CBC.ca/arts – what happened?

I love the Arts. Well, most of them, anyway. Doesn’t everyone?

So it stands to reason that I should love cbc.ca/arts. A lot of work goes into it. It has the resources of the public broadcaster behind it, multiple editors, a team of full-time writers. It’s beholden to no advertisers.

It should be excellent. I should be reading it every day.

So what happened?

I always get the feeling it’s way behind the curve on the stories it covers, especially the American or international ones that are better served by other sites. And I don’t have a burning desire to test my Keith Richards knowledge. So what’s the point?

The day-to-day stuff is workmanlike and mostly competent. But it’s the “feature” writing that should be knocking everyone out and bringing them back.

It should be the best thing going in Canada.

But a lot of it is just bland. For such passionate subject matter the writing is strangely devoid of passion.

And someone leached all the fun out of it.

Now, Dead Things on Sticks can drive me crazy, but there’s no one in Canada writing more passionately about Canadian TV, and no greater champion of Canadian programming. And for those of us who care about these things, he’s added more to the online conversation than 1000 well-illustrated cbc.ca/arts posts. And he does it in his spare time. For free.

If you need any proof fo this, take 10 minutes of your time and read how cbc.ca/arts handled the Police reunion show in Vancouver. And then read how Denis did it. You tell me which one is more engaging and fun to read.

Hell, music isn’t even his bag. He just happened to be there. By accident he did more reporting on this made in Canada story with popular appeal than we did.

Now, the CBC is not alone in this and I could point to many examples across the Canadian media landscape of missed opportunities, flaccid arts coverage, and nonstarter blogs. Blogging has matured enough, and there is Facebook for people who want to blog but have nothing to say, you would assume Canadian media would be snapping up original, hardhitting, unique voices to fill these screens. Something readers can’t find anywhere else.

Amazingly, they are not. Just the opposite, some of them are are going backwards. The Star’s promising experiments with Azerbic and Paved were unceremoniously dumped. They replaced them with Sketch, which just plain awful.

Not long ago I was asked to come up with 5 blogs that made me think. If you had asked me in 2005 I could have given you 10.

2 years later, it’s not so easy.


  1. Ouimet
    Posted June 5, 2007 at 5:51 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Looking at my site statistics, about a third of visits come from inside CBC buildings.

    As for who is posting comments, I have no more idea than you do.

    I always got the feeling that a lot of CBCers posted from home, but I have nothing to back this up. A lot of them are busy at work, and maybe they only have time to quickly read, not write.

    Also, I think that they don’t want to use work computers to post here.

  2. Anonymous
    Posted June 4, 2007 at 7:19 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    How about it, Ouimet? What’s the percentage of insiders/outsider?

  3. Anonymous
    Posted June 4, 2007 at 4:08 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    “(and keep in mind that a goodly number of the people posting here are not employees.)”

    I think, on the evidence, most posts are from inside.

  4. Paul
    Posted June 4, 2007 at 11:25 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Denis, I think there’s a certain value to draining off a bit of the vitriol outside of the building (and keep in mind that a goodly number of the people posting here are not employees.) There’s constructive criticism, and then there’s venting, and they sometimes happen in different places.

    A number of us do blog under our own names, and yes, there are limits to what we feel comfortable saying on our own blogs – or in person. It’s comforting to know that senior managment can wade through the bile here and take away bits and pieces that can be used.

    The aforementioned Tod is one such example – the official CBC blog followed all the carping we did during the lockout, and I don’t think that’s entirely a coincidence. There are other examples. Not everything here is helpful, but it beats setting fire to the mailmobile.

  5. Anonymous
    Posted June 4, 2007 at 7:58 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    People who are under contract should really post anonymously so that their comments cannot be misconstrued as currying favour with management. Not saying such is the case in the instance above, just a cautionary note.

  6. DMc
    Posted June 4, 2007 at 6:48 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Within reason, yes. I did. I’m not asking anyone — least of all me — to stick their neck out so far that it’s cut off.

    But it’s a question of where that line is drawn.

    I’ve worked in a dysfunctional public broadcaster myself, so I’m well aware of the “helpless” dynamic. But the vitriol displayed here is toothless.

