May 22, 2024

From left: Jason Pires of CTV; Ria Renouf, News 1130; and CBC's Michelle Eliot.

Like Jason Pires, I grew up in a household where the news was an important part of the routine, especially the evening TV newscasts. Michelle Eliot also grew up in a house where consuming news was something the family did together. For Ria Renouf, journalism came into focus after college following the tragic death of an aunt.

These were some of the stories I sought from these three in recent conversations I had with each of them about their work, the importance of journalism, the future of news, and representation in the media.

Not too long ago, I noticed that all four of the major broadcast outlets in Vancouver (CBC, CTV, Global, and Rogers) were featuring anchors and reporters of Filipino heritage. Sure, for eight years (2004-2012) Franco Teleg had anchored a Filipino broadcast on Channel M, and the late Mel Tobias had hosted a Filipino radio program on Fairchild Radio in the late 1990s. But I can’t remember growing up watching anyone in mainstream media that was Filipino.

Pires, co-host of CTV Morning Live, has participated at a number of Filipino Canadian events over the years, not just throughout Metro Vancouver, but also in Victoria, the city in which he was born. But loyal viewers might not have known of his Filipino heritage. And I suspect there are a lot of CBC Radio One listeners who didn’t know Eliot grew up there until she was 12 years old. And the same for News 1130 listeners, who rely on Renouf at the anchor desk.

(It was my intention to feature CKNW’s Emily Lazatin in this piece. However, I was told by Global News marketing and programming that they would “prefer [me] not to include Emily.”)

The idea of representation has taken on greater urgency in recent years. It might be easy to say that seeing Pires, and hearing Eliot and Renouf weekdays might be a symptom of programming directors paying heed to represent the community they serve, but that’s not altogether accurate, as all three have spent many years in the media, reporting, and producing before taking on their current roles.

Pires has been on the air at CTV Vancouver for over a decade now, first in the sports department as a reporter and anchor, and since April 2017, the co-host of CTV Morning Live. Some of his first on-air work was at Victoria’s CHEK Television, and the New VI. He got the chance to move back and work in his hometown, after attending BCIT’s Broadcast Journalism program (following a Psychology degree at the University of Victoria).

BCIT was also where Eliot went for broadcasting studies, following an English Literature degree at UBC. She thought of journalism as a career as early as 14 but didn’t know what sort of journalism to get into. She understood the importance of journalism after seeing a piece about the Philippines by Ian Hanomansing for the CBC’s Pacific Rim Report, and “felt like we mattered” in her family’s new home of Canada. It was an internship at the CBC that started her career at the public broadcaster.

When she was appointed the host of CBC Radio’s BC Today, I told the Georgia Straight’s Carlito Pablo, that I admired the great empathy that she brings in her broadcasting. That was a quality I noticed in her work as a producer and as a regular fill-in host on various CBC programs, before she succeeded Gloria Mackarenko on the noon-hour broadcast.

Renouf is also a graduate of BCIT’s journalism program. But it was in the midst of getting sociology and archeology degrees at SFU in 2010 that tragedy struck her family. Her aunt Virginia Itubay died of injuries after being struck by car. The driver fled the scene, and the family and Burnaby RCMP appealed to the public through the media for witnesses. Renouf spoke for the family in front of cameras and behind microphones. The experience suggested to her and others that a career in the media might be something to pursue.

Today, she is the afternoon anchor on News 1130. She can be heard as well with headlines on KISS Radio. She began working at the Rogers radio outlets in January 2019, following some time away from the media, working in communications. Before that, she was a reporter at the radio station CKNW.

What I’ve always enjoyed about Renouf’s work is that she too brings an empathy, likely borne from the tragic death of her aunt, when reporting on stories involving loss of life.

Renouf, Pires and Eliot, while encouraging others seeking work in the media like them, were realistic about the current state of journalism. It can be risky work, like going into the field covering crises and wars. But there’s little stability in having a job month from now when a lot of the corporations that own media outlets are constricting resources.

Pires, who was largely known for his sports reporting and anchoring, saw his network gut the department he was director of in 2017. Being realistic about going into the media is something that Renouf warned about. There is a precarious nature of the business, thanks to newsrooms shrinking due to layoffs. And Pires was quick to note that while it can be a rewarding living, it’s by no means a career to get rich like it was in the heady 1980s and 1990s.

But all three were encouraging young people, especially young Filipinos and other ethnic minorities, to go into the media. They all may not have grown up with people that looked like them in the broadcasting, but now that they’re on the frontline in this town, and they all feel that it is fun work that is rewarding and of service to the larger community.

Eliot says, “It’s really fun telling stories.” Renouf says that the theatre of the mind that radio provides its listeners has “no boundaries” for those that create the sound we listen to.

All three said some of the best skills to bring to storytelling are curiosity and creativity. Despite each having worked in their current positions for some time now, and the years of experience between them, all three remain excited about their work and enthusiastic about being able to connect with their respective audiences. All three have a sense of compassion, and I think yields the empathy necessary to tell other people’s stories in a way that is compelling and for many in their audience, necessary.

Having people of Filipino heritage like Eliot, Pires, and Renouf at the fore of the daily conversations that Vancouverites are having on a daily basis may not have happened five or ten years ago. So it is a special time to look at these three uniquely talented people, who are reflecting a growing segment of the population in the media outlets that serve the wider community.

Five or ten years from now, who knows who’ll be on the radio or in the television, or whatever modes of how news is delivered. But I suspect because of Renouf, Pires, and Eliot, there will be more people like them.

(Joseph Planta was born and raised in Vancouver, and has hosted the online podcast for over 15 years now.)

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