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Global gets Serious

Global’s national newscast has never been taken very seriously by anyone who works in the news business. Sure they got good numbers when Kevin Newman came on board, he was a terrific anchor. But who and what did Kevin have behind him? That was always the question. Could anyone name any of Global’s reporters? Did any of them make an impression?

The truth is that Global News has long been known for spending all its money on big name anchors. Kevin Newman and now Dawna Friesen are the latest of a long line of excellent hosts that date back to Peter Trueman, Thalia Assuras and Peter Kent. Unfortunately the people who ran Global, never saw the necessity of hiring excellent reporters, writers and producers to back up the fine news readers. They were all about the big splash, the advertising potential attached to the big name on air.

When I worked there, the folks in charge told the CRTC they had a budget of close to $13 million for the newscasts. That was a blatant lie. Close to half the news budget was appropriated by every other department at Global. It was a ruse to make it look like Global was spending big bucks on Canadian content. Somehow, they got away with it. It was so bad that the bosses refused to allow me, the News Director, to see a copy of my own budget.

Needless to say I did not last long at Global. After I was hired with loads of promises about improving the newscasts, it became abundantly clear that there was no truth to the promises. I had a plan to upgrade the staff, create beats, and solidify the reporting by bringing good people in from the outside and training the people on the inside. Every time I wanted to move ahead with my plan I heard another excuse as to why we couldn’t do it right now. First it was the union negotiations. Then it was the ownership fight. Finally, in my time at least, it was let’s wait until Izzy Asper completes his remake of the station.

In the end nothing ever got done because Global saw news as a distasteful obligation that had to be done to keep the license and CRTC approval. I was told to my face by one vice president, if I spend a dollar on news I will be lucky to get back seventy-five cents, if I spend a dollar on U.S. programming I would have to be an idiot to not get back two dollars.

Global News did not create stars or even good reporters for themselves. When they lucked into an excellent reporter or producer they tended to run to CTV or the United States at the very first opportunity. Global was seen by many young television news people as a way into the Toronto market where, if they did a great job, they would be seen and snapped up by the opposition who took news seriously and were willing to pay a decent salary for someone other than the anchor.

I know, I know, I am going to hear the argument about the relatively good ratings Global gets. It’s true. Global National does very well, and their local newscast is a strong second to CTV in many markets. I believe that has had more to do with smart scheduling, great lead-ins, and a long line of popular hosts. Ask viewers to name the reporters or react to which story drew them to Global and you would draw a blank stare.

A while ago the disastrous ownership of the Aspers came to an enforced end and Shaw picked up Global for a song. Nobody knew what that meant for the future of Global News. Today we may have heard our answer. Global announced that they are hiring two of the better journalists in Canadian Television history.

I have had the pleasure of working with Tom Clark at CTV. He has always been an excellent journalist and in any people’s opinions, including my own, a fine on air talent. I was sorry to see him leave CTV when he didn’t get Lloyd Robertson’s job and I am happy to see him back where he belongs with a national broadcaster.

More surprising however, was the announcement that Patrick Brown was hired to be the Beijing correspondent. Nobody in the business, at least anyone that I have ever spoken to, questions Brown’s ability as a fine foreign correspondent. He had a long and distinguished career with CBC and earned all the accolades he has received with excellent work. I have never worked with Patrick but I know he has reputation for being very prickly, very difficult to work with. I can’t say whether that too is well earned. What I do know is that a Beijing Bureau is a very expensive proposition and demands a lot of travel around China and Asia, this exactly the kind of expense that was unheard of during the past ownership of the network.

So kudos to Global for these two moves. Maybe we are about to see the long promised third option, with Global as a serious national television news source, actually come to fruition. I know everyone in the news business hopes so. We will all be watching closely to see if these hires are backed up with the kind of upgrades that Global News needs to be taken seriously.

