Anna Maria Tremonti’s CJF Excellence Award acceptance speech: ‘Take your journalism back’

The following is a transcript of CBC Radio One The Current's acceptance speech at the Canadian Journalism Foundation 15th annual awards gala. The Current is the winner of the 2012 Excellence in Journalism Award in the large/national media category. 

The following is a transcript of CBC Radio One The Current's acceptance speech at the Canadian Journalism Foundation 15th annual awards gala. The Current is the winner of the 2012 Excellence in Journalism Award in the large/national media category. 

See also: CBC Radio One's The Current wins the Canadian Journalism Foundation Excellence in Journalism Award

CBC's The Current host Anna Maria Tremonti accepts the CJF Excellence in Journalism Award. (Photo: Kaz Ehara/CNW)

Pam Bertrand, executive producer of CBC’s The Current

Well this is a thrill. I really wanted to win this award because of the criteria involved: Accuracy, accountability, social responsibility, diversity, originality, independence and yes, courage. And it’s something that I and my colleagues — some of whom are with us tonight — strive for every day. Not always successfully, but we sure do try and these are values that we live with every day. And it’s a great privilege to be able to do that and I’d like to thank CBC for this opportunity. And special thanks to our manager who is with us here tonight.

Now, I know I’m in the company of so many of Canada’s greatest journalists tonight, but I’m sorry, I’ve gotta say: I’m turning this over now to this country’s best journalist, and my colleague, friend, and partner-in-crime: Anna Maria Tremonti.

Anna Maria Tremonti, host of CBC’s The Current

This is so exciting; this is so cool. I speak for all of the producers – yes, CBC, we’re well-staffed – and Antonia Maioni [who announced and presented the award to The Current] was one of the first analysts we had on the show when we started, so it’s nice that you’re here with us.

The Current is 10 years old; we are just finishing our 10th season, and this is a wonderful recognition for us. We are all so grateful. It’s also an affirmation for all of us that hard-edged journalism – edgy, provocative journalistic efforts – will never be a liability in this country.

The Current was created 10 years ago by Jennifer McGuire at CBC who keeps getting more and more promotions at CBC – she’s head of CBC television and radio and current affairs now. We began this program with a mandate to pursue truth, accountability, to give voice to those who might not otherwise have a voice, to turn ideas around and to make people think and to make them think differently. We were told to be fearless. After all, it was only radio – nobody watches it.

And it hasn’t always been easy. Henry Kissinger walked out on me in the first season. I got 200 postcards berating me, and they were form postcards that had obviously been handed out in the United States and mailed. And some of them, they had other little comments on them. One of them said: “communist slut.” How dare they – I’m not a communist. [laughter]

We took some flak for our questioning over Maher Arar and Gitmo. We still can’t get the Prime Minister to do an interview with us – the last one either, actually. But we’ve always understood the importance of taking our journalism back, and if there is a wider message in our success tonight, it is that. We are all journalists. You heard Ted Koppel talk about the changes in journalism and how difficult it is. We can all take our journalism back.

No journalism school grad gets out of school and says, “I want to cover the vapid and superficial.” Their bosses make them do that – their bosses with experience. No one can make you stand in front of a camera and say nothing about nothing. No one can make you write a column about just yourself. No one can make you report a story about nothing – only you can do that.

So next time a boss tells you – and this is a message to all the young journalists out there, and not-so-young journalists – to do a story you don’t want to do, come up with three others you do, and fight for it.

Take your journalism back.

I think it’s great that Ted Koppel is here tonight because some of us remember the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. I learned to say Ayatollah Khomeini – I was a newbie journalist at my first job. Ted Koppel went on the air live every night because of that hostage crisis, seeking accountability. Nobody had done that before – it was his idea. There are always new ideas that we can get. And I think it’s really great that you’re here tonight [she says to Koppel] because that’s a reminder that every day and every year every one of us can think of a new way to bring our journalism forward and to seek accountability and to find stories.

You know, the other thing is we’re always told that the business model doesn’t work anymore; that things are getting really tough. And believe me, I don’t deal with numbers. But I did an interview this year and I just would like to share the lesson because it was so amazing.

I interviewed a man named Shawn Ryan. Shawn Ryan was living in Dawson City, Yukon in a tin shack and he was picking mushrooms seasonally for a living. He was married and he and his wife started to have kids and he thought, ‘I’ve gotta get into something else and make some money here.’ And he had, as a teenager, worked around the mines in Timmins. He had never been trained as a geologist, but there he was in Yukon: home of the Gold Rush.

And, as you know, Yukon gold – I think they call it pacer gold – you know, you pan for it. And he thought: ‘There was all that gold. Where did it go?’ And he started looking at the geological maps, and he asked a lot of questions of the Canadian geological service and he basically was self-taught and he kept asking questions. And quite frankly, they’d looked for the gold; they scraped about six inches down and they couldn’t find anything.

So Shawn Ryan got himself a tulip planter from Holland. You plunge it down, and it goes more than six inches – it goes two feet. And he plunged it down all over the place and he took those dirt samples and he tested them for gold.

Shawn Ryan holds the biggest percentage of the gold mining shares now for the gold claims in Yukon. He has started a new gold rush.

All the gold mining companies thought the gold was gone. All the trained geologists thought the gold was gone. He found the gold.

Well, journalism isn’t gone either and we can keep mining for great stories and we can take our journalism back.

For those who think journalism is dead, storytelling, accountability, the quest for the truth is age old, and we can keep going. Journalism will always be here.

We all feel really lucky at The Current that we have the journalistic freedom to pursue stories that we believe matter. But you know, we can’t stand here tonight without recognizing the woman who has been guiding us through eight and a half of the last 10 years, and that is Pam Bertrand.

Her standards are exacting, relentless, unforgiving. Her humanity is expansive, selfless and humbling. She has been at the helm, she has guided us to where we are, and she’s leaving us at the end of this season to become the executive producer of Ideas and Tapestry on CBC Radio One. It is an inspired move for her; it is a dramatic – and traumatic – change for us but because of her, we will continue to move forward. So Pam, this one’s for you.

Thank you everyone, this is such an honour. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.