Guest blogger: CBC News in the regions

I didn’t write this.
It was written by a CBC news producer who wishes to remain anonymous. Suffice to say that the person has extensive experience in the regions and continues to do fine work to this day. I thought it was well-written and contained plenty of good ideas worth considering.
Enjoy.
~O

Over the last year Newsworld has done an amazing job of re-inventing itself. We now have a first-class 24 hour news network, that in many ways surpasses CNN, MSNBC etc. I remember watching Newsworld when it launched in 1989 and how it was full of boring phone interviews and gavel-to-gavel coverage of Royal Commission Hearings. CBC Newsworld has come a long way from those days.

We’re doing a great job now of producing a modern fast-paced and visually-interesting network. Our shows are packed with live hits from the scene, breaking news that typically beats CTV NewsNet and hosts that bring personality to the airwaves. The transformation of Newsworld has been remarkable. We don’t miss stories and we get on the air with breaking news throughout the day.

I think it’s time now for the CBC to begin transforming its local shows. Over the years there have been so many cuts that shows have been stripped down to skeletal operations. In many markets the local CBC news is a collection of leftovers that didn’t get picked up by Newsworld and the network shows. We need to add resources to local programs so that viewers will want to watch.

Part of it is psychological, for example most local CBC newscasts only have one anchor and local weather and sportscasts have either been cancelled or shipped off to another location. When viewers can flip to their local CTV station and watch an entire local “team” of 4 anchors sit on the set, it makes us our programs look inferior. It doesn’t matter how smart our reporters are compared with theirs, or how much better our writing and vetting is– we look like small potatoes.

We also only produce a 6 p.m. newscast for local audiences. We used to run 11 p.m. news and weekend news. There used to be presence throughout the day. By abandoning those time slots we made ourselves less relevant to the communities we serve. Viewers couldn’t get the local weather forecast at night to prepare for the next morning, they couldn’t get provincial sports scores on weekend.

Obviously it costs a lot to produce late night and weekend news, but the loss of audiences may have been a greater cost.

The local shows once served as a training ground for future network talent. People were hired by smaller stations to develop their skills and practice the craft of journalism. It seems nowadays we expect new employees to be “ready for prime-time” without the development and seasoning that used to take place.

Where will CBC TV find its next generation of talent? By stealing the best from radio? By hiring from private TV.?

There may not be a lot of money left to do the same things we once did. But the current approach to local news is not working. We still attract die-hard CBC viewers, but a big chunk of the audience has left us.

Having worked in many local CBC stations over the years, I know how an additional 4-5 bodies in each location can make a difference. If there is money for more people it would give us more programming. I also think we need less producers and more reporters and ENG camera operators. The bread and butter of any TV. operation are reporters and shooters. Yet in some locations we have numerous desk producers and few people in the field.

Maybe it’s also time for CBC TV to provide different levels of service to different communities. For years it was considered taboo. After all we are a national service, so each province got its own regional station with similar resources.

But the reality is we serve different markets and in radio we often provide programming that is more geared to individual markets. For example some CBC Radio afternoon shows air one hour earlier because they face private radio competition that is on the air earlier or because local commuting and traffic patterns are different. Saskatchewan has one CBC radio signal for the province, while New Brunswick has 3 local stations, each with its own morning show. On Cape Breton, CBC Radio produces a special local music show to reflect the unique musical culture of the area.

In TV, we might want to provide local and weekend news in some markets that are underserved. The markets recently abandoned by CHUM Television could be ripe for an increased CBC presence (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg).

Other markets may be better served by merging newscasts. For example in the maritimes CTV and Global produce regional TV. newscasts for all three maritime provinces. The CTV show has dominated ratings in NB and NS for years, beating CBC shows that are provincially based but often under staffed. Maybe a slickly packaged Maritime newscast out of Halifax with lots of reporters stationed in every corner of the Maritimes would give us better coverage of those markets. It’s a formula that works for CTV. Their newscast focuses less on provincial capitals and more on the isolated towns and villages of the maritime provinces. In the past they have placed VJs and reporters in more places.

Would it be a popular choice if we replaced some of our maritime CBC TV newsrooms with smaller pocket bureaus in more communities? A lot of our employees would be opposed. After all, they have established lives and families in their respective cities, they can’t just get up and move. Smaller CBC VJ locations are also prone to high turnover, as young VJs often come from big cities and can feel very alienated living in small towns without big social scenes. We also seem to be moving away from packaged reports to more live hits. VJs are great at preparing packaged stories– but operating their own live equipment is more of a challenge.

I know these thoughts will provoke some interesting conversation.

