“We don’t have a reporter position available, but we do need a senior producer for Ezra Levant,” Sun News Network management told me during my 2011 interview.
“Who’s Ezra Levant? ” I wondered. But I was too hungry to waffle, so I gobbled up the offer. It’s a rare thing for a journalist to get in on the ground floor of a new media venture, especially one so audacious and plucky.
Once I’d gone home to Google this “Ezra Levant,” I wondered what the hell I was getting into. He’d had some court tangles and said a lot of highly controversial things. He was almost . . . un-Canadian in his politics. But that just made me like him more. I didn’t choose a career in television news to be an empty-headed prompter reader, but a muckraker. And oh, into the muck did we go at Sun News.
We were all in over our head, from the VP to the person rolling the credits. But that’s what made it so thrilling. Every day, with less than half the staff of mainstream news networks, we pulled off the impossible. We had the freedom to figure it out as we went. Little bureaucracy and a white board to fill with news angles no one else dared to touch.
In the beginning, it was just me, an associate producer, and Ezra. At the end of the day, I would shake my head still trembling at the wonder of how we got a show to air with so few resources. Grit and a desire to prove the naysayers wrong fuelled us. I remember the Twitter echo chamber used to joke, “Don’t feed Ezra. The hate only makes him stronger.” That was half-right.
We felt misunderstood, too. We were working our butts off, daring to do something different in Canadian media—and then, just when we thought we were hitting our stride, boom, there goes another Sun News controversy.
For those of us who were single, we didn’t lead with where we worked on dates. For those of us who were single and feisty (ahem), dates often ended in heated verbal debates.
I can’t speak for all of my colleagues, but in spite of the setbacks with broadcast complaints and television license carriage, I was always proud. I worked hard, really hard, for my paycheque and my seat at the table to tell stories to Canada.
There were times when I was embarrassed at the low production quality. Management ears bled with my complaints about the set, the lighting, the graphics; but there’s only so far you can stretch a dollar. I told myself We’re just a baby network. When we get that mandatory carriage from the CRTC, I’ll get the raise I deserve. I’ll get to use five cameras instead of three. I’ll get rid of those crappy chairs and disco floor. I’ll get Ezra a new suit. But we know how the story ends. The carriage never came. I didn’t wait around to see the Sun set. Not because I wanted to bail on a sinking ship, but because I was ready for the next adventure.
Don’t get me wrong. Ezra did make me crazy. To him, the word “deadline” was just a euphemism for “a thousand more words of script.” When he tripped the offensive wires (a near-daily phenomenon), censors tried to shut him up. His plea to them was always, “Don’t let censorship be your first instinct to being offended. Turn the channel, write an email, buy a t-shirt that says ‘Ezra makes me sad.’ Don’t quell one of democracy’s greatest gifts.”
One week he made me so mad at missed deadlines and rebuffs at my attempts to “lasso the tornado” (as I called it), that I didn’t buy an “Ezra makes me sad” t-shirt. I made one. His reaction to it was priceless; he was on good behaviour for a while. And when the time came for my next adventure—I ended up at Fox in New York—Canada’s most controversial media man drew up a reference letter that any TV journalist would envy.
My former colleagues are at the local pub right now, raising a glass to a network critics doomed for failure at the start. But before the plug was pulled, we got a chance to give Canada something it sorely needed: a new perspective. While I’m confident all of us will go on to happy things, they probably won’t be as important as what we had at Sun. I, for one, want to say “Thank you for the opportunity.”