jian ghomeshi

SHAD: One of the Greatest Emcees, One of the Worst Radio Hosts

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BY: JAMES DIFIORE

When the CBC parted ways with Jian Ghomeshi they were left with a massive hole to fill. Given all the legal woes and the subsequent media storm that engulfed the public broadcaster, executives had some tough decisions to make. First and foremost, they felt it was important to make a real statement with whom they chose to replace Ghomeshi.

Their first move was a show rebrand. I would have paid to be in the room when they settled on keeping the show name but replacing the upper case Q with a lower case q. Not only did it seem like a decision that was drenched in unnecessary humility, but it immediately put the new host into a position of symbolic weakness. It screamed, “This show will not be as good as when Jian was the host, but that’s ok for some reason. Trust us!”

The conventional wisdom would have been to fill the host’s chair with a woman. That decision would have at least been consistent with the image problem the broadcaster and the show had at the time. By replacing an accused (yet ultimately acquitted) abuser with a strong, female voice, the network would have made a statement without having to explain a thing. It would have been universally seen as the right way to move the show forward given the circumstances they were dealing with.

Of course, choosing a nice guy, especially a non-white nice guy, would have also fit within the unspoken CBC mantra. Ghomeshi isn’t white, but he was just white enough for many people to believe he wasn’t a person of colour. But there were also other options like broadcasting veteran Sook Yin Lee, an experienced interviewer on television and radio, and someone who didn’t need any orientation for the role.

However, after 6 months of rotating a slew of temporary fill-in hosts, CBC settled on veteran Canadian hip hop artist, Shadrach Kobango, better known as Shad, to take over the broadcast.

Shad is a glorious lyricist. As an emcee his rhyme schemes and mostly casual delivery make him one of the most listenable hip hop artists in the country. He’s super intelligent, uniquely creative and is already a legend in the sparse landscape of Canadian hip hop.

He was also immensely unqualified to take the helm of the most widely listened to radio program in the country’s history, one that is syndicated in 160 markets south of the border.

Shad has been the host of q for just over a year, and during that time he has had his share of critics. It’s not easy to say since he seems like such a nice guy and all, but he’s extremely boring to listen to. It reminds me of Toronto university radio, where most hosts are very monotone and do not have the authority behind the mic to engage listeners for long periods of time. That spark of greatness Shad carries with him in the recording booth as an artist just isn’t there as a radio personality.

This mediocre reality isn’t entirely Shad’s fault, however. I don’t know how much of the content is determined by his producers, but whoever decides on the locally focused content is dropping the ball. He once had the “I-am-trying-really-hard-to-be-shocking” BuzzFeed pill Scaachi Koul as a guest who yapped about a morning rave she attended that was “full of white people as far as the eye could see,” because I guess that’s what q listeners find interesting? More recently, Shad had a bizarre panel of Canadian musicians who spoke about racism in the music industry. What could have been a compelling, thought provoking 15 minutes was actually a bizarre conversation featuring arbitrary stories that did not include any tangible examples of racism. It just seemed like the show was thrown together without any research or organization by the producers who tried to pass off typical music industry bullshit as serious examples of racial discrimination. One guest cited venue sound engineers who didn’t mix live hip hop well as an example of cultural racism, and Shad seemed all too eager to let his guests skate by without challenging these seemingly benign claims. The segment fell flat, and the Internet let the producers of  know it through the universal theme in the comments section that said “This is what passes for racism? Really?”

One could argue that Shad is a work in progress, but if he is he shouldn’t be saddled with weak content to boot. But hey, CBC is known for keeping horrible programming on-air forever, so even if he has plateaued he might still have a career for years to come.

And if that’s the case then the decision to change the letter ‘Q’ to a lower case ‘q’ isn’t just fitting, it was tragically prophetic.

Ghomeshi: How the Reporters Who Broke the Story Set the Tone of Division

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BY: JAMES DIFIORE

The public does not show any signs of slowing down the debate surrounding the not guilty decision in the sexual assault trial of Jian Ghomeshi. As expected, there has been an outcry from some members of the public over the perceived lack of justice in the case. Others agree with the decision, arguing that the witnesses were so unreliable that the judge had little wiggle room and could have only reached the decision he did. The public is predictably polarized and will probably have it out until the next Ghomeshi trial begins in June.

But if you ask the two main reporters involved in breaking this story – the Toronto Star’s Kevin Donovan and freelance scribe Jesse Brown – you might begin to understand why this particular story seemed destined to divide the country. There was always an element of polarization, even before the story actually broke.

