I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Heads in the Sand at CBC

There is only one thing harder to watch than the new National News on CBC, it is the complete and utter baloney emanating from the people who run the newscast.

In the face of an avalanche of negativity, some observers are pegging the overwhelmingly negative response to the changes at over 99% based on the CBC’s own web site and blog spots, the folks who run CBC and CBC News are making complete asses of themselves with their responses to what I would consider a crisis or even a catastrophe.

While it is true that there have been a lot of complaints about Peter Mansbridge’s uncomfortable standing posture, and many, many complaints about the highly overdone “mal de mer” inducing moving graphics behind every person who ventures on to the set, and of course darts tossed at the strange unmotivated whooshing sounds that emanate from nowhere; the real complaint, and almost every correspondent to CBC makes it clear, is the lack of serious journalism. The shallowness of the stories is paramount. The lack of any depth or context is what is really putting people off. And this is what the folks who run our tax payer financed national news seem unable to grasp.

The only way to prove this point is to let Peter Mansbridge, Jonathan Whitten and Richard Stursberg speak for themselves. Here’s what they had to say about last week’s disaster at the Ceeb:

First Richard Stursberg:

As we close out the first week of the new CBC News, let’s take a moment to consider the reaction our changes have wrought throughout the country. Judging from media coverage and associated commentary, you would be forgiven for thinking the nation has been seized by an obsession with Peter Mansbridge’s chair (more precisely, its absence). Peter himself called it first and correctly in a pre-launch interview for a Toronto Star TV guide cover story. When we change anything about our newscasts, we hear about it. Don’t be disheartened. The sets and graphics look fantastic; as good as any in the world. We’re quickly moving into a rhythm and pace with the new style and new programs. And– this is the most important part– our commitment to telling the relevant news stories of the day, as we’ve always done, remains undiminished, even as the tools change, as they always do. Don’t be worried about the cheap shots from some at our competitor news organizations. Remember it’s in their interest that we should fail. In a fast-changing game, we’re redefining how news is presented to Canadians. And big changes make big splashes. Don’t worry about the noise, which is already subsiding. Congratulations for the stories you broke this week and on the context and depth you provided.

Richard Stursberg
Executive Vice-President
English Services

Now Peter Mansbridge:

It’s always interesting and important to monitor reaction to change. So far, there is no doubt there has been lots of reaction to the changes we have instituted at The National this week. As expected, the comments cover the spectrum and we’re getting lots of good ideas from our viewers on what they like and what they’re not so sure of at this point.
If there’s one area that seems common to both points of view, it’s reaction to the fact that I do parts of the program standing. Some seem to suggest that this is a radical departure from the past. Well, sure, “sitting at the anchor desk” is a traditional mainstay of many newscasts, but standing is hardly anything new. I have been anchoring The National since 1988, and I’ve done the broadcast “standing”, on average, at least twenty times a year, and no one has said anything. Guess they didn’t notice.
Last year on election night, a lengthy eight-hour broadcast, I did the whole program standing, and it was extremely popular – if the ratings game is anything to go by. It also gave the program a flexibility and mobility that we feel is needed in this day and age, especially for our broadcasts. Some people seem to forget that The National is unlike any other network newscast in Canada. It’s a one-hour broadcast, not half an hour, and it deals with much more than news stories. We have feature interviews, panel discussions and short documentary and background features. And we do it all in prime time, unlike the other Canadian networks. Global’s main newscast airs in the late afternoon. CTV goes to air in post-prime-time late night. So the on-air competition for viewer’s eyeballs to The National at 10 p.m. isn’t news – it’s drama and entertainment, the CSI’s of this world. So for us, flexibility is key in showcasing what is still, and always will be, our most important product – solid journalism..
On the interview front, I will continue to do lots of sit-down interviews, both on The National and on Mansbridge One on One on the weekend. However, there will be times when in-studio interviews are done standing, because we think they bring a whole new energy to the moment. And again it’s not new. Just a few months ago, I had a 10-minute session with Prime Minister Harper in Ottawa. We were standing in the Parliamentary Library at the time. A few years ago, I did the same with
former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Much was made by some of my interview with General Rick Hillier on Monday night because we had that conversation “standing”. Perhaps those who thought that was something really different didn’t watch it very closely, because I even included, during that encounter, a taped segment of an interview the two of us had had five years ago in Afghanistan. And guess what – we were standing in that one, too.
Now the question has also come along about At Issue – Canada’s most-watched political panel. “Is Mansbridge going to make them all stand too?” The answer on that one is “no”. That conversation, a weekly appointment-television moment for hundreds of thousands of Canadians every week, is different and calls for a different look. This Thursday, Allan, Andrew and Chantal will all be in studio at a fancy new desk with fancy new chairs. Hope you join in the fun and watch.

Finally Jonathan Whitten, one of the bosses at CBC News:

Hi all…

Thanks for all your hard work in putting (most!) of week one behind us…

For those on the front lines…it’s been exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. The task of turning the ship around overnight was a huge one,
and a smooth and clean start in week one is testament to the passion and dedication of everyone who works here.