There are lots of choices to make about the future of CBC local news. I hope the leadership of CBC News can provide a clear vision in the months to come about what direction we will take.

We have an incredible brand and some of the most talented journalists in Canada. It’s time to exploit it.

27 comments:

  1. Allan
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 2:18 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    so you think you can say anything you want using a dead man’s name without permission

    and your puny intellect thinks it can control me, my words, and others opinion of me

    let’s see

  2. Anonymous
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 11:53 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    … brother, how intelectualizing…

  3. Anonymous
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 10:37 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I heard through the grapevine that Heaton Dyer is examining this issue as we speak, as part of his 3-year review and implementation of everyone’s reactions to the News Study.

  4. Ouimet
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 9:21 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You hate me, Allen. That doesn’t bother me.

    You like to follow me around the internet from site to site and harass me. Here, Antonia’s and the manifesto site. I don’t mind that, either. It’s how you prefer to spend your time.

    You want to expose the “truth” about me. Most people here don’t care. They got over it long ago, or they stopped coming. I let you have your say on that, but I deleted some of your repetitive comments, and your personal attacks on other posters. I will continue to delete as long as you continue to be an ass. Probably longer.

    It’s too bad because I always thought Amazing had some interesting things to say.

    And you accuse me of desiring power over others. But at this point, the only one I seem to have power over is you. You can’t stop writing about me, and you can’t stop trailing me. This has been going on for days.

    You’re my most avid reader.

    Surely you must see the irony in this?

  5. Anonymous
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 9:08 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Newfoundlandia is correct. Perhaps no other locale was as well placed to reclaim audience through a regional supper-hour newscast. The competition was weak, the audience hungry and the well of talent available to the producers very deep. (Both radio and television services in Newfoundland used to be exceptional.) But, to make their lives easier in Toronto, senior bureaucrats have long made it a policy to appoint quiet and mediocre sheep as their colonial administrators. These folks, not surprisingly, staffed shows with people like themselves. Finally, faced with a lousy show, they change … nothing. They just leave it on, as is. This is now part of the Corporation’s culture. Nothing will change until merit is rewarded and incompetence punished. Nothing will improve until hiring the most talented candidates, regardless of how cranky, often from outside the family, often for the premium they command, becomes the first governing principle in staffing.

  6. Anonymous
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 8:34 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    So Allan, my name is Jim. Or wait, it’s Tara. No, it’s Robert. Feel better now?

    For myself, I’m pleased that this blog didn’t die post-Lockout like so many others did. And this isn’t a formal inquiry, nobody has to be ‘invited’ to discuss to make it a worthwhile conversation.

    And if there are any real CBC managers still reading this blog, posting Anonymously actually might make them think, because I’ve experience first-hand bias from managers who dismiss myself and others opinions about the direction of the CBC, yet goes apesh*t when the sports guy says “butt” on the air and gets ONE complaint.

    I definitely think there should be more local reporting – and not just that, I think there should be an emphasis on more local shows covering as many aspects of their community as possible.

    I remember VPW days in Winnipeg, the public access station used to deliver over 12 hours of completely original content every day on a staff of about 10 people. The Heavy Metal Inquisition was classic….of yeah, CBC’s 24Hours was pretty good too.

    Now, I’m not suggesting a complete break from national reporting, but there should be more room for the local areas to be represented.

    But of course, you can preach to the converted all you want – unless you find a sympathetic manager with some clout who will go to bat for you, or better yet…AGREES with you, CBC is doomed to the small-minded reactionary bozos who blow the overtime budget on foam lightbulbs in charge.

  7. estragon
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 7:59 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Allan said…

    “Bloggers are essentially losers in the game of life. They want more attention, more affection, more clout.”

    And that means people who write comments on blogs are… what?

  8. Dwight again
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 6:15 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Justin: I thought “Allan” read as suspiciously familiar, but was unable to put my finger on the exact resemblance!

    As for the more-constructively-minded “Anonymous” commenting on the cost and time-of-rebuilding issues, those are fair points. I would argue for a certain amount of patience, realizing that by being on the Internet at all, I may be undermining my own arguments. :-)

  9. Newfoundlandia
    Posted August 19, 2006 at 3:03 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Perhaps we could get back to the substance of the original post. It’s full of well-meaning platitudes. But anyone who watches CBC TV in Newfoundland will be very amused by the assumption that properly supported local newscasts would automatically blow away the competition and win the hearts of viewers.

    It’s been a year since the Corp reinstated a full, locally-produced, one-hour suppertime newscast in Nfld, with budget. This was trumpeted as a great victory for public broadcasting, until viewers saw the dismal results.

