Why did the Websters not recognize Harvey Oberfeld?

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By Harvey Oberfeld
Keeping It Real…
September 14th, 2014

This is a difficult one for me.

.

About a week ago, at a retirement party for my former colleague, Brian Coxford,, this year’s recipient for the Websters Lifetime Achievement Award, a number of those I chatted with assumed I had also received the same recognition when I retired, eight years ago,  after 38 years of a fairly successful career in the business..

“No, I never got it,” I told them.

It was a bit awkward.

A few days ago, the matter came up again at an occasional lunch I have with other Vancouver media friends, because another former colleague in the business had wanted to join our group … and I was less than enthusiastic, because he was part of the  Websters brass when I was passed over.

And now on-line podcaster Joseph Planta has raised the question in a Tweet:  ”Why hasn’t @HarveyOberfeld  gotten a lifetime achievement award from@JackWebsterFdn?”

I have never met Planta … and, to be honest, had not heard about his podcast www.TheCommentary.ca until he contacted me some time ago to do an interview.  He’s done hundreds of interviews of people he found interesting … dating back to 1999 … and not bad either, but I had begged off … I’m retired.   Until he approached me again last week about my “gravitas” piece … and I then agreed to talk about the news media today, my blog and my career.

The lack of Webster L.A.A.  came up again …  outside the actual formal interview: he seemed surprised … and so was I … TOTALLY … when he later Tweeted his question publicly.

Oops!

Well,  maybe it’s time to speak up, and tell the story … at least from my own point of view.

It’s not really a secret … I have mentioned it in passing on my blog … but have never done an actual  piece on WHY I believe I never received the Websters L.A.A.

As I said,   it’s only my subjective interpretation  … but here goes:

I certainly had a very full and successful career … beyond even my own early dreams: writing at the Saskatoon Star Phoenix; the Regina Leader Post; the Vancouver Sun; and BCTV/Global … covering MANY beats, from City Hall to Regional Affairs, to the BC Legislature, even on to Ottawa and Parliament Hill  … and winning more than my fair share of awards: including two Websters; several Radio, Television News Directors Awards (regional AND national); Canadian Association of Broadcasters Gold Ribbon Awards; Governor General’s Award nomination; and, my most cherished, a Canadian Association of Journalists’ Award for Best in the Country  (voted on by other reporters, not media executives in suits).

Not to mention the thousands of stories I did over the decades, breaking new ground (never repeated) in raising BC’s profile in Ottawa, making politicians … from MPs to Cabinet Ministers to five Prime Ministers and various Premiers on down … more aware of BC issues and BC sentiments.  I also forced them, on camera, to answer questions they hoped to avoid … or I showed them running away when they dared not answer … and on more occasions than I can remember helped ordinary taxpayers fight the bureaucracies, developers or a myriad of other injustices.

I loved it all!  And judging from the reactions I still get from people I meet or hear from, I think many, many British Columbians did too!

Apparently I also contributed well to  BCTV’s ratings, was a favorite for on-air live chats,  drew more attention than most other reporters wherever I showed up, especially when we travelled, and I truly identified well with our viewers … and they responded in kind.

And now, there’s this blog … only a hobby in my retirement years, but my way of still giving back in my spare time.

As for the Webster’s L.A.A., there have been many GREAT recipients:

Previous winners include: David Baines, Patricia Graham, Mel Rothenburger, Jim Taylor, Bill Good, Steve Wyatt, Jim Harrison, Vaughn Palmer, Vicki Gabereau, Tony Parsons, Rafe Mair, Allan Fotheringham, Patrick Nagle, Roy Peterson, Cameron Bell, Keith Bradbury, Dan McLeod, Denny Boyd, George Garrett, Moira Farrow, Jim Hume, Warren Barker, Len Norris.

And now, in 2014, Brian Coxford.

No shame, of course, in anyone not being included with some of those others. But did ALL of them exceed my accomplishments and contributions to the media and public discourse over 38 years?

I haven’t really discussed it publicly, but maybe it’s time: I believe something else was at work … and I’ll tell you why.

The Websters, in my view, had become very corporate in latter years of my career, not only funded by big media bosses and management and their business friends …  but also very establishment orientated and, at the top, more and more removed from working reporters,  etc.  Not something I believe Jack would frankly be happy about.

And I believe, in their view, I personally did TWO terrible things:

I supported the unionization of BCTV’s newsroom after their “new” management laid off/fired more than 40 workers;  I also became union vice-president; and, was union spokesman during CEP’s 33-day strike.

I stood up for those who could not … apparently a move not appreciated by Global management, other media moguls, managers and others behind the scenes at the Websters.

And in retirement, on this blog, I have also DARED to criticize the media; the decline in quality; the sagging ratings; and the do-more-with-less results of  decisions/actions by the corporate bean counters now running the business.

They were clearly not amused!

So, after two years as a VOLUNTEER Webster’s award judge behind the scenes, I was DUMPED as a judge! LOL!  (By the way, a funny aside: one year, my judging partner was former NW host: Christy Clark!)

And there would certainly be NO L.A.A. for H.O.  Not for someone who stood up to and spoke out about job-cutting, quality-slashing management in the media?  Who supported a union? Who, shortly after he retired,  started writing a blog critiquing not just politics but also the declining journalistic standards and ratings?

