I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Local News, deja vu all over again

I don’t know if you have watched the new 90 minute CBC local newscasts where you live. If it happens to be Toronto, don’t bother. The good folks at CBC local news in Toronto have managed to squeeze 20 minutes of news into their 90 minute package. I sure hope it is better elsewhere in Canada but I fear it can’t be. Let’s face it, a city of 5 million has a lot more stories than a city of 250,000 or even a million.

I tried to be fair. I didn’t review the show during the first week to give the producers, reporters, hosts and writers time to get their act together. I even chose an excellent local news day to tape and parse the program. But I was highly disappointed by the effort.

If filling 90 minutes was the goal, then the local news team delivered. There was no dead air. On the other hand the constant repetition of the same facts and pictures over-and-over again was enough to drive even the most passive viewer to throw a brick at the television.

The newscast is broken up into three shows: 5:00, 5:30, and 6:00. None of the programs have a distinct personality and none of them deliver a comprehensive take on the day’s news. Basically each half-hour is the same as the last. Same stories. Same reporters. Same basic feel.

The five o’clock show had three produced news stories, none of them one of the major local stories of the day and only one produced by the Toronto team. The report out of Ottawa on a possible federal election by Julie Van Dusen was dropped in as a kicker, the last story. It was a dreadful piece that broke all the conventions of television reporting, had few pictures and didn’t really explain the story. So maybe it was good to bury it at 5:28. There were two weather casts, the second one overly long and there were about eight minutes of commercials; excessive no? But what was most bothersome was the way the main stories were treated. Four different reporters standing around on the street telling us radio style, what they found. Sure they dropped in the odd clip and picture, but they did not produce reports. Oh, and there were 10 promos for what was coming up later on the 5:30 and 6:00.

The 5:30 newscast opened with the same story done in exactly the same way as on the 5:00. I would have thought it impossible but the “Breaking News” host fumbled her way through the same script making even more mistakes than her first try.
Once again produced stories were hard to find. There were three in the half hour. This time two were produced locally and one was actually on one of the big stories of the day. The “i-desk” sort of produced another story on Ryerson University orientation using a tiny camera that made it look like a bad internet piece. I don’t know why, but the “i-desk” host then promoted the camera he used. Was the camera a freebie? Since when does CBC plug product in the news?

Once again the show was dominated by eight minutes of commercials and two weather casts. It’s easy to fill 90 minutes when half the time is eaten up by weather and commercials. In this half-hour there were ONLY six promos for stories coming up later on the news.

Okay, I said to myself, the plan is to pack all the good stuff into the six o’clock package. I was prepared for a dynamite production in the time slot with the most available viewers.

It was not to be. The six began exactly the same way as the five and the five-thirty. The “Breaking news” desk host once again fumbled her way through the same facts and pictures as we had seen twice before. In this half-hour there were four produced stories. I am being generous. One was a series of man-in-the-street interviews; the lowest form of what passes for journalism. A second was a repeat of one of the produced stories from the first half-hour.

In this portion of the 90 minutes there were, count ’em, three weather casts and 7 ½ or 8 more minutes of commercials. In fact the newscast was mostly made up of more repetition of the same facts presented in the same way as the first two half-hours.

On a day in which there was a lot of news CBC local produced 8 stories to fill a 90 minute newscast. By my calculation that’s about 15 minutes or ¼ of the time, in comparison there were about 24 minutes of commercials and about 13 minutes of the same weather over-and-over.

90 minutes of bad smoke and crappy mirrors is not going to cut it with even the most unsophisticated audiences. I don’t blame the producers. I blame CBC management. You can’t add airtime to an already starving show and expect success. Without more money and more staff you are dooming the local news to failure. The news people are doing their best with what they have. It would be either folly or stupidity to expect more. From where I sit, the latter wins.

If the local CBC local news is better where you are, please let us know.

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

8 Responses

  1. Denis McGrath says:

    Congrats, Howard — you’re now the daily crush object of the dyspeptics over at the anti-anything-the-CBC-tries-EVER site Teamakers.

    Ah, if only they took your cue of occasionally encouraging people…what’s that old saw you always preached? “hire the right people and get out of the way?”

    I often think today that the problem is that everybody in Canadian media wants to backseat drive, but nobody wants to drive.

    I mused a bit about local programming here:

    http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/2009/05/localized-pain-nobodys-gain.html

    • hlbtoo says:

      I will accept all the compliments I can get but I sure do wish the Teamakers would come out of the closet and fight for the future of the network…

  2. Jason Paris says:

    I tend to agree. I haven’t had a chance to watch it in its 90 minuite entirety, but it generally seems to be the same newscast three-times over with no more substance than it had before.

    I think the idea may be that you don’t watch the whole thing, but drop in and out as you need local information after work, but even still, it doesn’t provide much. Arguably though, it still provides a bit more than the private newscasts do.

    • hlbtoo says:

      I don’t know where you live Jason but in Toronto CTV averages about 14 produced stories in an hour and Global about the same. CBC Local had eight produced stories, only 5 done in house in Toronto.

  3. Jason Paris says:

    I do live in Toronto and your point is taken, although I don’t think it is the “only” way to judge a newscast.

    • hlbtoo says:

      I agree. Where CBC had 10 to 12 minutes of weather in 90 minutes, the others average 4 minutes in an hour. On the other side, the others had 4 minutes of sports and CBC had none. Most important though, the CBC repeated each of the major stories three times and there was no repetition on the private channels. CTV and Global have vastly greater budgets and much larger staffs to fill 60 minutes. My point is that the beleaguered folks at CBC local are being asked to do the impossible. CBC management should be ashamed.

  4. k chandler says:

    Since I am now working, I watched this newscast for the first time on Labour Day & I could not believe this is what CBC has been hyping. In addition to the 20 minutes of stories repeated 3x, I noted a few other high (low) points of the broadcast: the Breaking News from The Breaking News Desk – no traffic jams on the 400! – while this was certainly good news for those about to start driving on the 400, it certainly doesn’t fit my definition of Breaking News; the announcement that the CNE was open ’til 9:00pm – without the mention that the GATES to the CNE closed at 5:00pm (which I heard several times on Radio 1 during the course of the day); the implication in the upcoming story promos that politicians had not been welcome at the Labour Day Parade – the story however only referred to David Miller not being welcome. My verdict – all style (lousy style at that) and zero substance. I support the idea of the CBC, but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to support what is actually produced by the current CBC management.

  5. […] (Sept. 16): Toronto’s newscast is about the same as ours. Related […]

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