Dreaming of a Turned-On Newsworld

If sheer survival is among the abiding themes of Canadian history and culture – as novelist Margaret Atwood has famously argued – then Newsworld must be defined as a success.

– The Saturday Star, Aug. 1, 2009


CNN and Newsworld logos

It was 20 years ago that Newsworld, a dry, sanitized, barely- breathing clone of CNN, came on the air. And in the intervening years it has actually become progressively more useless than the day when it debuted.
Blame the Internet, yes, but blame CBC management even more.
Underfunded, lifeless and redundant, it could instead have become the best and most forceful broadcasting in this country.
But it went nowhere.
Five years after Newsworld became an option on our cablevision menu, we all got computers and modems, and today the CBC can’t spend enough money or hire enough geeks in its drive toward having a dominant presence on the digital landscape.
Yet they still don’t have a clue about the needs and interests of its audience.

Why does Newsworld give us what is essentially available everywhere else?
Why this pathetic vacuum of imagination and purpose?
And what’s with insulting the intelligence of a country by hyping a punk dressed in black and claiming he’s going to give us the world “straight up”? Because he’s wearing a nose ring?
The only thing he ever seemed to understand was hockey scores and incomprehensible song lyrics.

The CBC wants to give itself almost entirely over to the Internet because it sees that as the future of all media.
As our beloved icon of today’s pop culture, Paris Hilton, would  say, “Well, duh.”
These days, the whole world would choose the Internet over everything else combined.
We no longer depend on a radio station, a newspaper or a television channel to give us what we really, really want.
And we get our news from multiple sources of our own choosing.
As viewers, if we’re paying for Newsworld, we’re paying for cable. If we’re paying for cable, we’re all watching CNN, especially during events like the famous Bronco chase.

When the King of Pop suddenly dies, even Newsworld is watching CNN, and every channel in Los Angeles.
So who needs this redundant middleman?

There is a place for Newsworld in the media universe, but only if it gives us what no one else is willing to give – Canada as it is today, which can actually be pretty fascinating.

As Canadians, we pretend that we are not copying and readily adapting American culture.
But we’re not fooling anyone.
The only difference is that we take American crazy and tone it down, believing this to be a more mature approach. But instead of making us seem different as a result, it just gives the impression that we’re weaker, more cowardly. And really kind of useless; that we “don’t bring anything to the table,” or shall we say, the tableaux of human discourse.

Everyone in North America can see where news has “trended” these past few years, and to where the attention of the public has been drawn – to opinion and context.
Fox News and MSNBC are entirely devoted, not to the news, but to having an opinion about the news. And people love it.
And let’s not overlook that for every Glenn Beck nut job, there’s still a Rachel Maddow.
And Bill Moyers is still kicking it old school.

To this day, every journalist in the world looks to CNN as the leader and driving force in news coverage on television.
And it is still light years ahead of Newsworld.
Spend just one day with CNN.com Live and you can see where broadcasting could be in Canada today, and realizing how far we are from this obvious opportunity.
We see younger, informed and engaging hosts.
We see a news station that values its audience’s opinion, and knows how to make use of the instant feedback that a hyper-connected digital mega-network can provide. (Yes, they’ve broadcast even my E-mailed comment.)
Contrast that to the CBC pretending to be monitoring Twitter during the last federal election, as if they were so with it, when instead it became a humiliating display of being completely lost as to what to make of it all. The CBC looked old and stupid. They didn’t even use their own expert, Nora Young!

The CBC thinks it is on the track to tomorrow by simply bouncing their content on to the web, when the web is a place that cries out for new and different and daring content, for a whole other kind of broadcasting than what has been approved of by a committee of over-the-hill public servants.

Toronto Star feature writer Oakland Ross asks “Can Newsworld tune in?”
Sure, it’s always… possible.
But first, leadership at CBC News is going to have to… turn on.
It took the CBC only nine years to catch up to what everyone else already knew.

Today, August 1, 2009, we don’t  want what Newsworld has always been giving us.
We want Newsworld 2.0.

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