Linden MacIntyre, Alison Smith to retire in advance of CBC cuts

Veteran journalist says he hopes departure will save jobs for young journalists

TORONTO – At least three veteran CBC journalists have announced they will retire amid massive budget cuts that threaten the jobs of young journalists at the public broadcaster.

Co-host of CBC-TV’s “The Fifth Estate” Linden MacIntyre, CBC Radio One “The World at Six” host Alison Smith and CBC News Network’s Nancy Wilson are all set to depart after decades with the CBC.

MacIntyre, an investigative journalist who has won nine Gemini awards, said recent cost-trimming is hitting young reporters and producers who are crucial to the future of the broadcaster.

“It’s pretty obvious that the energies and the imagination and the future of an institution depends on the intake of young people. They don’t have what I have because I’ve been around a long time, but they will if they’re allowed to be around. They will acquire everything I have acquired and more,” said MacIntyre, 70. “Without that potential, the place is doomed.”

In April, the CBC announced it would cut $130 million from its annual budget and slash 657 full-time jobs amid federal budget cuts and poor television ratings. The network is also reeling from losing the rights to marquee program “Hockey Night in Canada” in November to Rogers Media, which paid $5.2 billion for a 12-year broadcast deal.

MacIntyre, who has co-hosted “The Fifth Estate” for 24 years, said he is taking a stand against the cuts and hopes his departure brings public attention to the turmoil at the CBC.

“Even if you’ve never heard of most of the 657 jobs and people that are being cut, they’re all essential to this organization. Just because people know who I am doesn’t make me any more important than the other 656. People should be aware that there’s a lot being lost,” he said.

MacIntyre said his decision to leave was difficult and that he hopes to return to fiction writing when he retires at the end of August. He won the Scotiabank Giller Prize in 2009 for his novel “The Bishop’s Man.”

“It feels rotten emotionally. Rationally, I hate leaving for the reason I’m leaving. I hate leaving because the place is falling down around me. You get a really bad feeling walking out of an institution when it’s in trouble,” he said. “Twenty-four years at ‘The Fifth Estate,’ that’s been my life. I have to re-define myself. It’s more than a job. When you walk out of it and you leave the identity behind you, you suddenly have to sit and say: ‘Who am I? What am I? If I’m not a journalist, what am I?”

Smith announced her retirement several hours after news of MacIntyre’s departure broke Thursday morning. The 37-year veteran of the CBC said that she had been considering retirement for a long time but the recent budget cuts made up her mind.

“For me, what’s kept me at the CBC for so long is my belief in public broadcasting. It’s always been an important part of my life. Even as a kid growing up in a small town in the Okanagan Valley, the CBC was kind of my lifeline to the rest of the world,” she said.

“I think it’s important that new, young energetic voices and journalists get a similar chance. I think those opportunities need to be there for them in whatever form the CBC takes as it reshapes itself.”

Smith said she told management she was retiring before the recent budget cuts were announced in an effort to save lower-level positions from the chopping block. She will leave at the end of June and plans to take some time off before embarking on other projects.

“I feel privileged to have had a purpose every day that has been challenging and stimulating and creative, and at the end of every day that sometimes made a difference,” she said. “There’s always going to have to be somebody who sits behind the microphone that I sit behind right now — assuming the program continues, which I assume it will.”

She said the CBC was “not a happy place today” amid all the cuts.

“People are wondering what the future holds. The corporation has embarked upon a strategic rethink, as all media organizations have, and there’s a fair bit of uncertainty and that always makes people worried and nervous,” she said.

“That being said, I believe that there is an important place for a public broadcaster in the country. I am confident that it’ll take some time, and I think it could be painful, but I think we’ll get there.”

Wilson, who joined CBC Newsworld in 1991 and previously worked on CBC-TV’s news magazine “The Journal,” was unavailable for immediate comment Thursday. CBC spokesman Corey Black said she announced her retirement before the budget cuts.

CBC president and CEO Hubert Lacroix said Monday that it was time for a “national conversation” about the broadcaster’s role. The CBC launched an online consultation process to allow Canadians to offer their feedback.