What viewers saw this week was a modern set and a modern look, a faster pace, and new faces and personalities. What they also saw were the same standards of journalism, the same emphasis on news, context, and original and enterprise reporting. Though the on-air team surrounding him is now stronger than ever, they also saw Peter still doing what he does best, guiding viewers through the same range of stories and storytelling, and talking to news makers and opinion leaders on topics that matter to Canadians.

Equally important, our new website and “early” versions of the National generated a huge amount of interest, and marked our first big step toward serving a brand new audience at brand new times and in brand new ways.

And while we continue to try to understand how and why a chunk of our audience disappeared overnight with the new audience panel under the PPM system, it was heartening to see that the first four nights of the new look and format was our strongest four-day streak under the new system.

While much of the din this week has been focused on the weighty issues of color and posture, as a participant in at least three make overs of the National look I can tell you that the tone and weight of the response from those who have e-mailed us this time around, compared to those who sent us letters, phoned, and faxed us in earlier times, is pretty much the same. What I think is different this time is a much more positive response anecdotally from people outside the CBC who find the new look refreshing and modern.

Having said that, we are already making adjustments based on the feedback we’ve been getting, and we’ll continue to do that in the weeks and months ahead.

Once things settle down on the production side, we’ll also be looking closely at how we get to air, and who does what, and I’m sure we’ll be making changes there as well to try as we try to balance the workload.

It’s also important that we continue to get your feedback on the changes and your own workload.

Thanks again for everything this week….

Jon

How can two people who call themselves journalists and an experienced administrator get it so wrong? Are they kidding themselves and trying to prop up a beleaguered staff? I hope so, because they all miss or ignore the main criticism. The news has less depth, less insight, less context and most important less interest to news viewers, the people who may actually want to watch CBC News.

Just to give you a sense of what people are writing in answer to the above comments I’ve chosen just a few out of hundreds, maybe thousands of viewer complaints:
at 9:16 PM ETttkillian wrote (quoting Richard Stursberg):

First Mr Stursberg, I haven’t read a single daily since the re-launch and crash. My opinions, which were posted within minutes of the end of Monday’s show are my own and not derived from any print media.

Second sir, you are a public broadcaster, you do not HAVE competition! You are not spending the money of a corporation or wealthy family, you are spending MY money! And believe me sir, if CBC patrons wish to see you removed, do not think for one moment it is not within our power to do so. Sir, take your ego, and stuff it! You are a civil servant on the tax payers payroll, you do not dictate to us, you accept direction from us.

Finally, standing, sitting or lying in the nude…the new format with it’s wizkid graphics, newsreel musical overlays, and greatly reduced news time quite simply sucks! And if you do not heed the comments from your viewers, they, and your job, will be gone (the latter should have already taken place 10 minutes after Monday’s broadcast)

To quote a fictitious journalist (who is a far sight more real than anything CBC is now offering) “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore.”

We’re not your competition sir, we are your boss!

truebluetoronto wrote:Posted 2009/10/31
at 3:02 PM ETPeter,
I watched all of the CBC “new national” on Monday and Tuesday. I watched parts of the “new national” on Wednesday and Thursday, between innings of the World Series. I don’t think I will be watching it again. Next week I will be watching CTV News, and if at the end of next week I feel better informed than I am after this week’s shambles then I won’t be back.

The National should be re-named “The Trivial” as it lacks substance and in-depth reporting; looks like it has been produced by teenagers and computer whizz-kids.

I have lived in this country for 30 years, and initially tried all the local TV news stations until I found my new home at CBC. It was until recently the nearest thing to the BBC on this side of the pond.

CBC now looks like the trailers at the movies, fast, swooshing noises and whizzy graphics, all teasing, but no substance. CBC now looks like so many American cable shows, all huff and puff, no thoughtful analysis

dudemeister wrote:Posted 2009/10/30
at 10:30 AM ETPlease rewrite this blog with the Title:

About the “lack of news”

This is the issue that is really matters and what people are mostly responding to here. Stupid flashy graphics, standing up, sitting down or delivering the news in Kundalini yoga poses – who cares. Everyone/all/tout le monde here hates this change for the actual content or lack thereof more than anything – Where is the international news – the thing on shoes was pathetic if that is what passes for international news stories now, where is the “depth”. Local news sucks now too – there isn’t anythign happening except people lining up for vaccinations apparently.

The reason it upsets people more than if it was another TV channel – this is our national broadcaster, and it appears to have been sabotaged.

-PeBo- wrote:Posted 2009/10/29
at 4:21 PM ETPeter, it’s unfair to point out special event news broadcasts where you have stood throughout the broadcast. If the news is covering an election or special event, then a change of format is expected.

You would look ridiculous (or pompous) sitting during a Town Hall.

I have also read through most of the coments that have been posted, and to say that they cover the entire spectrum, is simply playing with the facts. The comments have been overwhelmingly negative. The fact that we pay your salaries seem lost on all of you. Our opinions only matter when we are in agreement with your direction. If this is how you judge polls, then so much for trusting your analysis in future…not that it matters, I won’t be watching.

