negotiation 101

In May I went to New York City to film some material for the Canadian Journalism Foundation's annual awards, the CJFs.

Part of that trip included meeting Morley Safer because he is an old friend and former colleague of Michael Maclear, who received the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award from the CJF.

As you can see from the video, his office is a bit cluttered.

I chose to film him at his desk because the option was either that, or the multipurpose room where he would be posed in front of a black curtain beside a plastic tree. No need for negotiation. 

"It's...textured in here," I said.

He laughed and said that was a nice way of insulting someone.

The camera guy managed to set up a light in the corner of the office on a patch of floor between a TV stand and a sofa. Neither of us could sit on the couch because it was piled with boxes and envelopes and picture frames and magazines and books and newspapers.

The room was filled with a lifetime of journalism, with no sign of it letting up. He graciously took time out to do our video while wrapping the 45th season of 

60 Minutes


Two typewriters were perched on a shelf behind his desk. 

"That one there," Morley said, pointing, "I took it to Nigeria years ago and they wanted to charge me duty when I left the country."

"For your own machine?" I said.

"That's right," he said, "The boarder guard told me it would be $100 to take the thing out of the country."

"Seems like a lot," I said. 

"So I said to the boarder guard: 

How about $20?

 And he said: 



There are ongoing negotiations happening as I write this for land claims, human rights, gun control, locations of pipelines, buyouts, loans, interest rates, and more.

On a smaller scale, people negotiate all the time: prices mostly, for houses, cars, food, sex, construction, vacation packages. Parents negotiate stories for bedtimes, vegetables for ice cream, chores for extended curfews. 

I negotiate on a regular basis in my job as a producer. Rates for camera operators, studio spaces, talent, locations, editors, editing, composers, and more.

I thought most things were negotiable until I found myself trying to haggle with a priest on the amount of his honorarium to perform the service at my father's funeral last year. 

I confess, I can't remember the last time I spoke with a priest, let alone negotiate with one.

It was odd.  

Mostly because the guy wouldn't budge. I didn't think priests had statements to the press, but the line he kept repeating during our phone conversation was, "I am accustomed to receiving a certain amount."  

Turns out his "certain amount", according to both my mom and the funeral home director (who had information from reliable sources) was a little on the high side. 

After an awkward silence on the phone - often an exciting part of the negotiating process where no one speaks for a few moments and inevitably someone breaks the silence - I gave up. I told him I had to go and hung up.

It broke my heart.

If a person is that unwilling to alter their expectations, if something on this scale is not going to shift, we are in trouble. I am not saying the guy wasn't doing his job. No question he should be compensated for his work, at a fair price. Like anyone.

There was something not right about negotiating an honorarium. By definition is:

a payment in recognition of acts or professional services for which custom or propriety forbids a price to be set



That, and he didn't seem very priest-like.  He was all business. By the book. The experience left me feeling a bit sick.  It certainly was not in line with the values with which my dad governed his life - kindness, generosity, patience, fairness.

The day before the funeral there was a huge snowstorm and Father I'm-Accustomed-to-a-Certain-Amount got snowed in and we had to call in a replacement priest from a neighbouring parish to do the service. Someone my mom knew and liked and trusted. Someone who wasn't asking for a set fee for his services.

Divine intervention?

I don't know.

I do know that a lot of things are negotiable.

But some aren't.

Weather and terminal illness and accidents mostly. Snowstorms and flash floods, earthquakes and hurricanes.  Train derailments and plane crashes. 

"Remember when that plane landed in the Hudson?" Morley said as we were wrapping up the shoot.

The CBS offices are located on West 57th Street in the BMW building and he's got a view of the river.

"I looked up to see that plane floating by with people standing on the wing. I thought they were filming a movie."


The New York Times was given an

Honorary Tribute

award by the CJF and here is the 


 I produced featuring some of their staff.

I suspect a fair amount of attempted negotiating goes on inside the building on a daily basis, no doubt regarding some non-negotiable terms, values and judgments.