I'm Mad as Hell

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and I can't do a thing about it

Canada’s Own Evil Empire?

Most of the blogs I write are born in a news story or an event that grabs my interest and all but twists my arm forcing me to write something about it. This one is different. This blog is the result of an accumulation of upset that has taken years to come to terms with. I ask you, anyone who reads this column, is there a huge corporation in Canada that is more anti-consumer than Rogers?

Let me start with the easy stuff. Rogers brought the mobile phone industry to Canada, does anyone remember Cantel? They created a mobile telephone system that was ludicrously expensive and then created fictitious fees to gouge their customers even more, fees that we are still paying, for services that do not exist and never have. Sure Bell and Telus came along afterwards and jumped on board to overcharge Canadian consumers, but it was Rogers that created the pricing policies that make this country one of the most expensive in the world to own and operate a cell phone.

Canada was a leader in creating cable television. We were the first country in the world to use this system for disseminating TV signals. Many Canadians have a short memory about this industry. In fact Rogers bought into the industry, they had little to do with creating it. What Rogers added was higher prices and the inability to chose the stations you wanted. They bundled services so that if you want The Movie Channel, you have to buy a whole whack of stations you may not have any interest in. Worse, if you want Turner Classic Movies, you have to pay the big bucks for The Movie Channel to get it. It’s been close to two years since they promised the CRTC that they would give the consumer the choice to pay for only the stations they want, yet nothing has happened. The Rogers people gift to Canadians: little choice, higher prices and if I may add here, long telephone waits and poor service.

I will only mention Rogers internet service in passing. Canadians pay way too much for internet service, again, amongst the highest in the world. And, if that’s not enough Rogers has added insult to injury by using throttling to slow their service when it gets busy. You pay for fast service, but Rogers slows it down on purpose. While U.S. companies race to install fibre optic wire to help make their service better and quicker, Rogers uses old fashioned coaxial cable that in many cases is as much as forty years old. They claim the high prices are to increase bandwidth and new technology…where do we, the consumers, see the results of that money?

Don’t get me started on their television services. In a previous blog, The Rape of CITY-TV, I discussed how Rogers ruined one of the most unique and innovative television franchises anywhere. When was the last time anyone noticed CITY-TV? They also own Rogers Sportsnet. This started as a regional sports network with four channels, each aimed at a different part of the country. Then the tricky bastards at Rogers added Sportsnet One, put a lot of the most watched content on the new station exclusively and made us pay more to see the channel. Rogers also owns Omni, the multicultural channels with bases in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
What did they do with those licenses? First they got rid of most of the multicultural content and replaced it with cheap U.S. game shows and sit-com reruns. They do news in Italian, Chinese and Hindi and run some movies in those languages but they produce very little else. What you may not know is that when you see a Russian show, an Arabic show or any other minority show, the minorities buy the time from Rogers and then have to find their own advertising dollars to pay for their work and what they owe Rogers for the airtime. Many actually lose money to provide their poor communities with a service while Rogers makes millions off them and billions in total.

Rogers also owns the Toronto Blue Jays. They should be embarrassed by their involvement. They have managed to turn the largest market for any single baseball team, 33 million in Canada and 5.5 million in the Toronto area into what they call a small market. Year after year they have underfunded the Jays, in fact the Jays’ budgets are the same today, about $60 million U.S., as when Rogers bought the team. What that doesn’t take into consideration is that the Canadian dollar was at 65 cents when they took over and is close to par today. That means they are actually spending 30% less today then they spent when they bought the team. No need to ask why the Jays have never gone to the post-season under Rogers’ ownership, the answer is all too obvious.

Now Rogers wants a piece of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Toronto Raptors, TFC, etc. Here they see an opportunity to parlay ownership of the teams into television content for their channels. If past performance is any example of future performance, don’t plan for any parades on Yonge Street…ever.

Over the decades Rogers has set the example of greed and gouging that has been seen and followed by the folks at Bell, Shaw, Telus and the rest. They could have been leaders in customer service, competitive pricing, quality television and performance excellence. They never chose those routes. All they have ever shown an interest in was maximizing their bottom line at the expense of their customers.

Who do I blame? Ted Rogers of course, but I also blame the CRTC and the Canadian government for allowing them to get away with the worst of their actions. How could the CRTC allow them to create phony charges for cell phone service? How could the CRTC have allowed prices to grow out of all proportion to other countries? How could the CRTC change their own rules to allow cable companies to own television stations? How indeed?

The people who ran and run Rogers should be ashamed of what they have wrought. The CRTC should be ashamed of what they have allowed to pass. Finally, successive governments of Canada, both Liberal and Conservative should be ashamed of standing by while the CRTC allowed Rogers to gouge the Canadian public.

