Team player

Social Sciences

- Michael Kissinger

CBC Radio producer Manusha Janakiram, BA ’04, recently left the West Coast for a new challenge at CBC Toronto. Photo Jeff Topham

UVic grad Manusha Janakiram, BA ’04, applies lessons learned on the rugby pitch to the award-winning programs she produces for CBC Radio.

Manusha Janakiram is on the move. After an action-packed decade-and-a-half on the West Coast, the seasoned CBC Radio producer has a new job in a new time zone.

In September, she reported for duty as Executive Producer of Programming and Audio at CBC Toronto—a big step in an already highlight-filled career producing such programs as BC Almanac, All Points West, The Early Edition, On the Coast and, most recently, the award-winning What On Earth, hosted by UVic law grad Laura Lynch.

“The opportunity to be part of the leadership team at CBC Toronto was just one that I really wanted to take on,” Janakiram says.

In fact, “team” is a word that comes up frequently when talking with the UVic political science grad, although Janakiram admits she wasn’t always a team player. Growing up in Guelph, Ont., she says she and her older sister were high achievers and hated the idea of teamwork.

“We were the kids in school who were smart and often ended up doing a lot of the work in group projects and things like that. And I remember my dad being like, ‘You two just need to figure this out.’” It wasn’t until she started playing high-school sports such as rugby that she began to understand the value of working with others towards a common goal.

“Life is a lot of teamwork… And sports really taught me that, and in hindsight as someone who now leads teams and is going on to lead bigger teams in Toronto, I think a lot about that all the time—like how do you get people to gel? How do you create an environment where people feel safe enough that they can bring their best ideas and do their best work and perform at their highest potential?”

Top of the props

Those lessons learned on the playing field were further cemented when Janakiram enrolled at UVic and joined the Vikes women’s rugby team. Although not large in stature, she took her licks, mostly playing in the prop position, forming part of the front row of the scrum to push against the opposing teams’ props. Because a prop’s main role is to provide stability at the scrum, they are often among the strongest players on a team. Over the course of her rugby career, Janakiram experienced her share of injuries, including a broken collarbone, separated shoulder, concussions and chipped teeth.

The women I played with were—and many of them are still—good friends, people I really admire. It’s a tough sport, and it requires a lot, but there’s a sense of teamwork. And comradery… That group of women for me were really key to that experience of being at UVic… I wasn’t the captain of the team or anything like that, but I was part of it. And I think that you always know your value and how things as a group get accomplished.”

—CBC producer Manusha Janakiram

Janakiram had initially enrolled in the kinesiology program with her sights set on medical school, but a political science elective changed everything. She found the course really interesting—and never looked back.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in 2004, she moved back to Ontario. Unsure of what to do next, she applied to Concordia’s Graduate Diploma in Journalism program where she won the Gordon Fisher Prize for Journalism, awarded to the most outstanding student.

“There was something that just felt so natural and so exciting… Really, none of the other programs [I had considered] felt like the right fit… It just crystalized.”

Near the end of her studies, and at the urging of a friend, she applied for the Joan Donaldson CBC News Scholarship—a four-month paid summer internship with the national broadcaster. “I won the scholarship and I haven’t left CBC since then.”

The producer

Janakiram describes the role of a producer as “a bazillion jobs all at once.”

“It’s a planner, problem solver, creative director, show runner, logistics, coach, team leader, mom, counsellor, teacher. It’s a huge mix. Researcher, fact checker, keeper of journalistic standards and practices. The list goes on and on.”

She says the relationship between a program’s producer and its host is essential, as is the case with What On Earth, a weekly radio show and podcast that focuses on climate change and potential solutions. Although Janakiram and host Laura Lynch are UVic graduates, they attended at different times and hadn’t worked together until What On Earth. “The program was her idea,” Janakiram says. “And the level of trust she placed in me and that we’ve established together as a team is something I’m really proud of.”

She describes Lynch as “a total professional,” unflappable and a joy to work with. “She’s a journalist to the nth degree. She is a critical thinker, and she’s fun to work with and has a great sense of humour and a real heart that I don’t know if everyone gets to experience because they don’t get to work with her in the way that I do.”

Janakiram says the key to reporting on climate change in a meaningful and impactful way that resonates with audiences is relatively simple, even though it can be a fraught topic to cover because it requires extensive research and fact checking. She says the program takes an approach laid out by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

They talk about five facts and 10 words and it’s: ‘Scientists agree. It’s real. It’s us. It’s bad. There’s hope.’ And I think that as a framework for how we go forward, it’s been knitted into how the show thinks and talks about climate change from the beginning… When you say it in that framework, I think it’s actually not that complicated.”

— Manusha Janakiram

She adds, “I think the key is knowing that our audience is diverse and sophisticated… Sure you may need to explain some lesser-known term or some jargon or something like that. But part of our duty, like the CBC’s mandate, is to enlighten, inform and entertain.”

Creativity and risk

As for her move to Toronto, Janakiram calls it a two-stage process—her husband and eight-year-old daughter will join her once the school year is out. In the meantime, she’ll be kept on her toes, leading a larger team in Canada’s biggest news market. She’ll also have to hit the pause button on completing her master’s degree in executive leadership from Royal Roads University while she gets up to speed.

However, the principles of effective leadership and the value of teamwork won’t be far from her nightstand. She’s currently reading Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios and past president of Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Much of the book focuses on how Catmull cultivated a creative work culture and environment in which people felt empowered and safe enough to put their ideas forward, even if they went against the grain.

“It’s all about how you as a leader, how do you create and foster the conditions for creativity and risk,” she says. “It’s really good. It’s what I think about all the time.”


In this story

Keywords: alumni, media, athletics

People: Manusha Janakiram

Publication: The Torch

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