My final column on Kai Nagata and quitting to get ahead.
By Jesse Ferreras, Pique Newsmagazine
September 15, 2011
I begin this week with a mea culpa.
Two months ago I told you about Kai Nagata, the 24-year-old journalist who rose to the rank of bureau chief at CTV Quebec. Just a few years into his career, his was a rise that was the envy of almost any young journalist working today.
Then, abruptly and sensationally, he quit, detailing in a 3,000-word essay the reasons for his departure and a cavalcade of problems he observed in his short time in television news.
I erroneously referred to him at the time as a classic case of an arrogant Generation Y kid who would not settle for anything less than perfection in his employment. He wasn’t, and I was wrong to suggest otherwise.
Since then, however, his story has changed. After taking some time off to travel and think of a career outside journalism, he has announced that he’s going on a cross-country tour to discuss the state of television news. His tour has a date in Vancouver on September 22, an engagement titled, “Is TV news journalism salvageable?” and 127 people have committed to attending.
Kai’s quick return to lambaste television journalism doesn’t tell us that he quit his job because it wasn’t perfect. Instead, what it tells us is that he’s falling victim to an impatience that is persistently afflicting members of Generation Y.
It’s an impatience fed by a quick-fix culture of American Idol and the blogosphere, tropes that build unrealistic expectations of instant fame and success. And Kai, unfortunately, is a smart young man who’s been caught up in it like so many other members of his generation.
Kai’s impatience is encapsulated in the following passage from his essay: “I thought if I worked my way up the ranks, I could maybe reach a position of enough influence and credibility that I could say what I truly feel. I’ve realized there’s no time to wait.”
His thinking does not get any clearer. He saw a problem in television journalism and he wanted to do something about it; a laudable goal on its own. But instead of bringing himself to a position of influence, perhaps a VP’s job or even a news editor, he thought to make a public show of all that was wrong with the medium.
Instead of climbing a mountain and proclaiming from its summit all that was wrong beneath him, he chose instead to shake a fist at the mountain. He had a mind to climb the mountain, but he opted for the easier path.
In the space of 24 hours his essay was viewed over 100,000 times and Tweeted by luminaries such as Roger Ebert and Margaret Atwood. He was quickly praised as a hero, a Howard Beale-like figure who saw into the soul of Canadian broadcasting and revealed all that was wrong with it.
The reaction was similar to that which greeted Brigette DePape, the former Senate page who disrespectfully flashed a “Stop Harper” sign as the Governor-General read out the Speech from the Throne. She too found followers quickly, among them the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which offered her employment without knowing her qualifications.
The challenge now for people like Kai is to prove they have something to say. At his Vancouver engagement and others, he must prove that he’s seen something both credibly and seriously wrong with television journalism.
As it stands, his insights leave much to be desired. In his essay he writes that few journalists would do what they do as volunteers. He must not have met the countless interns who work for peanuts to gain experience at major television networks.
Kai also writes that a tension existed at CTV between “what the people want to see” and “the important stories we should be bringing to people,” a dynamic that existed also at CBC.
As an example he cited round the clock coverage of the Royal Visit, while atrocities in Libya, incidents that have little to do with Canada, went unreported by the Canadian networks. He seemed surprised by the idea that a news outlet ought to cover stories that people other than reporters want to know about.
If Kai wants to keep on down this path, as the guru of all that’s wrong with television journalism, he needs to bring revolutionary insights that go well beyond the ones cited above. If he doesn’t, he risks flaming out like the Charlie Sheen Torpedoes of Truth tour and doing further damage to his professional prospects than he ever did with his essay alone.
He might well have something important to say, and those interested in hearing it can buy tickets online at http://www.2mevents.com/index.php/event/is-tv-journalism-salvageable-an-evening-with-kai-nagata.
But let this be a warning to Kai, and to anyone else from Generation Y who thinks of taking a leap like he did: there is value in patience. And it takes more than quitting to make you an expert.