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8 Responses

  1. Peter McCluskey says:

    In defence of Patrick Bown and the reference to him being ‘prickly.’ I’ve worked with Patrick for extended periods over the past 20 years, including a two-year stint in Vancouver where we shared the same office and I can assure you he is no more prickly than any other reporter – and Patrick at least has the ability to back up his gravitas, unlike many other prima donnas in the industry. Those occasions when he might get prickly usually happened when he was under enmorous stress in Poland, or Yugoslavia, or East Germany, or Afghanistan, or Iraq. I once ran the raw videotape of Patrick and cameraman Rick Dobrucki being caught in the middle of a firefght in Timisoara. As I remember he filed four times that day – twice for radio news and twice for TV .. in English and French. You try and keep your calm when the Zomos are firing live rounds and some desk editor in Toronto suggests you’re missing the important part of the story. I hope the producers and desk editors at Global know what a great journalist and consumate professional they’re getting. If they’re smart they’ll learn a lot from Patrick.

  2. As Patrick’s boss at CBC Radio News, I know that he was often regarded with respect (and not a little fear) by his peers. Prickly? Perhaps. But so what? Good correspondents often give their bosses heartburn. It’s part of the deal. Pat earned his reputation as being fearless in filing from some of the worst places on earth. We kept asking the impossible of him (in retrospect, maybe too often) and he always delivered. Global’s got one of the best I’ve ever seen. I just hope they know what a jewel they have.

  3. Brian Denike says:

    Its interesting to look at a list of experienced, respected on- camera journalists who are no longer working for the CBC. Patrick is the latest in what I expect is a longer list than immediately comes to my mind….Don Murray, Tom Kennedy, Paul Workman…and I know there are more. You have to wonder at the mind set of CBC management that will allow that kind of invaluable experience, and to go along with the theme of your blog, audience recognition and credibility, to get away.
    Prickly? Damn right, and CBC News used to be so much better because of it.

  4. George Wolff says:

    As a former Global reporter I can certainly confirm this perspective of Global News back in the day. After leaving Global I was for a time a junior manager at CTV and led the raids to pluck Global’s best journalistic and camera talent for the expanding newscast there. I don’t know Patrick Brown but I do know of Global’s latest acquisition, Claude Adams, a journalist of the first rank (even though some at local news desks in BC found him “prickly”. His blog about that experience is justly famous.) Congratulations to Global for showing it is getting very serious.

  5. George Jamieson says:

    I think another factor might be involved in these hirings. (I have no evidence, but modern journalists don’t consider that much of an impediment, so I’ll tell you my theory anyway.)

    There can be a brutality of supply, demand, and price. The people we’re talking about were all let go by their employers. Some delicately, some indelicately, some with promises of future projects or a continuing relationship. Those promises likely withered like a sheep’s testicles after the farmer applies the elastic ligature.

    You’re good at your job, you want to keep working, and your prestigious network tells you it’s time to go in a different direction. You look around. There are not so many openings. At some point you consider options that you once dismissed as down-market.

    The folks in charge aren’t demons. They talk nicely to you, give you a bit of respect — something that wasn’t a big part of your departure from the last job. They make you an offer that doesn’t look so bad these days. Probably the best offer you’ve had for a while. Maybe the only offer. You could say no, but what then….?

    Global gets serious reporters with major cred, for not too much money. I bet there’s a big difference between the salaries today and what they would have been a few years ago. I also bet there’s a shockingly small difference between what Global is paying these guys, compared to what it would pay to hire middling reporters or eager beginners for the same jobs.

    I don’t believe this phenomenon applies only to senior correspondents. I know at least one person working for SUN TV who in no way fits my stereotype of a “Sun Media Journo”. That person is no longer working for the CBC or one of the other employers, but if you want to work, you go where the work is.

    That said, I hope Gloobal is upgrading its programs. Not that I would notice. I get my tv news from CHEK — the only CBC affiliate station in existence, and the only station owned by its journalistic staff. Yes, they put Tony Parsons on the air, but at least they have an excuse — he’s one of the owners.

    George Jamieson

  6. Marc David says:

    The CBC has been hiring it’s journalist via the bottom line for years now. It is not who is the best corespondent for the job anymore, but who will do the work for the cheapest possible salary. Most veteran reporters have being replaced by junior staff at half the price. It’s also about control, great journalist will stand up to Toronto for what they believe in, Toronto hates that! With junior staff, Toronto barks the reporter jumps. Most scrips are re-written by Toronto writers, who don’t particularly like arguing with the reporter. So veterans be gone is their policy, not thinking that most of their audience will leave with them.

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