Global’s national newscast has never been taken very seriously by anyone who works in the news business. Sure they got good numbers when Kevin Newman came on board, he was a terrific anchor. But who and what did Kevin have behind him? That was always the question. Could anyone name any of Global’s reporters? Did any of them make an impression?
The truth is that Global News has long been known for spending all its money on big name anchors. Kevin Newman and now Dawna Friesen are the latest of a long line of excellent hosts that date back to Peter Trueman, Thalia Assuras and Peter Kent. Unfortunately the people who ran Global, never saw the necessity of hiring excellent reporters, writers and producers to back up the fine news readers. They were all about the big splash, the advertising potential attached to the big name on air.
When I worked there, the folks in charge told the CRTC they had a budget of close to $13 million for the newscasts. That was a blatant lie. Close to half the news budget was appropriated by every other department at Global. It was a ruse to make it look like Global was spending big bucks on Canadian content. Somehow, they got away with it. It was so bad that the bosses refused to allow me, the News Director, to see a copy of my own budget.
Needless to say I did not last long at Global. After I was hired with loads of promises about improving the newscasts, it became abundantly clear that there was no truth to the promises. I had a plan to upgrade the staff, create beats, and solidify the reporting by bringing good people in from the outside and training the people on the inside. Every time I wanted to move ahead with my plan I heard another excuse as to why we couldn’t do it right now. First it was the union negotiations. Then it was the ownership fight. Finally, in my time at least, it was let’s wait until Izzy Asper completes his remake of the station.
In the end nothing ever got done because Global saw news as a distasteful obligation that had to be done to keep the license and CRTC approval. I was told to my face by one vice president, if I spend a dollar on news I will be lucky to get back seventy-five cents, if I spend a dollar on U.S. programming I would have to be an idiot to not get back two dollars.
Global News did not create stars or even good reporters for themselves. When they lucked into an excellent reporter or producer they tended to run to CTV or the United States at the very first opportunity. Global was seen by many young television news people as a way into the Toronto market where, if they did a great job, they would be seen and snapped up by the opposition who took news seriously and were willing to pay a decent salary for someone other than the anchor.
I know, I know, I am going to hear the argument about the relatively good ratings Global gets. It’s true. Global National does very well, and their local newscast is a strong second to CTV in many markets. I believe that has had more to do with smart scheduling, great lead-ins, and a long line of popular hosts. Ask viewers to name the reporters or react to which story drew them to Global and you would draw a blank stare.
A while ago the disastrous ownership of the Aspers came to an enforced end and Shaw picked up Global for a song. Nobody knew what that meant for the future of Global News. Today we may have heard our answer. Global announced that they are hiring two of the better journalists in Canadian Television history.
I have had the pleasure of working with Tom Clark at CTV. He has always been an excellent journalist and in any people’s opinions, including my own, a fine on air talent. I was sorry to see him leave CTV when he didn’t get Lloyd Robertson’s job and I am happy to see him back where he belongs with a national broadcaster.
More surprising however, was the announcement that Patrick Brown was hired to be the Beijing correspondent. Nobody in the business, at least anyone that I have ever spoken to, questions Brown’s ability as a fine foreign correspondent. He had a long and distinguished career with CBC and earned all the accolades he has received with excellent work. I have never worked with Patrick but I know he has reputation for being very prickly, very difficult to work with. I can’t say whether that too is well earned. What I do know is that a Beijing Bureau is a very expensive proposition and demands a lot of travel around China and Asia, this exactly the kind of expense that was unheard of during the past ownership of the network.
So kudos to Global for these two moves. Maybe we are about to see the long promised third option, with Global as a serious national television news source, actually come to fruition. I know everyone in the news business hopes so. We will all be watching closely to see if these hires are backed up with the kind of upgrades that Global News needs to be taken seriously.