    The show is a disaster, done with little flair, imagination or energy, and has been deservedly hammered in the ratings. It’s an embarrassment, and a gift to those who argue for the CBC’s demise.

    It’s so easy to blame those evil bureaucrats and penny-pinching managers. The unfortunate fact nobody wants to face is that too many CBC newsrooms are populated by creative deadwood and careerist hacks. Given enough rope, the St. John’s TV newsroom is doing a good job of hanging itself.

  10. Jamie
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 11:44 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Shiny-side out, Allan.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 10:15 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It would be wonderful to have full active local TV news operations back at the CBC.
    But not to be a nattering nabob of negativety, does anyone have any idea how much it costs to do television news?
    That ship has sailed and without massive infusions of cash we can’t do it.
    Ask a local assignment producer how hard it is to find the bodies to cover all the stories that they need to for a 30-minute show and don’t get me started on the requests for camera operators for a Newsworld hit or a spear for the National.
    As well, even if we got all the money we need (dream on) we would need years to rebuild the shells of operations and the audiences that have been destroyed by nearly 20 years of station closures and cutbacks. Do we think the current bosses would give us the time?

  12. Justin Beach
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 9:26 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Does anyone remember Alan from the lockout blogs? He went by “Amazing” then.

  13. Dwight Williams
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 6:15 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    As someone currently an outsider to the MotherCorp structure, I have to say that I like the idea of the “pocket bureaus”, scattered throughout the smaller communities. It echoes something I’ve wondered about for a while now re: the concept of “precinct houses” for the larger urban centres: smallish storefront bureaus located in, say, a strip mall or a standalone building.

    In Ottawa/Gatineau’s case, I’d make a case for such “precinct houses” in Orleans(AKA “Ottawa east of the Greenbelt”), South Ottawa, Kanata/Nepean, and Gatineau as well as the main base in the current Ottawa Broadcast Centre.

    Depending on what city/region you live in, you could adapt the concept accordingly.

    Impractical? Or not?

  14. James A Jaworski
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 5:47 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’m just a viewer, not an internal CBCer, but I have strong views when it comes to CBC local news on my television screen. I feel ‘jipped’ in the last few years.

    Winipeg’s former hour long supper news show, 24Hours, won numerous awards for its documentaries, was a template for The Journal, and was also the starting point of several nationally known CBCers — Peter Jordan, Sandra Lewis, and Diana Swain, to name three.

    I want my 24Hours back.

    I don’t want to watch CKY News, who concentrates too much on crime and calamity (car crashes, fires, etc…). We don’t have Citytv news anymore, which in various forms over the years have watched as Prairie Pulse Tonight, MTN News. When it became A-Channel news I stopped watching and switched back to CKND (Global).

    Its truly ironic that after Izzy Asper said that CBC should get out of local news and they did in the 2000s that Global would be a great newscast here. But like I said, I vividly remember, and still have tapes of 24Hours stuff. It was quite the thing back in the 1980s.

    CBWT (Winnipeg) can do it again. We can win awards just like before. After all, Winnipeg is the cultural capital of the prairies.

  15. CBC Frank
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 5:25 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Dear Allan:

    You demonstrate all the ignorance, the arrogance, and the presumptuousness of a typical upper manager here.

    And because you loathe the whole works, that’s all the more reason to give you a corner office.

    Welcome aboard!

  16. Anonymous
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 4:33 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Actually, the coffee break thing comes from a sign seen in the basement years ago. It’s (decreasingly) filled with top notch talent not getting enough production work.

    And as for my own 37 hour contribution, I work my tail off. I read the audience reports and try to nail down what can be fixed and get on with that. And plenty more. By your own standards, it ain’t none of your business, though.

  17. Allan
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 3:26 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Keep it up.
    You manage, in too many words, to reveal that for you the CBC is one long coffee break.
    You also admit that you came here for “scuttlubutt”, which translated from pirate-talk to modern english means “gossip”
    It’s always been my view that people who want to gossip about the workplace, can stick it up their scuttleBUTT.

  18. Anonymous
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 2:58 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Yeah, you’re right Allan. Better we should listen to smug, middle aged, white neo-cons with nothing of value to contribute to the dialogue about directions for the CBC.

    Oh, well maybe a bit of tired boilerplate crap about how blogs are revolutionizing the way we do things and not giving us time to process and validate the information.

    You wanna know what ‘revolutionary’ phenomenon people on the inside care about? The one where scumbag PR agencies, uninformed vitrio-luddites like the CBCwatch gang and media concentrators malign the idea of public broadcasting at [sic] ‘lightening speed’. How many have ‘fallen prey’ to that particular flavour of free speech?