    And the point that this is the net, not the CBC, and discussions happen in halls at CBC…come on. That’s the best you can do?

    I do put my name to my stuff. And you know what? I’ve lost some jobs for being outspoken.

    And I’ve gotten other ones. If you don’t risk you’ll never find that out.

    But as a 100% freelancer, I do know something about working on contract.

    I know it’s not an excuse to completely park your passion, ideas and critical faculties and only let them out to play through anonymous carping.

    Agree that this is a fantastic, must-read forum, and that some anonymity is a good thing. But only if it inspires others to band together to effect change. Where’s the follow through? 2 more Tod Maffins would be the hell of a lot better for the CBC than 150 anonymous commenters.

  7. Anonymous
    Posted June 4, 2007 at 5:59 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    dmc, didn’t you stop blogging about the CBC…. after you got a contract with the CBC??

  8. Anonymous
    Posted June 3, 2007 at 8:26 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Yes, DMc, it would be nice if CBC employees could blog all day about how they would fix the CBC, under their own names. Maybe we could pay them to do it?

    Until that happens, Teamakers is as close as you’re going to get.

    It’s also valuable to remember that this is not the CBC. This is a blog on the internet. There are many other real, face-to-face discussions that happen every day at the CBC, and people do indeed stick their necks out. And they sometimes get fired for it.

    Don’t think that because it doesn’t happen here, that it doesn’t happen.

    Having said that, speaking as a senior-level manager in Toronto, this website is required reading for all of us. It’s constantly discussed and I have seen first hand some positive changes that have originated from its pages.

  9. Anonymous
    Posted June 3, 2007 at 12:51 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    dmc, I wonder if you are missing the fact that many people at the CBC are on contract. They don’t have job security. If the spoke up the beleaguered and threatened in management might just show the complaining ingrates the door to Front Street.

  10. DMc
    Posted June 3, 2007 at 11:12 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Wow. Y’know, I hate to be devil’s advocate here — but is it possible that part of the problem is that everyone at CBC wants to complain anonymously, and no one wants to put their name to any criticism?

    I know the culture of the place is unbelievably toxic, but still — it’s sadly indicative of the likelihood of anything getting better that no one — no one — is willing to stick their head up and say, “this is what I believe…anybody agree? disagree? Bueller?”

    That’s just my 2 cents. Your anonymous mileage will doubtless vary.

    Thanks for the shoutout.

  11. Anonymous
    Posted June 2, 2007 at 11:10 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    JH is right. In 1936 the government didn’t specifically say CBC should have a television service, so it’s clearly not needed.

    What a lack of foresight in respect to new media.

  12. Anonymous
    Posted June 2, 2007 at 4:03 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Ah, so you hate CBC.ca, don’t care much for the internet and consider ET the paragon of arts reporting. Well, at least we know where you are coming from and can dismiss you accordingly.

    Nice of you to pick the Police story, one of the few times ET covers anything that happens north of 49. Take a look at the rest of the CBC.ca/arts today, then let us know how many stars ET gives to Ottawa rapper Belly, what they think of Fiest, when they post their slideshow of modern Inuit art, explore Celine Dion’s relationship with Quebeckers, analyze ottawa’s anti-piracy bill and tally the Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Awards winners.

    CBC.ca has a million visitors each week even without you, JH. So I can’t tell if you are just a selfish idiot, or simply trolling.

  13. Anonymous
    Posted June 2, 2007 at 1:13 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    And then, today, on CBC.ca, this,

    Stewart Copeland on Friday ripped the band’s soldout Wednesday show at Vancouver’s GM Place ’” one of the first stops on the global comeback tour ’” as “unbelievably lame.”

  14. Johnny Happypants
    Posted June 1, 2007 at 6:32 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Anon 11:37

    Yes to almost everything in paragraph two.

    Anon 12:24

    “the private sector does a fantastic job of providing unbiased, accurate Canadian online news reporting that isn’t beholden to corporate interests”

    cbc.ca/arts coverage of The Police reunion concert and today’s Sgt. Pepper’s anniversary almost exactly the same as Entertainment Tonight’s.

