs that kept food on the table while she also worked as a reader on the CBC hourly news. When I was her boss, I asked her to choose: commercials or CBC Radio. She made her choice and dropped the lucrative gigs and became an indispensable part of the Radio family.

After seventeen years on the job, Barbara is a journalist, as far as I am concerned. Her co-host on the show is Carol Off has burnished her reputation as a fine journalist and foreign correspondent.  But Barbara's past seems to have finally caught up with her and she couldn't shake her non-journalistic rep - at least not enough to satisfy CBC management.

It's easy enough to second guess management (it was done to me enough times) so here's my working theory on what management is thinking:

"Barbara has been around a while (aka, she's older) and more expensive. Radio is a good place to road test some of the younger, up and coming television people. Once they prove themselves, we'll move them back into television news where they can also claim the mantle of radio-ness, thus proving how well "bi-medialism" works."

Two problems with that: 1) It undervalues the willingness and ability of CBC employees to gain new skills and re-invent themselves and indeed, it just reinforces the outdated management view that older employees can't change. 2) It feeds into the notion, already rampant, that CBC Television staff are fungible and that CBC Radio staff are expendable - aka, the junior service, only there to be a training ground to sustain the failing TV side.

Which television "personality" will replace Barbara Budd? Watch this space...

15 comments:

  1. The oldest person at CBC is Richard Stursberg, well into his 60's, perhaps 66 or 67, but he's keeping it a secret. The problem with Richard is that he re-invents himself every other week and changes (his mind) so often that neither his staff nor his bosses can keep up.

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  2. CTV's Lloyd Robertson must be sighing into his computer screen. Lloyd left CBC because he couldn't write any part of the news he was reading. He was simply "a voice". He moves to CTV and gets to anchor that network's National News and some 30 years later he's still doing it. And he still writes what he wants to write and reads it on air. And he has the ratings to prove it. What's the line about history? If we don't understand history we are doomed to repeat our mistakes?

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  3. Here's the problem: if you enjoy the great dumbing down of CBC radio, then you'll enjoy the changes they're making. So, I suspect viewers of "the Hour" are the target audience for this move.

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  4. Some Quick Thoughts
    Armstrong was probably a good reporter, but he's not great as a reader. Does someone know if he is actually writing as well? Radio newscasts no longer tell me what's going on across the country. They tell me what's happening in Ottawa and the crime stats today from my capital city. I can't believe that Barbara Budd was asked to leave - that's just plain stupid. She's talented and well-liked by the audience. This obsession with getter younger audiences has never changed. CBC has to get over this hump or they are rapidly going to lose what radio audience they have. DNTO, GO, Q and most of the new CBC 2 shows are just dumb. There, I got that off my chest! I was inside for nearly 20 years in radio and things just don't seem to change for the better.

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  5. Why are the new CBC shows "dumb," ivory tower intellectual elitist snob who hates oridinary people who work for a living? And why is it you elitists hate the young and active and revere the senile and doddering? And why do you racists love Dead White European Culture music endorsed by Adolf Hitler and Joe Stalin?

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  6. You, Mr. Dvorkin, have CBC sources that are not available to most reporters or bloggers. Nevertheless, you are repeating drivel and have failed to get the real story. Instead of shooting from the hip, pick up the phone and do some basic research. You call yourself a journalist? Feh.

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  7. Please join the Facebook group below, Keep Barbara Budd on CBC's As It Happens, to show your support:

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=108933922469054

    Don't forget to invite your Facebook friends.

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  8. It will be impossible to replace Budd's delivery, regardless the new voice must know how to work the words, otherwise the pairing might be as successful as Barbra Walters & Harry Reasoner or Peter Mansbridge & Pamela Wallin.
    I hope management doesn't force listeners to endure a summer of rotating replacements.
    Robin Brown's still not being used to her full potential...there that's my two cents.

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  9. It is so wrongheadded to fire Barbara Budd from As It Happens. She has been such an asset to the show, intelligent and funny, a wonderful foil to the interviewer, whoever they may happen to be. Barbara helps create a distinctive personality for the show.

    Keep her on, please!

    Annabelle Sabloff

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  10. ITEM OF INTEREST re: BARBARA BUDD:
    Barbara reportedly has the dubious distinction of being the first person expelled from the University of British Columbia for smoking marijuana in the 1960's. A perfect name, too!

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  11. no no no. The saying goes "if it's not broken DON'T fix it." I miss her already. Not a journalist...whatever.

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  12. Let someone else have the easy job of reading stuff other people write for her.

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  13. Quoting "Anonymous" above: "Why are the new CBC shows 'dumb,' ivory tower intellectual elitist snob who hates oridinary people who work for a living? And why is it you elitists hate the young and active and revere the senile and doddering? And why do you racists love Dead White European Culture music endorsed by Adolf Hitler and Joe Stalin?"

    Sir or Madam -- Were you cryogenically frozen as a college student in 1970? If so, welcome to the future! We're glad you've thawed out.

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  14. I started listening to As It Happens when I lived in Nova Scotia for a year in 2005-6. Barbera Budd and Carole were a perfect pair, playing off each other with perfect timing and inflections. I am crushed to see Barbera fired. Whoever the executives are who made this decision will cost BBC lots of loyal listeners - I for one am gone for good. Shame on you for making such a stupid decision. I've been listening from California for years - that stops now.

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  15. Good! Once in a long while, the CBC does something right.

    I never could stand her work, particularly the ill-thought-out narration she's been doing on that "great ships" (or whatever) show on one of the HD channels. Does she actually read the script, before recording it? She makes the show unwatchable for me.

    She has that "Canadjun octress" sound, also labelled "Air Canada". Probably a few too many coaching sessions with the late, awful Llloy Coutts, at Stratford.

    Good riddance, and keep bellowing all the way to the bank. You are no Barbara Frum.

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