Monday, October 26, 2009

Media: Initial Reaction to CBC Changes

TORONTO, ONTARIO - The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's Radio One network was one of the attractions of moving to Canada for me. World-class news coverage and documentaries, filled with Canadian humor and sensibility, had been a part of my media diet ever since I had discovered some of the few programs from the CBC that were distributed to and aired by a handful of public radio stations in the United States. At the time, I had no idea of the quality (that existed then) of the summer programs, Radio 2, or "The National" nightly news program on CBC Television. All I knew was that they didn't interrupt programming to beg for money like public radio and television in the United States.

Today, the CBC launched a large number of changes on all its platforms. Changes on Radio One have been relatively modest. Peter Armstrong did not sound like a radio professional in his debut as host of World Report, making a variety of minor mistakes, but he may well improve with time. A significant change that I view very positively is an extension of local news into the evening. I never understood why the last local news broadcast in Toronto--the nation's largest city--ran at 5:30 pm, with more than a twelve hour gap until the next broadcast. I usually came home from work without hearing a single report on the CBC focusing on local news. Now, a short local update has been added after The World at Six, and the same kind of locally-produced hourly news as heard during the day has been extended into the evening.

Much of the controversial change today has been on what had been called CBC Newsworld, its cable news channel. The re-launch as CBC News Network has been pilloried for looking as entertainment-based, shallow, and repetitive as CNN. Not having watched it before or after the change, I can offer no comment, but I was quite interested in what would happen to The National, the flagship nightly news broadcast, and I'm afraid what I saw echoes the complaints about the cable channel.

While the lead story was about the swine flu, which seems a perfectly reasonable editorial decision, what struck me as the second most significant event of the day, a parliamentary protest in Ottawa, was relegated to well into the broadcast, even after a story on the popularity of Prince Charles and the royal family in Canada. I actually have no problem with the story on the royal family being in the broadcast, as the information was somewhat surprising and has implications, but including it toward the front of the broadcast? More disturbing, in a program reduced to just 42 minutes because of the addition of a local newscast for the final five minutes, was time devoted to stories on what people do while driving and how people are making money of the swine flu, both of which served little or no news purpose at all. Meanwhile, international stories like the war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic received just a cursory mention. It's hard not to conclude that the dumbing down of the CBC to match United States networks is in full force on television. In their promotions, the CBC had talked about making their television news more "transparent," which didn't give me a clear indication of how that would change the broadcast. They apparently meant "vacuous," not "transparent."

So, after one day, the changes on CBC Radio One seem perhaps a net positive, but on CBC Television seem a major step toward irrelevancy that if they prove to be typical going forward probably mean that I will no longer partake of "The National" as it will be a waste of time.

1 comment:

Ruth Seeley said...

I found the new The National format bizarre, with everyone standing and the female correspondents wearing party dresses. Even the copy writing to promote the changes is weak (that whole bit about being 'well informed' rather than just informed). And I agree with you re what they choose to cover. I don't need to see 14 interviews with Newfoundlanders and a collection of Royal Family memorabilia to get a sense of how Canadians are reacting to Prince Charles' impending visit. I would have liked to have seen some actual conclusions drawn in that piece in particular. Even Adrienne Arsenault's bit on the Royal Reaction was truncated in favour of 'person in the street' interviews.