Somehow, I don’ t think Jack himself would condone  discrimination and blackballing behind the scenes for any reasons  … especially ones that had NOTHING to do with any reporter’s  journalistic accomplishments and depth of career.

But I believe it happened … and I had let them get away with it by staying silent.

And although I have written more than 700 articles on this blog alone (Yikes!), I haven’t written a piece on this topic until now.  But it keeps coming up so I decided to tell the story, as I see it.

How ironic:  what a lot of them DON’T know … it was Jack himself (along with Marjorie Nichols of The Sun) who encouraged me to jump from The Sun to BCTV  ”and go buy a new suit”; it was Jack who encouraged me to be myself, helped me and gave me tips on how to do interviews for tv and even taught me  how questions can sometimes be more important than the answers … especially when dealing with politicians.

And that the REAL reward is that PEOPLE trust you, appreciate you and, most important, TUNE IN  just to see and listen to you!

I owe a LOT of my career success to Jack and the lessons he taught me … especially to be true to myself and my values, how to  relate to those I covered … to STAND UP for the truth … and NEVER EVER be intimidated by those in power.

I always tried to do that … no matter the cost.

And my own REAL Webster lifetime achievement award came when Jack died. I was chosen to do the funeral coverage of this man who did so much for the people of BC, for our industry … for me and for my career.

THAT meant a lot to me.

Jack would not have had me change ANYTHING I did or stood up for … keeping it real and telling the truth … even about the media.

God Bless him!

Harv Oberfeld

Joseph Planta of The Commentary Interviews Harvey HERE

 

 

 

7 COMMENTS

  1. Good on you Harvey. Your long and distinguished career as an excrement disturber at BCTV & Global is well known, and your stories always broke new ground.

    You know in your heart the calibre of your endeavours over a lengthy career, and you don’t need trophies to prove it.

    Although I understand how such a distinguished award (such as the Webster Lifetime Achievement award) might help to warm your cockles during the retirement years.

    Thanks for continuing to hammer the powerful in the spirit of those golden BCTV years via your blog.

  2. Media awards are a little silly.
    Having worked in the media for many years I was always surprised how seriously many people (actual adults) took them.
    There’s ALWAYS a political element to them (depending who’s on the judging panel, and who won last year, and therefore who’s “turn” it is this year, etc.)

    Besides,
    Do doctors get awards mending a broken bone..
    Do dentists wave around awards for easing someone’s pain and fear.
    Do teachers, electricians, plumbers, accountants?
    No. They’re just adults doing their jobs,

    Harv is doing two things here.
    – He starts by waving his awards at us.
    – Then he tells awards don’t mean much if you’re doing your job well.
    He’s right on the 2nd count.

    Awards and ribbons are for school children.
    Adults should just do their jobs well …and shuddup about it.

  3. I did not realize the Websters were so politicized. Jack would have been disappointed.

    Harvey, you deserve recognition for your great career. You were a big part of keeping BCTV the top station in this province.

  4. Harvey- It’s sad to hear how political these awards are, but it isn’t all that surprising. In every phase of life, it seems people on the inside want to reward their friends and colleagues in some fashion. I agree with you that Jack Webster, who was never an “establishment man,” would disagree with his name being used in this way.
    Your broadcasts on BCTV were often brilliant. It was one of the very few times that a true B.C. perspective on the goings-on in Ottawa has been available for media consumers. Your reports were entertaining and insightful, and a far cry from the national reporting that viewers got from other outlets (and get today).
    On a personal note, I still remember back to 1978, when as a Langara journalism student, you conducted me and my classmates on a tour of the legislature, where you were (at the time) the Sun legislative reporter. Your friendliness and professionalism were obvious and I have always felt you were one of the genuine nice people in this profession. You have been an inspiration to many and I believe you are esteemed by many who have encountered you over the years. That is more worthwhile than any award.
    All the best in retirement, and keep up the great blog posts.
    Frank Bucholtz, editor, Langley Times

  5. Thanks to all for their comments … esp Frank. It was difficult for me to finally speak up publicly after 8 years …but I figured after so many wondered privately what had happened and someone I had never met asked the question on the web…time to explain …at least from my own, admittedly subjective point of view.
    My only regret now is that I didn’t say anything earlier ..because if I am correct, I allowed the miscreants who were guilty of stage-managing, discriminating and blackballing do their dirty deed behind closed doors …and I just said nothing. I even thought maybe my career didn’t match up to their standards ..until I looked at the entire list of recipients. I think I had done pretty well! LOL!
    Of course, the GREATEST reward was the public appreciation I STILL receive almost everywhere I go for what I did for them, for BC and for journalism. And let’s face it, awards are good for the ego and your station , but as I said on my blog … when dining out, an Entertainment Book coupon is actually worth a lot more! 🙂

  6. The BCTV strike was a turning point Harvey, but no one is paying that much attention to your blog. The Websters have gone corporate but still have value. You had a good run Harvey, let it go.

  7. When journalism meant more than Boxing Sales and first day of school our mandate was to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. That was as an egalitarian move more than anything – levelling the playing field you might say. Now everything has been labelled left or right wing and most news managers have sold out to their sales staff. No probing, no investigative just fluff and low hanging fruit. We remember Harv and thanks for showing the way!

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