Brown had a scoop. He had already interviewed 8 women by the time he brought the story to The Star. Brown had never met 7 of the women before interviewing them as sources for the story, but one woman was decidedly different. Brown and she had a long-time friendship, which made things problematic from the Star’s point of view. Journalists, especially those who work for a big publisher, are meticulously careful about even the appearance of a possible conflict of interest when reporting on a big story. Reporters are almost never allowed to remain on stories if they have a personal connection to any of the subjects involved.

Brown, for his part, feels like his reporting was not a problem, and says neither Donovan nor the Toronto Star seemed concerned about his relationship with one of the alleged victims.

“He (Donovan) knew…and never raised it as an issue. In fact, he never bothered to interview her prior to our 1st story’s publication, though he had opportunity to do so. “

The truth is the Ghomeshi case created a rift between Donovan and Brown, born out of the stark differences in how a full time reporter and a freelancer investigates a story.

On Brown’s professionalism, Donovan says, “I found Jesse Brown reluctant to ask the sort of questions that needed to be asked. On social media he aggressively asks questions, but that was not my experience with him in person. To be fair to Jesse Brown, he has no background in this type of journalism.”

Donovan added, “…my interviews elicited more information due to the nature of the questions I was asking.”

Brown, who has secured a decent following since the Ghomeshi case broke at his Canadaland podcast site, continues to insist that his personal friendship did not negatively impact his ability to objectively investigate the story.

“…my connection to (name removed due to publication ban) actually helped with the reporting of the story, as I could personally confirm that she made her allegations years ago, when she said she did, back when the alleged incidents occurred. “

Donovan sees Brown’s involvement differently.

“ a reporter who has a connection or friendship with someone who is an alleged victim in a story cannot objectively do his or her job. It’s very important for journalists to be open about these things and to know when to step back.”

This is why Jesse Brown’s initial involvement is problematic. Nobody I have spoken with for this story had anything negative to say about Brown’s honesty or his intention to find the truth behind the Ghomeshi accusations. He’s not accused of fabricating interview notes, but we should consider the possibility his friendship did impact his work, as Donovan suggested. This is precisely the reason you walk away from the story if you are too close to a subject. Donovan knew this and interviewed the same women Brown had interviewed, a sort of insurance policy on accuracy. Indeed, Donovan did not have confidence in the type of questions Brown asked the other alleged victims, although he did not elaborate as to how Brown’s questions were insufficient, just that he was able to unearth additional info not pursued by Brown.

But it’s not just the integrity of the story, or your new career as a podcaster, or even your loyalty as a friend that matters, it’s the professionalism to understand that your perceived lack of objectivity could be seen as activism rather than journalism. Since Brown admits he was friends with one woman and knew about her alleged encounters with Ghomeshi years beforehand, he should have never interviewed the other 7 women.

From the very beginning of the Ghomeshi affair, objectivity seemed to take a back seat to salacious details of statements made to the media. Some articles from major papers and online publications seemed almost annoyed at having to use the word “alleged” in front of the allegations, often peppering the rest of the article with language that implied Ghomeshi’s guilt, such as referring to the alleged victims as ‘survivors.’ Journalism seemed lost as regular news articles were written like editorials, featuring an activist slant against a man who hadn’t yet been convicted of a crime. While columnists and civilians are free to share their unfiltered opinions, those opinions began to largely outnumber the reporting that should have remained neutral.

As for Donovan, he didn’t break any rules or have a friendship with any of the witnesses. Instead, he reserved the right to take some of the interviews  as part of a soon-to-be-published book entitled Jian Ghomeshi – A Secret Life. When the largest daily paper in the country spends months publishing articles that deal with the fear some women have coming forward to report sexual assault, they probably didn’t think their lead investigative reporter working on the biggest story in the country would one day add to those fears by publishing the details of those interviews. He isn’t the first reporter to write a tell-all, but the sensitivities surrounding this case makes his book tough to swallow, especially for some of the women he interviewed in good faith.

With the first trial resulting in a not guilty verdict, and with the second trial looming, this saga will reign supreme as the most volatile, socially relevant and consequential story in recent memory. Many will see it as proof the justice system is not equipped at handling sexual assault crimes, while others will see it as proof that reporting sexual violence promptly is the tough pill victims have to swallow in order to achieve justice. But from a journalist’s perspective, it should give every writer pause as they ponder what their role is when unearthing a story of this magnitude, especially if they are connected to one of the alleged victims.