By: Adam Choghri
CBC investigative journalist Erica Johnson recently spoke to Seneca Journalism students about the future of the industry. She spoke about the impact of fake news and the erosion of trust for journalism, "We [journalists] are one of the fundamental pillars of democracy, and if you don't have journalists that are able to tell stories and bring information to shed light on things, that's a very scary place to be. I see that credibility of journalism is slowly eroded practically by campaigns."
Johnson was the host of Marketplace for 16 years and is now an investigative reporter for CBC's Go Public. She appeared virtually from her home in Vancouver. The event is part of the new series Seneca will be hosting every month called, "In Conversation with..." which is hosted by a Broadcast Journalism professor, Robert Ballantyne.
Johnson has won several RTNDA awards, a New York Festival Award, a Jack Webster award, and a Golden Sheaf award. She has also been nominated four times for a Gemini award as best host of a News/Information program.
Before starting her career in CBC's Marketplace, Johnson was the first woman at CFRB to read the morning newscast. She started as a radio reporter in 1987 for various private radio stations. Johnson would become a CBC radio reporter in Toronto in 1990, hosting various shows and becoming a national reporter.
She would later join a new program for the CBC called, "The Health Show," after a CBC employee who worked in the television section, asked if she would be interested in becoming the host of the show.
"I said I haven't ever done television, and he said he's starting a new program called The Health Show, 'would you like to be one of my reporters?'" Erica said during the event.
She would then become the host of Marketplace. Johnson started on October 3rd, 2000 to 2016. Making her the longest host for the show for 16 years. Johnson said she hadn't planned to be the host for 16 years saying, "No. I mean, whoever has a plan to be at a job for heaven forbid, 16 years, as you can see I was quite young, much younger when I started. I thought you know, what an opportunity, Marketplace is a great show, I'll try it and see how it goes."
During her career in Marketplace, Johnson came across a multitude of hostile interviewees. One instance was in Hungary. Johnson asked Bill Nelson to show evidence of how his medical device (which was licensed by Health Canada) can cure cancer. But during that interview, Johnson said Nelson lost control when he was confronted and the interview went in a different direction than they were anticipating it to go.
Prof. Ballantyne asked Johnson how did she feel during that interview, she said, "the tension in that room, there was a lot of money at stake for him [Bill Nelson] and it was high, probably the highest [tension] it has been for me in any interview."
What does Erica do before the actual interviews?
Johnson says that "there's a whole process" before the actual interview happens. She talks about how each story has a small team that is divided up by an associate producer, a researcher, a producer, and a host. The team then creates questions they would like to ask the person they are interviewing.
She talks about how if the interviews would be difficult or challenging, the team would roleplay how the interview would go. "We will actually roleplay, I'll ask this question, and what do we think they're going to answer? And if they say that, well, we can say this." This is done so the team would know what the interview would look like and what will happen next.
Why is Seneca hosting these events?
The host of "In Conversation with..." Prof. Robert Ballantyne, said it started with The Chair, Tina Cortese. "I had booked an interview with Erica Johnson for our class, and thought we should do a little more with it than just sort of present it with our class." Cortese liked the idea and suggested Ballantyne do a monthly series. Last month, Seneca invited Dwight Drummond an award-winning CBC anchor to also, speak with Journalism students.
Ballantyne said the idea behind these events is for students to understand the career they're going into and how to keep their career going. "It's really great to talk to diverse people in journalism about issues and bring expertise to all students. For me, when I heard journalists speak, there's always one thing that carried with me, that pushed me to be better than what I thought I could be. And I hope those moments come through people like Erica and Dwight."
Would Seneca do this every month?
Prof. Ballantyne is hoping to do this every month. "It happened because of the timing of Erica's invite had happened a month before and it was all in sort of two weeks, but we want to give some breath for the four weeks, every four weeks would be nice."
At the end of the event, the floor was open for students to ask questions. Tristan, a second-semester journalism student said he enjoyed the event, " I learned a lot more about what it's like to be a journalist. Because I would like to admit, we cover the field a lot, but it's not every day you get to talk to an actual journalist. Especially Erica Johnson. Overall it was a really fun experience, she gave us more insight into the career."
You can watch the recorded live stream on Senecajournalism.com/live.