    It’s great that people who don’t work at the old Coffee Break Corp want to pitch in with some amateur punditry, but get with the times.

    People come here for some good scuttlebutt with grains of salt in hand. We’ve gotten past giving a shit who Ouimet is. That’s, like, so ‘lockout, day 12’.

    Spend the wind on some properly thought out letters to your MP.

  19. Allan
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 2:17 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Turning to this latest post,CBC News in the region – essentially a gas emission from some old fart at the CBC – we find yet another attempt to discover the Holy Grail of what will fix our national broadcaster.
    Reality dictates that such missives go nowhere and amount to nothing.
    But keep deluding yourselves that you have any original ideas or that anonymous poatings are part of a noble quest to make the world a better place.
    I’ll still be here to point out the bullshit.

  20. Allan
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 1:56 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It’s a challenge to come up with content for a blog.
    You have to keep feeding it, or the audience will lose interest and eventually the exercise becomes irrelevant.
    That’s often what prompts an individual to start a blog – they feel their lives are without sufficient importance or purpose, their jobs and home-life an empty, meaningless experience.
    In the case of Ouimet, we encounter the added dimension of creating a fake persona to accomplish a more nefarious end – justified by the pretentious goal of saving the CBC from itself. A dangerous do-gooder who, in truth, yearns for more more power and acclaim.
    And the world has a bountiful supply of fools who will buy into just about anyone’s ego trip, from Charles Mason to Donald Trump.

    Bloggers are essentially losers in the game of life. They want more attention, more affection, more clout.
    We see more and more of them as computers and software become accessible, and bored viewers turn to the Internet for a quick fix of something that is relevant to their lives.
    Communicating over this vast network of telephone wires has become almost routine for many people.
    But a few have discovered that society cannot keep up with the incredible changes and opportunities that newer technology has afforded us.
    Cellphones, for example, are everywhere, and have impacted both driving skills and the workplace, yet society continues to struggle with finding appropriate ways to implement a new set of rules for their responsible use.
    So too, the Internet.
    It didn’t take long for some to discover that their identity could be hidden behind fake email addresses and multiple I.P. locations, and that the revered printed word could still really hurt and damage others.
    But of course it has already gone way beyond what the average naive reader realizes or understands is taking place.

    Even as the reach of the Internet flourishes at lightening speed, laying waste to old forms of media, few have come forward to alert its users of the extent to which they will be exploited by those of lesser ethics and morals.

    There is nothing ethical, moral or good about an anonymous blogger. They can be intriguing, true, yet are despicable nonetheless.
    Wearing a mask is signature of both super-heroes and criminals.
    The only super-heroes wearing masks in real life are those such as a nurse treating SARS, all others are only found in comic-books.
    In real life, it’s only hoodlums and thieves who don disguises.

    Ouimet is part of a small minority of abusers of free speech on the Internet.
    It always astonishes and disappoints me that people will fall prey to such dangerous, selfish and self-appointed so-called journalists.

  21. Matt Watts
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 11:11 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    i remember being in some meeting a few years ago where the heads of CBC told us about their plans to bring “regional” news back to life. Rabinovitch had gone to Ottawa requesting money for that very purpose. Everyone was pretty optimistic, until the government denied the funding… Does anyone else remember this?

  22. CBC Frank
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 9:23 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    An excellent post. This is great fodder for discussing a vision for the corp.

    While I am not the strongest advocate for news (and much less so for sports) because I feel that the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is about putting expensive technical gear in the hands of Canadians, I realize that news and sports are relevant vehicles (excuses) for us to make our own TV/Radio.

    As the author indicated

    The local shows once served as a training ground for future network talent. People were hired by smaller stations to develop their skills and practice the craft of journalism. It seems nowadays we expect new employees to be “ready for prime-time” without the development and seasoning that used to take place.

    we need to understand that nothing about broadcasting is cheap, including the training, and so we need to take advantage of any venue that gets us talented people.

    We need a whole ‘farm team’ infrastructure that allows interested people to experiment, preferrably before their own communities, and it doesn’t matter if we use news or sports or embryonic theatrical productions to do so.

    This is a sorely ignored area for growth potential; tv and radio production is usually a lot of fun, particularly when it can be dabbled at as a hobby. If all we were to offer was a promotional scheme for amateurs that graded ability, we could generate terrific enthusiasm for what we are.

    As it stands, we’re too much ‘civic employees’ serving the public; we need to relinquish our death grip on essentially ‘hogging’ production, and accept a mentoring role that taps into the public’s enregy and enthusiasm as we include them. Recall that many people working for us now started out playing at their local cable tv station.

