It’s the 20th anniversary of Newsworld and try as they might at the CBC they can’t get anyone to celebrate with them. Oh sure, there have been a few “puff” pieces in the newspapers over the weekend, but even those were mostly buried deep inside the paper.
The worst article I saw was by Oakland Ross in the Saturday Toronto Star. I remember Mr. Ross as a fine foreign correspondent for The Star. Either he’s a terrible feature writer or he couldn’t be bothered with this assignment. Not that I blame him. It was a lousy assignment. How to you turn the sow’s ear of Newsworld into a silk purse?
Oakland Ross writes “If sheer survival is among the abiding themes of Canadian history…then Newsworld must be defined as a success.” Whoa, is that a load of manure. Newsworld has been a cash cow for the CBC. Even if nobody watched the network, Newsworld would make a fortune for CBC. Every Canadian who has cable TV or satellite television has to pay a subscription fee of over a dollar a month. For twenty years we have had no choice in the matter. That’s millions of dollars every month going to support a network that few Canadians watched. There was no way it would be taken off the air. The CBC couldn’t afford to.
A few years ago my partner, Lon Appleby, and I were doing a series of specials for C-Pac. We got paid peanuts but we enjoyed the cinema verite coverage they allowed us to do of conventions and elections. The people in charge of C-Pac at the time loved our work so much they brought us in to train their staff. What they were most proud of at the time was that their audience was usually larger than Newsworld’s. That’s C-Pac, hands up those of you who are regular C-Pac viewers.
At the time we joked that it would be far cheaper for Newsworld to go off the air and send video tapes to anyone who was interested in their programming. But then they would have to forgo the CRTC mandated millions they were collecting.
The old timers interviewed by Oakland Ross love to talk about the good old days when Newsworld was on top of the Meech Lake Accord or the Wars in Iraq. The truth is the best rated shows on the network were programs like Antiques Road Show. Does that even belong on an “all news” channel?
As Newsworld heads towards a new beginning, a fresh look that aims to be newsier, faster, using the CBC’s words, more like CNN, I wish them all the luck in the world. The changes are an admission that what they have been doing hasn’t worked. But they’ve chosen a steep hill to climb. Especially when the CBC doesn’t have the resources to cover very much outside our major cities, let alone the rest of the world. When a crisis happens in Mumbai will viewers tune to CBC or CNN? In the past Canadians have voted with their channel changers. They have tuned into CNN and the U.S. networks in droves. Do you want to watch people reporting from the scene or from a desk in Toronto? I know CBC got a reporter to Mumbai, luckily a CBC staffer was on vacation in the region. But while CBC News was getting its first reports back CNN was coming live from the streets of Mumbai.
I don’t blame CBC News for this. CBC is a small underfunded network that on the main channel at least, seems less interested in the news service than Being Erica and Little Mosque on the Prairie.
What I do blame CBC News for are the unrealistic goals being set. Wouldn’t it be far better to aim for a network that provided context and depth to major stories in Canada and around the world? Forget about CNN Headline News Channel. Look at the panels and discussion shows that are also successful at CNN. Look at TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin which gets a better audience in Ontario than Newsworld gets coast-to-coast by staying within their means and doing what they can do well. Sure, let us know when a story breaks, that’s what all-news is about, but just as important, help us to understand what is happening and why. Canada, and especially Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, are a perfect venue for panels and discussions. No matter where an event happens in the world we have experts living right here. People who understand the foreign context and the Canadian context and can bring the two together. And guess what? We can do this extremely well with the money and resources at our command.
The last word has to go to a former CBC News chief editor, Cliff Lonsdale, who I am quoting from the Oakland Ross story, he said, “Across journalism, we need more in-depth coverage. In a world of Twitter, what we desperately need is context.”