An observer of Canada and especially the CBC would be forgiven if they thought all the drama in the country was taking place at CBC News and CBC News Network. Being Erica can’t compete and Dragon’s Den doesn’t come close to the reality TV nonsense swirling around Peter Mansbridge, Richard Stursberg et al at Canada’s national network.
A few weeks after the disastrous launch of the new National and the unwatchable programming on CBCNN, the drama continues. From the outside it looks like Stursberg and his happy band of naysayers are attempting to build a wall around the Corpse that will keep out all the negative reactions. So far they do not, at least publicly, admit that there are any problems with the new direction that CBC News has attempted to sell to a dwindling audience.
Unfortunately for the CBC they have accomplished only one goal: yes, they have united Canadians, created consensus. Everybody hates the new news. Forgive me if I exaggerate, I have seen two articles from people who mildly like the new direction, but I have yet to speak to a single person who has anything positive to say about CBC News as it appears today. I have had conversations with people of all ages from many different parts of Canada. Not one likes what he or she is seeing.
What’s worse, whenever two media people get together, or whenever a CBC News staffer meets a news viewer, the dreadfulness, is that a word, of the changes is still the main topic of conversation. Rather than going away, it is growing. The viewers are as pissed off at CBC management as the news staffs are. Really, the entire episode is a great embarrassment, or at least it should be.
The most damning result of the changes to CBC News is playing out in the ratings. CBC made the changes to combat poor news numbers. Most nights the CBC peaked at about 600,000 viewers. CTV and Global generally got over one million viewers for their national newscasts. Now the CBC is barely breaking the 400,000 viewer mark. That’s a drop of one third of the audience. If rumours are to be believed, the back half, where the documentaries once ran, is losing viewers at an even greater pace. Failure has been swift and clear cut. In the meantime numbers at CTV and Global are rising. The damage is actually worse than the last CBC disaster when they tried to move the news to nine p.m.
So what can the CBC do to deal with the self inflicted wounds before they become fatal? The first step, it would seem obvious, is to admit there have been big mistakes made. You cannot begin to make changes if you don’t admit change is necessary. Step back. Have a look at the programming. Remove the rose coloured glasses. Look at CBC News for what it has become, not what you predicted, attempted or wanted. News viewers, especially CBC News viewers, want depth, context, serious reporting. They want interviews and documentaries that engage and inform. They want the news content as it was before. As far as style is concerned, they are willing to accept change that is motivated by bringing better quality coverage. They don’t want standing for the sake of standing and moving graphics because a U.S. TV doctor says that’s what you need to be young and modern. If you can’t answer the question “Why is Peter standing?” then he shouldn’t be standing.
I repeat, all of this is predicated on the CBC bosses admitting they goofed…big time. The way the CBC works I can’t see that happening. Last time CBC goofed Ron Crocker and Tim Kotcheff were run out of the CBC. They took all the blame even though they were mainly there to implement what the entire braintrust had created. Sure they played their part in the changes but they were no more responsible than the rest, the ones who took over and changed the news back to 10 o’clock and the old format. This time that will be more difficult. Many of the old bosses, the ones who know what they are doing, have been shuffled off the news if not out of the CBC entirely. The new bosses come from radio, from current affairs. It is questionable as to whether they know what they are doing and further whether they even know how to put the news back together. There are no possible scapegoats that are not directly tied to Uber boss Richard Stursberg. If Stursberg were to fire Jennifer McGuire it would reflect directly on him personally and his poor judgment. I don’t know Stursberg, but I know people who do know him, and they tell me this is not going to happen. They tell me according to King Richard, he doesn’t make mistakes.
In the meantime, as viewers drift away and the credibility of the news service suffers, major cracks are starting to appear inside the newsroom. Insiders tell me the news team is finding it almost impossible to fill the hour. The news desk is begging all the units to send them stories, any length…even long docs of 20 minutes or more. Many of the best reporters are beginning to revolt. They want to produce better stories but feel the desk has no understanding of what that takes in time and energy. They also feel they are being made to look bad. Their reputations are suffering. I think they are right. The editors are saying the new young producers don’t understand how news works. They are generally unprepared and don’t understand the editing process. Fingers are being pointed in all directions. Everyone is looking for someone to blame and Richard Stursberg and Jennifer McGuire are the names I hear most often. We are talking about massive breakdown at all levels.
Humpty Dumpty has fallen down. Predictably, all King Richard’s horses and all his men so far cannot put Humpty together again.