    This idea of offering a venue for the public to play at is particularly important for the talent before the camera/microphone: actors and writers need many opportunities to experiment with their craft for them to find their niche as performers. Forever waiting for American productions to give them those opportunities is frustrating at best.

    How important are smaller communities as sources for talent? Dan Ackroyd is from Ottawa and Kingston and Jim Carrey is from Burlington. And even if you cringe at the thought, the popular Trailer Park Boys are Canadian. Think of all the production skill it took to see that work as well as it has.

    For anyone who has lived in a small community, you’ll know how much media can drive you from going stir crazy.

    Now what if you were given an opportunity to take your camcorder and parlay a production horde of friends into producing some kind of show, and the CBC showed you a framework to consider using?

    Furthermore, they’d consider viewing your work for grading and recommendations so that your work could evolve. How exciting do you suppose that might be?

    Interestingly there is a Canadian kid’s cartoon called ‘Being Ian’ that explores the wild imagination of an embryonic Steven Speilberg.

    So I put to you; is this not an implied part of the Broadcasting Act? Are we not neglecting this?

  23. anonymous in the regions
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 7:50 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I had to laugh at the post from anonymous, whom I assumed was posting from Toronto after the first two paras.

    I’m not sure about Toronto, but in the regions, where we have zero dollars to promote anything local, cross-promotion is the bread and butter of our existence. Colleagues from Radio, TV and dot ca sit right beside each other in one big integrated newsroom, so there tends to be a lot of cheering on and celebration of success – it just happens at the collegial level, instead of becoming a meaningless exercise in management-sanctioned self-congratulations (note the reference to the Atrium in the TBC in a post about improving our regional newscasts).

    There are some great ideas in your guest blogger’s post, Ouimet. But we keep hearing over and over again that we have to deliver better results in the regions with no additional dollars. Its an interesting conundrum and one that needs to be resolved. Stengthening our local newscasts has become the biggest taboo unless you say it can be accomplished with no additional investment. Quite frankly, it was getting out of the local news business in a meaningful way in 99-00 that put us in our current predicament – we handed over hundreds of thousands of viewers to local competitors and prime time programming has never consistently recovered (there have been some one-shot wonders, a la Greatest Canadian, People’s History, etc).

    More and more, people just don’t realize the CBC TV news in their communities is actually produced in their communities – they assume it comes out of Toronto. And having watched several local newscasts, who can blame them.

  24. Ouimet
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 7:12 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Street Cents cancelled? Say it ain’t so! What could possibly be the reason? It’s a popular show!

    And to clarify, the author wished to remain anonymous only on this blog. He/she wrote this as a contribution to the current CBC News renewal “conversation” that is going on, and sent it to the powers that be, signed.

  25. Anonymous
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 6:52 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    It’s funny I read this post about an hour before I found out Street Cents, the award winning commercial free cbc show with their main offices in CBC Halifax has been cancelled after 17 seasons.

    They’ve been nurturing young Canadian journalists and filmmakers for years and once it’s gone that will be one less way for CBC to find young talented people to bring into the system.

    If only I could trade in my j-school degree for an advanced major in reality shows, american movies and botched historical dramas.

  26. Johnny Happypants
    Posted August 18, 2006 at 6:46 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Great post. I agree with most of it. It’s sad that this well-presented argument suggesting a restoration of our regional service has to be delivered anonymously through a blog. Understandable, though. This guy’s been around since at least 1989 which, these days, is grounds for dismissal.

    in comments: “…all other broadcasters will be knocking at our doors begging us to hire them as janitors!”

    Sorry…even in the regions these jobs have been outsourced.

    JH

  27. Anonymous
    Posted August 17, 2006 at 11:34 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Great ideas.

    But if we can’t even tackle the simple issue of cross promotion between the media lines, do you really think that regional news coverage can be fixed?

    I think that to fix the news or the entire CBC for that matter, we need fresh blood and ideas. And most importantly, we need to learn how to use collective energy and focus on the competition and not with each other.

    If you are either working for Radio, TV, or .ca or any of the support departments, ask your self when was the last time that you cheered on a show or a colleague from a department different from yours for a job well done? rarely? never?

    Just imagine the results if we can just learn how to cultivate the audience from all of the media lines. We would kick CTV’s ass!

    And while you are at it, also imagine if what would happen if we (all of us) collectively celebrate our accomplishments. The TBC will be full of life! Heck, we can even use the Atrium!

    Wouldn’t that be the best company to work for? Heck, if we can do that, people from Alliance Atlantis, CTV and all other broadcasters will be knocking at our doors begging us to hire them as janitors!


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