I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Still Shuffling at “the Corpse”

Last week I told you all about how Newsworld wants to be the Northern CNN. Well guess what? So does The National. They want to be more about news and they want to eliminate current affairs as we’ve known it.

This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows the personnel at the top of CBC News. Most are hard news people with little or no background in current affairs. Others are just “yes” people for the Vice President, Richard Stursberg, whose only qualifications for their jobs seems to be that they will have no opinion at worst and Stursberg’s opinion at best.

About two weeks ago all of the current affairs staff at The National were given their new marching orders. Some are going to “health”, some to “arts” and some to the “investigative” unit, and still others to who knows where. None will be left to produce the longer segments that made CBC News different from CTV News or the U.S. networks. We’re talking about Gemini, Michener, and RTNDA (Radio and Television News Directors Association) award winners. The most experienced and perhaps the best long form news producers in Canada. Why? Because “the powers that want to be” at CBC have decided there is no place on the news for a longer story. Why they think that is anyone’s guess.

I have always felt that CBC News had to be more news oriented and less feature driven, but I never thought it was about the length of the segments. I thought the problem was that too many features had little to do with the day’s events. I was taught that a daily news program should reflect what is happening in the world on that day. The wonderful stories that blew the lid off the RCMP Taser fiasco are a great example of what CBC News should do. They ran close to thirty minutes and won the CBC a coveted Michener Award just a few days ago. Guess what? There is no place for that kind of story anymore.

This is ridiculous on several counts. I have seen 30 minute stories that are so riveting they feel like they are three minutes long, and I have seen three minute items that feel like a half-hour because they are so incredibly boring. A story should run for whatever length it takes to tell it properly. The length should only be an issue if it doesn’t fit into the time slot. In fact on The Journal, you all remember that show, many segments ran over two, three and even four days. I don’t remember any complaints when Terrence McKenna was winning awards for the CBC for his in depth coverage of Islamic terrorists in Canada or Brian Stewart was alerting the world to the impending humanitarian disaster that was the Ethiopian famine or Bruce Dowbiggin was opening Canadians’ eyes to the scandal that was Allan Eagleson.

Where is the context going to come from at CBC News? At any TV news service in Canada? It was the long backgrounders that provided context to the news. Without them television news is nothing but a headline service. And CBC News was the only television news service in Canada to provide contextual information that allowed Canadians to make informed decisions on some of the biggest news stories since the creation of Newsmagazine in the mid ‘50s. It’s especially frightening today when we know most Canadians get all their news from TV. That’s a 60 year legacy you hear being flushed down the toilet.

Maybe, as some believe, the CBC hopes to save money by eschewing longer segments. I’ve heard the argument that CBC news no longer has the funds to produce documentaries. That may be true. But is the answer to produce three seven minute pieces to replace a 20 minute piece? Anyone who knows anything about television production knows that a seven minute item costs just about the same amount as a 20 minute segment. So this argument has no basis in reality. The new regime at CBC News will be more expensive than what it is replacing.

Finally, the most cynical explanation for the idiocy at work at the CBC may be the best. I have been told by several staffers they believe the new The National is being set up to fail. They argue that when news viewership begins to fall Richard Stursberg will have all the ammunition he needs to cut the news budget. He will also cut the news back to just a half-hour. The history of current affairs following the news that began with The Journal will come to an unremarkable end thus putting more money into the CBC’s hands for yet another reality show and perhaps even another drama, the kind of thing we can watch on any other channel in Canada.

The CBC as we knew it is being ransacked by the Barbarians and we will all be sorry when we realize what we lost and what the CBC could have, no, I mean should have been.

Filed under: Media Commentary, , , , , , , , , ,

About the Author

Howard Bernstein is a former TV producer. He has worked at CBC,CTV, Global and has produced shows for most Canadian channels as an independent producer.

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