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Joe Schlesinger: embodiment of Canada’s role in the world

June 14, 2009

This past week  brought us a handful of stories about Joe Schlesinger’s remarkable life and his lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation.

As if tailor made for this website, the CBC  announced “Joe Schlesinger celebrates career telling Canada about the world.”  Even Rick Mercer’s spoof of the “state of the news” – with Schlesinger reading banal entries from Facebook – appeared on youtube.com (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUihAfsr3ns)

I wonder how many Canadians, particularly immigrant-citizens, grew up in households where CBC Radio in general and Joe Schlesinger in particular, stood for “great Canadian journalism”?

Growing up in rural Saskatchewan in the 1970’s, CBC Radio was my family’s key information resource. And each morning at the breakfast table, the ritual of “turning on the news” including a solemn “paying attention to” Schlesinger’s reports: in those days, the international news came first, and was extensive.

Mr. Schlesinger worked as a foreign correspondent for the CBC for 28 years. From Vietnam to the Persian Gulf, from Russia to Tehran, Schlesinger’s distinctive voice – Viennese/Czech inflected English by way of BBC standard – seemed an example of what a Canadian might sound like “overseas.” Yes, our veneration was at the altar of “high European” with a giant ethnocentric E.

But also, in our small town life, Schlesinger’s ability to communicate the urgency of on-the-ground facts – particularly his reports from Vietnam – coupled with his succinct summary of context – historical, economic, put us, “immigrant-Canadians,” in a position to understand the “outside world.”

I lament the demise of the “Schlesinger style,” partly due to funding cutbacks but also because of  a growing myopia in our towns and cities – ironic given our increasing “diversity. When was the last time a news broadcast regularly began with the international news?  As Schlesinger remarked, “at a time when we need to know as much as we can about the outside world, because it affects our lives, we’re pulling out.”

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 17, 2009 8:53 am

    Your post brought back so many memories- Schlesinger’s voice was as much a part of the backdrop of my home growing up as the voice of any of my family members. In our lives, he was the voice of the world and Peter Czowski was the voice of Canada.

    The shifts at CBC reflect not only a shift away from international coverage to a shift away from news and public affairs in favour of entertainment programming and reality TV. There are so many excellent journalists still serving within Canadian public and private broadcast service but they are left on the sidelines. The individuals leading our public broadcasting agency have lost sight of their primary mandate. They have mined the budgets of all the public affairs programmings to bring us real programming like Being Erica, Borders, Dragon’s Den and Wild Roses. (I can’t even name the programs because I don’t watch them). I’m okay with Entertainment programming (I love The Hour Has 22 minutes), but I don’t want our public dollars chasing down US style dramas at the expense of our public affairs programming.
    Perhaps Tony Burman will continue to recruit CBC former journslists to Al Jazeera and successfully bring it to Canada.

  2. marakardasnelson permalink*
    June 16, 2009 12:14 pm

    Great post, Renee, and I couldn’t agree more! International news is largely relegated to the back pages unless there are tales of blood coups to grab headlines. We are quickly losing touch with the rest of the world. Lets hope another Schlesinger comes around soon… and that he/she is funded and listened to.

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