The music overlays, the standing, the speaking to co-workers and guest at your “take-out” counter, the crass sound effects and animations…it all comes together to make the National look cheap and derivative.

Sorry Peter, I have always trusted you and your broadcast, but tonight, I’ll tune in for Chantal, Alan and Andrew, but will not turn to to CBC until that time. I will simply get my news from Maclean’s and selected websites. The last vestige of respectable television news broadcasting is gone.

And quite simply, you should feel ashamed for defending the changes. (Then again, I remember when the National had enough respect for the news that it was shown without commercial interruption for the first half hour, so what could I possibly expect!)

Goodbye CBC news. You’ve been a trusted friend my entire adult life, but I demand more from my friends than what you have chosen to offer.

umarek wrote:Posted 2009/10/28
at 2:24 PM ETMr. Mansbridge,

If there was one thing I was afraid of, it was a comment coming from the management, saying that new format often provokes reactions. I am surprised that it comes from you.

Judging by the comments you have been getting, where the lack of “the chair” is a minor and ridiculous detail, in comparison to the format in which the news now is being presented, it is a disaster.

Your assertion that the comments “cover the spectrum” when in fact there is hardly anyone who has anything positive to say about, what is commonly perceived as FOX style news, tells us that your comment is a dishonest public relations press release.

I agree with you on one point however. Yes, you are getting a lot of good ideas, and for the most part they are telling you to scrap this horrible experiment. It is not only an insult on our eyeballs, but also on our intelligence.

Marek Urban
Ottawa

I guess you get the idea by now. Forget the lack of chairs, deal with the lack of news.

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Filed under: Media Commentary, , , ,

6 Responses

  1. Cameron A. says:

    The National technically isn’t a “one-hour” newscast. The National‘s hour-long format has been news items for the first half, more in-depth panel discussions/feature reports/documentaries for the second. It’s just that the format is integrated now, as opposed to when The National and The Journal were separate shows.

    CBC News could have gone for longer stories to stand out in broadcast news, rather than retaining segments like “At Issue” and dumbing down The National‘s format. Have a true one-hour newscast instead of rejigging the integrated format to fit in flat panel screens and simpler news intros. I don’t know.

  2. I was a student at Ryerson’s Radio and Television program with aspirations of working for the CBC. To me the CBC was the only place in the Canadian media landscape where I could really make interesting thought provoking programming. I really liked the idea of working for the public’s interest as opposed to working for the share holders or advertisers (as in private broadcasters). The private networks were always so keen on dumbing things down and aping American style television that I really had no interest in ever working for then. (Funny how there aren’t really any jobs available now either way.) The thing that drew me into watching and listening to CBC News in my teenage years was the fact that I never felt like it was insulting my intelligence. That has all changed now.

    I made a short video making fun of the new look National. It is really stupid and full of cheap shots, but that is how I feel with what Richard Stursberg and company have done to the last source of intelligent programming in Canada. Oh well, at least we still have The Agenda on TVO.

    http://parliamentshmarliament.blogspot.com/2009/11/episode-4-new-cbc-news.html

  3. Allan says:

    The CBC is in profound trouble, and seem to be rejecting all help.
    That premiere episode revealed so many instances of bad judgement, I think it left many people stunned at the incompetence of the producers, the CBC itself.
    Stursberg tells the staff not to worry, “the noise” is dying down.
    That’s inevitable, but the memory of what that program said about the CBC, and what it said about what they think of their viewers, will linger for a long time.

  4. Lon says:

    Content aside, what about a television show?

    1. What happened to music that sets a mood?

    2. What happened to an anchor who is relatively closeup so that you feel his presence and some authority that give weight and energy to today’s stories?

    3. What happened to an organized lineup that holds your hand and lets you know what’s coming and how things fit together?

    4. What happened to the one thing that all television producers know makes for television that viewers consistently return to — predictability?

    5. What happened to a fundamental of public relations, which is to get people so interested in the content of your story that you want to go to the website, radio piece, etc., for more, not have to because the content is so meager in the story? When we have to, we won’t, because we’ll be so frustrated. We don’t have time to follow up. Viewers are busy people. If we are not motivated to follow up, we won’t.

    5. What happened to reporters actually being in the story instead of bookending on the street or from the studio and then going to voiceover and stock shots, and now YouTube?

    What happened to television, folks?

  5. John O says:

    Lon,

    Richard Stursberg is what happened.

  6. Catch22 says:

    The CBC National News seems to have been transformed into a vacuous and formulaic American style cable news show. I feel like our minority Conservative government has finally been able to wrap its tentacles around our national broadcaster, and has managed to squeeze the last vestiges of public broadcasting idealism out of the CBC News. Every time I see an “on the scene” reporter harping on about the latest trivial tear jerking story, I feel nauseous and promptly switch to the MacNeil Lehrer News on PBS, or to the BBC.

    It feels as if watching this news cast lowers my intelligence. No wonder so many conservatives show such consistent stupidity. Fox News is bad for your brain.

    Remember: Conservatives aren’t necessarily stupid. But most stupid people are conservative.

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