    More than 32,000,000 Canadians have never been to cbc.ca, and you know what, they’re not missing anything.



  15. Anonymous
    Posted June 1, 2007 at 10:24 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    JH is right. In 1936 the government didn’t specifically say CBC should have a website, so it’s clearly not needed.

    And besides, unlike radio and TV, the private sector does a fantastic job of providing unbiased, accurate Canadian online news reporting that isn’t beholden to corporate interests.

    And heck, the internet is just a passing fad… nobody turns to it for information, do they?

  16. Anonymous
    Posted May 31, 2007 at 9:37 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Hey Johnny:

    That’s one of most ridiculous statements to grace these pages since Billinger’s cut-and-paste attempt at explaining his org chart.

    Where’s the rule that says .ca is only there to supplement? Does that mean the news area should stop having non-broadcast people writing about current events? Should the sports department stop writing about the Toronto Raptors? Arts can’t do movie reviews?

    How would this make cbc.ca better, or CBC at large better?

    The fact is, there are some hugely talented people in /arts, most of whom did NOT lose their jobs before coming to CBC. Most of them chose CBC because of the quality of people who work there, including the site’s overseer, Greig Dymond, and the chance to make something new and good.

    You’re telling me that people like Katrina Onstad, Stephen Cole, Rachel Giese and Andre Mayer are washups?

    Go soak your shrunken head.

  17. Johnny Happypants
    Posted May 31, 2007 at 3:12 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    CBC.ca/arts – what happened?

    this should be

    CBC.ca/arts – what For

    There is no mandated reason for cbc.ca to be creating original content of any kind. It should exist only to supply additional information supporting our Radio and Television services.

    It’s great they give jobs to people who’ve lost their jobs at The Globe and The Post, but maybe they should just go to The Walrus.


  18. Kevin
    Posted May 31, 2007 at 11:55 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I’m pretty sure there’s actually an awful lot that goes into the ‘P’ part of the equation, though every time it’s explained to me I feel like that dog in the Far Side cartoon:


  19. Anonymous
    Posted May 31, 2007 at 9:19 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Reading the Guy Dixon piece on PARC one appreciates its genius. You can arbitrarily assign whatever “P” you like, the audience is “expected” and the revenues “estimated”. How can you lose?

  20. Anonymous
    Posted May 30, 2007 at 10:02 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You would be advised to review the new chair’s performance before the Heritage Committee yesterday before recommending him for anything. He doesn’t exagerate his knowledge of public broadcasting.

  21. Enik Sleastak
    Posted May 30, 2007 at 9:30 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Wasn’t the renovated Arts section on CBC.ca supposed to be one of the feathers in Sue Gardiner’s cap?

  22. Anonymous
    Posted May 30, 2007 at 9:12 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    You should be happy there’s any arts content at all (sorry, it’s actually “entertainment” content) – did you notice that at yesterday’s fall launch, there was no mention of the arts? There is precisely zero arts content on CBC-TV. How long before they kill that section of CBC.ca?

    (Call me crazy, but I like the features there. Their review of the new Pirates flick was the best I saw, and I surprised myself with 9 out of 10 on the Keef quiz.)

  23. Anonymous
    Posted May 30, 2007 at 5:34 am | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    I too cannot understand where in the CBC’s mandate is the promulgation of entertainment fluff. It’s abundantly available elsewhere. And The Police were entertainment news a quarter of a century ago, Keef almost a half a century ago. I suppose there might be a consumer interest story in how it is that these greedy geezers are bleeding every last penny out of their brands by sucking in nostalgic boomers but … well … who cares.

    CBC.ca is a lost opportunity to showcase more difficult and sophisticated stuff that might be too cranky for tv or radio. As it stands, it’s nothing.

    The blogs are whithering because they are a lot of work … for free.

  24. Anonymous
    Posted May 29, 2007 at 8:56 pm | # | Reply to this masterpiece

    Ouch! You had me with the points about the CBC Arts features, but lost me when you started comparing news articles to blog posts. One is factually-based, other tends to be more experiential. Unfair comparison.
    Now, it wouldn;t hurt for them to introduce more blogging somehow – but not in the news section.

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