Why Kai Nagata quit his job, and why I don't care.

Jul 18, 2011

Why Kai Nagata quit his job, and why I don't care.

I usually complain about things over at http://demarchy.tumblr.com


About a week ago, one headline proclaimed that the Canadian media was shaking in its boots.


Because Kai Nagata was on the job. Or, rather, he wasn’t.

The 24 year old former journalist based out of Quebec City for CTV was laying siege to the Canadian media. Executives ran for cover as he blasted through the corporate offices, breathing fire and so on.

He quit his job in protest of how bad the Canadian TV media is, or something.

But, forgive me, I’m not impressed.

There are those who trumpet his admonishing of the superficiality of TV news. He rightly critiqued the relationship between the increasing sexualization and decreasing criticality of news.

If it took him two years working in TV to realize that, I'm worried for him.

His 3000+ word diatribe starts with the reasons why he didn’t quit. By the end, I was left wondering why he did.

Don’t get me wrong, I think he made some good points about the status of TV news media and the general media landscape. The centralization, corporitzation and stupidification (is that a word? It is now.) of our news sources is doing a great disservice to democracy and society as a whole.

But before we start a military campaign against TVs, I think we oughta look at why Nagata is really quitting.

He goes to great lengths to assure us that he was given every measure of support and editorial control from his corporate bosses. He felt, however, if he ever expressed his opinion; be it online or on TV, he would be fired.

So he quit in protest, because he thought he might be fired.

I’m not sure if you heard that, but it was the audible and resonating sound of my head hitting the desk.

First, there’s no honour in surrender. If Nagata felt so strongly about science funding, climate change, Afghanistan or even on the status of TV journalism, he should have done a story on it.

And not just the regular pieces most TV journalists do. No, a real piece - one that can change opinions. One you put your sweat, blood and tears into. One that keeps you up at night. A Woodward and Bernstein kind of story. If he didn’t feel he could do that on CTV, he should have written it and sent it to somewhere like, say, the Dominion.

That’s called being a, y’know, “journalist.”

If they fired him after that, I’d be the first to trumpet his cause.

But please, spare us the whole ‘noble warrior’ routine.

While it may play into the layman’s fantasy of personal rebellion that keeps the status quo, it’s insulting to those of us who actually work in independent media.

While Nagata writes, “I’m trying to think of the reporters I know who would do their jobs as volunteers.”

He know the wrong reporters.

I have, I do, and I will continue to be a journalist, regardless of my pay. (Dear prospective employers; please disregard that last sentence.) I’m also smart enough to know that if I take a job with the corporate TV media, that I’m going to have to work my ass off to escape the dumbing-down of our news. 

So I’m having a hard time swallowing the pill that Nagata is trying to feed me. He was in a position to amplify a critical, progressive voice but instead shrugged it off to make a point. It's as though it never occured to him that he had an amazing opportunity to draw attention to the situation from the inside, and totally failed to do so.

By the end of the article, it really comes through that Nagata was annoyed that he couldn’t express his opinion in his work. That’s stupid.

There’s a certain irony here, because this article is my opinion. But this is a blog, so that’s one thing.

But when I write a story, I don’t feel the need to just say that something’s absurd or hypocritical. If I did, nobody has an imperative to listen to me; what the hell do I know? The old journalism adage is; ‘show, don’t tell.’ If Nagata wanted to convey a narrative, just as every journalist does, then he should have done so by working harder to dig up the real story and not get dragged down with his colleagues. He had an opportunity to be an investigative journalist, despite the constraints.

If, tomorrow, the Globe and Mail ran a front-page editorial telling me that the Harper government had a plan to turn the Canadian Arctic into a massive army base/oil refinery/children’s theme park, I would identify with it - but I wouldn’t believe it. I’d want facts, interviews and research to satisfy my critical mind. The Canadian media has long ago lost my trust, so I no longer take opinion for anything more than a pin drop in a chorus of people shouting obscenities.

But Nagata seems to think people want to hear his opinion. We don’t. We want to do his damn job and hold to account those in positions of power.

Instead, he quit.

Meanwhile, many in the independent media would kill to have a job that pays as well as Nagata’s did, and I don’t think it’s naive to say that we’d take that job and make it something that serves a public good (or get fired.)

But we were already doing Nagata’s job better than he was. We do it for little or no pay, no benefits and no job security. If people like Nagata would step up to the plate, we wouldn’t have to. We could be free of the bonds of moral obligation, and be free to play in the field with the other children.

Mr. Nagata will regain a measure of respect from me when he decides to put his considerable skills into something necessary but financially unrewarding, like the Dominion or Rabble.ca. Until then, Kai, please spare us the pity parade.