Ottawa is a quieter, less informed, less dynamic community today after layoffs silenced many prominent media voices. Journalists Carol Anne Meehan, Carolyn Waldo and Shelley McLean were among Bell Media’s local job cuts announced Tuesday – thinning the herd in CTV News Ottawa and CFRA’s newsrooms.
Here, we countdown the Top 10 reasons they made this city a better place, and why they’ll be sorely missed. And, given her 22-year stint as evening news co-host, we devoted the Top 5 solely to Meehan.
Trust and Continuity
With the retirement of the late, great Max Keeping in March 2010, Meehan provided continuity, comfort and consistency. She was Max’s longtime co-host and heir apparent. Local TV news is built upon a relationship of trust between audience and anchor — based on the understanding that the latter knows their community inside-and-out. CTV Ottawa’s surviving anchor, Graham Richardson, is a fine newsman, but he’s only been at the big desk since 2010.
Being the face of Ottawa’s dinner newscast put Meehan in a position to become a powerful advocate for the city’s charities. She was a fixture at annual telethons for the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and CHEO, the honourary co-chair of The CN Cycle for CHEO, and lent her name and telegenic charm to numerous initiatives.
Meehan’s grace, warmth and dignity became her calling cards. The city mourned with her when she tragically lost her husband, Greg Etue, in 2012, amidst his ongoing battle with cancer and multiple sclerosis. But she used his passing to publicly discuss difficult health issues with rare candor. Her humanity was also on full display during her teary-eyed final newscast with Max Keeping and her tribute to him on CTV after his recent death: “We’re sad in Ottawa today, but … Max wouldn’t want us to be sad. What he’d want us to do is continue the lessons he taught us, and that is to be generous with each other and work for the good of the community.” She could be speaking about herself today; Meehan’s on-air loss leaves a gaping hole in Ottawa’s heart.
TV newscasts crave audience loyalty, much as viewers crave an anchor that truly feels like one of them. Meehan was certainly that, and she deserved better. CTV News Ottawa didn’t even give Meehan a chance to say goodbye to her viewers – a fact she has already publically lamented.
Meehan always seemed down to earth – a real person in our media age of plasticity and fake, red-carpet smiles. She was an insightful interviewer, and warm, engaging host, and you can’t teach those qualities in journalism school. Her commitment and enthusiasm, along with that of her many dismissed colleagues, will be missed.
Meehan never took herself too seriously. She didn’t just sit in a chair and preach to the city, she was an active, engaged part of it. And she seemed to enjoy every minute of it. Case and point: this amateur YouTube gem shows a 2011 cow-milking competition between Meehan and local Tory MP Pierre Poilievre. She won.
As for the city’s other journalistic losses…
How many local newscasts can claim to have an Olympic gold medal winner on staff? Former synchronized swimmer Carolyn Waldo brought a winning perspective to her sports coverage since joining the CJOH/CTV Ottawa team in 1990. She knew the thrills of victory and the sting of defeat personally. She may feel the latter this week, but she gets a gold medal in our books.
CTV Morning Live Ottawa’s Lois Lee was a breath of fresh air every morning since joining the sunrise show in 2013 after co-hosting Daytime Ottawa on Rogers TV. Lee has a rare onscreen energy that can make anyone feel awake even without their morning coffee. (Without her, many of us may now need two cups. Or three.)
Internet Killed the Radio Star
590 CFRA heard the blues yesterday. One casualty was CFRA Lunch Bunch host, Rick Gibbons, a veteran broadcast journalist and community leader who has served as head of United Way Ottawa and Ottawa Sun publisher. Meanwhile, Shelley McLean’s loss will be felt via two shows: she hosted On Target Ottawa on weekday mornings and co-hosted Madely in the Morning (the retirement of Steve Madely was announced Monday). Like Meehan, she has also been devoted to local charities such as the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, the Ottawa Hospital Foundation, and the Elisabeth Bruyère Foundation.
Where? CTV News Ottawa’s thinning ranks aren’t good news for anyone who desires an informed city. With only a handful of full-time and part-time reporters left, it’s hard to do the capital justice. Same goes for CFRA.
Bottom Line and Backlash
Meehan’s speech at the 2012 Algonquin College convocation, shortly after another round of CTV layoffs, oddly foreshadowed yesterday’s job cuts: “The technological revolution, the Internet and tough economic times means that these are leaner times… At CTV Ottawa, we just underwent a major downsizing. Those of us who are left behind have to do a lot more with a lot less. We no longer do one job, we do three jobs. The bottom line is dictating staffing levels everywhere.”
The bottom line may have dictated this week’s cull, but the public backlash to Bell Media’s cuts could hurt it even more. Public reaction on Twitter has ranged from “absolutely disgusted” to “shame on you.” An online petition to reinstate Meehan as co-anchor already had 5,000 signatures as of late Wednesday morning.