I invite anyone from Rogers who wants to rebut anything to contact me. I will make space available to them to explain their side. I’m sure all Canadians would like to hear any explanation from Rogers.

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Monopoly…a Canadian way of doing business

A lot of you will look at the deal to buy Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) by Bell and Rogers as simply a sports deal. You may be questioning what this means for the future of your favorite sports franchise, be it the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, TFC (the soccer team), maybe even the Toronto Blue Jays or one of the other six NHL teams in Canada. If you are a sports fan in this country and whether you love the dismal Toronto franchises, or love to see them fail year after year, there are real sporting implications…the truth though, whether you like to hear it or not, is that the future of the Leafs success on ice is mostly irrelevant in this deal.

The sale of MLSE is about content rights, who will control the television, radio, internet, mobile, etc. rights to the sporting content generated by these teams. In those terms this is a very frightening deal. Bell and Rogers are already the two most powerful media conglomerates in Canada. They own and manage, some would say mismanage, 80 television stations including all of the major sports stations on TV. They own 88 radio stations including all of the major sports-talk stations. They will pick up an additional three television licenses that MLSE owns. Together they own the vast majority of Canada’s online and mobile services. You think that it’s just Bell and Rogers? Think again. They also own Virgin, Solo, ChatR and Fido, and of course the largest satellite and cable companies too.

It’s hard to believe that a few short years ago it was deemed illegal for a cable or satellite company to own a television station, let alone a network. Thank you CRTC.

This concentration of power will be bad for everyone. While Bell and Rogers are busy divvying up the nation, they leave little room for their competition. This means they can do with sports content what they have done with mobile technology and cable and satellite delivery. They can control access and they can control price. All you have to do to see the future is to look at what these to companies have done in the past. Canadians pay among the highest rates in the world for mobile service and internet access, and Bell and Rogers continually strive to keep competition out through influence on government and regulatory bodies and with unfair discount practices that disappear when the competition is wiped out. To quote Ellen Roseman in the Toronto Star, “Rogers and Bell bludgeon customers into accepting a flurry of extra charges for wireless phones. They hit them with unexpected bills for data roaming and third party text messages.”

Roseman goes to describe some of the dirty practices of Bell and Rogers that include discounts that evaporate before the subscriber ever sees them, raised prices that make the discounts offered moot, and of course, some 8000 complaints from Canadians to the government last year about how they are being treated by telecommunications companies like Bell and Rogers.

I expect to see access to Toronto’s sports franchises on radio and television to change in three ways, first, you will see far more games on Rogers Sportsnet and TSN and expect to see fewer games in which let’s say the Calgary Flames or Winnipeg Jets own the rights. Why pay the owners of a third party NHL club when you can pay yourself and fill the same amount of air time? Second, I see fewer opportunities for non-MLSE affiliated channels like CBC and Global to get the rights to the most popular sports entertainment. Finally, I see the possibility of a new pay channel that replaces Leafs-TV and Raptors-TV with a new sports channel that forces the public to pay big subscription fees to gain access to games that will no longer be available on any other channel, think MSG Network (Madison Square Gardens) or YES Network (Yankee Entertainment) two very profitable networks in the United States that control all of the most popular sports franchises in the New York City area.

Lastly I want to make a point about the way sports journalism will be affected. Since the owners of MLSE will now control virtually all of the sports broadcast media who will be left to criticize the missteps and worse the arrogance of this new sporting monster?

Will the guys at The Fan or TSN Radio take on their corporate bosses? Will they lose jobs and be punished for doing so? Does anyone see the conflict of interest here? Does anyone at the competition bureau or the CRTC care?

In the past few months Rogers and Bell have been busy buying the services of dozens of the best print sports writers to fill slots on radio and television and to write for new magazines. Most have quit their print jobs like Stephen Brunt, some like Damien Cox keep a foot in both camps. It is my contention that just about every sports writer in Canada is at least partially beholden to either Bell or Rogers. Sure you may write for a local paper in Vancouver that’s owned by the Post group or an independent in Toronto like the Toronto Star, but you all supplement your income, your reach and your popularity with appearances on one of the Bell or Rogers sports television and radio channels. Do you want to blow your chances for more guest shots? I think not. So, when the Toronto Raptors decide to spend less money and refuse to sign a free agent that’s available and who might make the team competitive, or merely watchable, will you write about it or just keep it to yourself? When TFC charges more for tickets than Manchester United (this is already a fact) will you shout about it in your column or is discretion a better road to take? For those of you who haven’t seen it, The Globe and Mail, which should stop calling itself Canada’s national newspaper, barely noticed this story. Why?

