Getting an inside look at newspapers, call centres

Elizabeth Cran
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One of the books reviewed this week is a collection of pieces by a remarkable newspaperman from Saint John. The other is by an Island woman who spent nine years in a large call centre, starting in her 50s.  

The books are, respectively, The Price of Honesty: Life, Laughter, and Liquid Lunches by Ralph Costello (Brunswick Press, Saint John, $24.95) and Call Center Culture: Unplugged, self-published by Kathy Birt (kathybfree@

eastlink.ca, 24.95). Birt’s story is subtitled: Confessions of a CSR (Customer Service Representative). 

Costello was reporter, editor and publisher of both the Evening Times-Globe and the Telegraph-Journal of Saint John.

He also went from teenage caddy to president of the Royal Canadian Golf Association. 

Born and brought up on the wrong side of the tracks, he was an enterprising boy through most of the Depression. 

The Price of Honesty consists of a variety of articles collected in several sections; the titles of the latter provide a good idea of what’s in each. They are: Corridors of Power; About the Irvings; The Early Years (the Depression - perhaps the most vivid picture of it and (we think) the best part of the book); Friends — and Others (Why Are All My Friends So Old?); Newsroom Stories; Fairways and Greens; Some Good Books; A Touch of Whimsy and The Spoken Word. 

All are lively and well-written, and should have a wide appeal, even to people who've never been to Saint John.

Birt has been a freelance writer for publications in Canada, the United States and Great Britain.  Frequently her articles have been about agriculture and the fisheries; she has even written for a fisheries magazine in Denmark. 

In addition, she has self-published three books before this one; two of them collections of poetry.

With such a background, Call Center Culture should be better than it is. Not that it’s a bad book.  However it assumes we all know the basics of how a call center functions, which not all of us do.  Then the anecdotal format of one and a half to four and a half pages seems jerky; as soon as one has gotten into a story, the author starts a new one. It might have been better if she had put them together in longer chapters. 

Finally, in our opinion, quite a few of the stories are not as funny as she seems to think they are.  However, this is all personal opinion. 

On the other hand, they’re all vivid and well-written. Many readers will enjoy Call Center Culture: Unplugged.

Elizabeth Cran is a freelance writer who writes a book review column for The Guardian. To comment or to send her books to review, write her at 111 Sydney St., Apt. 17, Saint John, N.B., E2L 2L8, or call her at 506-693-5498.

Organizations: Call Center Culture, Brunswick Press, Telegraph-Journal Royal Canadian Golf Association A Touch The Guardian

Geographic location: Saint John, Iceland, Irvings Canada United States Great Britain Denmark

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