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