Thursday, November 5, 2009

Media: **NO** Streeters, Peter

TORONTO, ONTARIO - On Tuesday's edition of CBC Television's The National, the flagship news broadcast of the network, host Peter Mansbridge basically admitted that they had been fooled. In a piece on the swine flu, they decided to air a number of man-on-street (funny how that hasn't been changed in the vernacular to "person-on-the-street") reactions to the lines at clinics. One of the comments that made it to the air in the initial edition of the program was one accusing the federal government of not having been organized. It turns out that the person who made that comment was an operative of the official opposition party. When the piece aired, someone at the CBC recognized him and the footage was pulled from subsequent editions of the program. To their credit, the CBC owned up to situation, and summarized it on their show, inviting viewer feedback.

I've been over this topic before, most notably in this post last April. I see absolutely no news content in a "streeter" (as "man-on-the-street" interviews are called in the trade). They don't answer any of the journalistic questions. I turn to newscasts for hard facts and analysis, not opinion. Furthermore, in this era of talk radio and blogs, there are plenty of places to read opinions, so there's no need to include them in a newscast. As the CBC event demonstrated, the "streeter" is especially vulnerable to contrived opinions by people just wanting to get on television, or with an agenda to promote--I find the prospect of commercial manipulation of "streeters" by corporate publicists to be especially frightening. Basically, I don't see any good reason to air a "streeter," and I see plenty of reasons not to air them.

When it comes right down to it, "streeters" are lazy journalism. Rather than using the limited time of a broadcast to include more information on a story, or taking the time to find an expert who might have an informed opinion, the reporter just talks to people on the street, and uses that to fill out a report. It might have entertainment value, but it does not have journalistic value.

One of the new features on "The National" is Wendy Mesley "asking provocative questions about the news stories." In one of the first installments last week, Mesley went to a location on Queen Street West in Toronto near the "Hug Me" tree to ask people to prioritize education versus space exploration. The sidewalk she chose for this "streeter" is the same place where I have observed Naked News reporters doing the same thing. So, basically, the CBC has stooped to the level of the Naked News, except clothed.

I don't understand why there is any controversy about this. The CBC should not be airing "streeters," period.

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