Friday evening, I drove to the central branch of the Kitchener Public Library to hear two trailblazers—Lisa LaFlamme and Michelle Shephard–speak about their careers and the challenges of women in the media.
As Chief News Anchor and Senior Editor of CTV National News since 2011, Lisa LaFlamme is well-known throughout the country. She received a very warm welcome in Kitchener, which happens to be her hometown.
An award-winning journalist, best-selling author, and filmmaker, Michelle Shephard is an investigative reporter with the Toronto Star.
Rosie Del Campo, co-host and producer of CTV Kitchener News at 5, moderated the inspirational and informative conversation that kept all of us well entertained.
Both women enjoyed writing during their childhood and teen years.
In Grade 9, Lisa made an appointment with her guidance counselor to discuss a possible career in writing. The woman advised her to take physics, a subject she has never had to fall back upon during her 30+ career. She enrolled in the Communications program at the University of Ottawa and obtained a job at CTV Kitchener (then named CKCO). Prior to obtaining the Anchor chair, Lisa spent a decade on the road as National Affairs Correspondent, covering everything from elections to natural disasters to wars.
After Michelle received her Bachelor of Arts degree, she considered law school, even applying to write LSAT, but ended up in journalism school. Upon graduation, she obtained a position at the Toronto Star. 9/11 was the turning point in her career. The previous day, she had covered a story about a purse snatcher in Scarborough. As soon as she heard the news, she set out for Ground Zero. Covering 9/11 began her career as a national security reporter.
Both women possess that rare combination of curiosity, passion, and fearlessness that has enabled them to survive and thrive in war zones and their workplaces. They believe that gender works to their advantage in other countries, allowing them to access other women and share their stories. Something that male journalists cannot do.
I was shocked by some of the experiences shared. The most memorable: Women in some parts of the world must take their children into their hospital beds or prison cells if they become ill or incarcerated. Childcare is not a husband’s responsibility.
In spite of the many dangers, Lisa describes the war zone as a very simple life. You have to stay alive and tell a story. You don’t have to worry about doing housework, picking up children, running errands, or any of the many daily activities of “normal” life.
Looking back at their professional lives, both women spoke about the many changes, in particular, the increase in full-time female reporters. But men still dominate in the boardroom.
When an audience member asked about sources for news items, Lisa noted that most of the experts are male. She has made concerted efforts to find female doctors, lawyers, and other experts but has encountered resistance. While many women will express their opinions in the print media, they are reluctant to appear on television. Lisa cites concern with their appearance as a factor.
Both women addressed the dark side of social media. After receiving daily threats during the 2015 election, Lisa curtailed her use of Twitter. She uses it primarily as a news feed. Michelle believes that social media is bad for all women but far worse for women of color.
Lisa feels very strongly about the escalating poison of social media. “We need to find ways to corral this poison and shut it down. We are in charge of what we read and watch. We give too much power to social media.”
When asked about their mentors, Lisa named her mother and sisters while Michelle gave the nod to a close friend in the audience. Their workplace mentors have been primarily males. Both women admitted they received a lot of help and support on their respective journeys. And they’re both actively mentoring younger generations of journalists.