Sports journalism is for the most part an oxymoron in Canada. The last bastions were the daily newspapers in the major cities. Bell and Rogers have figured out how to co-opt even this small amount of opposition. Now it can only get worse.

Canadians in general and sports fans in particular will be the big losers if this deal is allowed to go through. The only way to stop it is if all Canadians get up of their backsides and scream at their political representatives. There’s one thing more powerful than the money and influence Bell and Rogers can and do wield, that is the threat of losing the next election.

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Poor Sports

As anyone who regularly reads my blog knows I am obsessed with the fact that daily news on television and in the newspapers has not kept up with the times. I am amazed that Canadian broadcasters continue to produce national newscasts in the same style that they were produced 30, 40 or even 50 years ago. This despite the fact that the internet and all-news television has made the way viewers watch TV news change dramatically.

Newspapers have added style and shrunk their pages but they too continue to pump out their daily editions as if the internet had never been invented and they choose stories as if we, the consumers of news, have not seen any TV news or looked at the web.

I sometimes wonder what it will take for a few modern ideas to take hold. For the various media to assess what they do well and just as important the ways in which they can’t compete or even provide a valuable service. National newscasts, for example cannot possibly compete with the speed of all news television. All news on the other hand, does not have the time or the staff to look at stories in depth. I should not have to spell out the direction each should go in.

The internet pumps out volumes of information from all kinds of sources. The problem is an internet reader cannot always know or trust the sources of that information. I have a hard time watching the national newscasts because it seems like déjà vu. I have seen or heard the stories all day long. Newspapers are even slower. I sometimes feel like I have seen every story in my newspaper, it is yesterday’s news. I would love to see my newspapers filled with more opinion, more columnists from all across the political spectrum and because they have the staffs and the time, way more investigation and in depth stories.

This is all a long preamble to what I consider the most archaic and outdated source of news that exists today: the local news sportscast. Look, I am a huge sports fan. I love all the major sports and a few of the minor ones too. I am constantly surfing the web for the latest scores and sports news. I take part in hockey and baseball pools and have been known to make a bet on the NFL. So I am not coming at this as an artsy elitist or a news purist. I understand where the sportscast came from. In the “old” days there was no TSN, no the Score, no Rogers Sportsnet. The only opportunity most TV viewers had to see the scores and highlights was on their local newscast. In five to eight minutes the local sportscaster would let the audience know how their local teams performed, if there were any injuries and of course, show the best goals, touchdowns and home runs. If he, it was always a he until City-TV came along, had time, he would tell you whether the rival teams won or lost. In some cases local sports ran a crawl or put up a list of all the scores. They had a job to do and they did it well enough.

Can someone tell me the point of the local sportscast today? If I want to see highlights I have the choice of eight sports channels on television in Canada. I can go to the internet and find the scores to any game, whether finished or still playing. Heck I can even find out who is at bat as we speak or what yard line and which team has the ball in the football game. At the end of the day I can see an hour long sportscast that gives me all the scores, all the highlights, a few feature stories and even a panel discussion. If I want to just find out whether the Blue Jays or the Stampeders or the Canucks won or lost I can tune in The Score and look at the bottom of the screen. In a matter of minutes I will see every score in every game in every sport.

If you are a sports fan you have all kinds of ways and means of keeping up to date and truth be told, you find the local news sportscast inadequate at best and laughable at worst. If you are not a sports fan you probably could care less.

So why waste the time, money and the resources it takes to produce an inadequate and obsolete portion of the show? Wouldn’t local news be better served by hiring three or four more news reporters and dumping the three or four sports hosts and reporters? Wouldn’t the newscast love to have the camera operators assigned to sports available to news? I haven’t even mentioned the editing time that is currently gobbled up by sports. I don’t know anyone who watches their local newscast to see the sports news anymore yet we are still pouring all kinds of resources into the sportscast.

None of this means I want sports to disappear from local news. I would just like to see sports covered like all of the other news. When something important or interesting is going on, send out a journalist to cover the event. A good feature on the small crowds at the Blue Jays games would be of interest. The fight over a new stadium for the Tiger Cats in Hamilton is news. If the Leafs ever win the Stanley Cup the rash of heart attacks throughout Toronto and Canada will be a lead item. These stories can and should be handled by the journalists who cover their cities every day. There is no need to waste a long portion of the newscast on badly produced, incomplete and archaic segments that are available elsewhere to anyone who is really interested in the information.

So if anyone knows the answer to my queries I would love to hear from you. In the meantime I suspect the only answer is: ‘you know we have always done it this way and we haven’t really given it any thought.’ Isn’t that how most of the Canadian media works today?

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Poor Sports

For a sports fan there is no better time of year. In hockey the Stanley Cup playoffs, especially the first two rounds are as usual, a sight to behold. Need I mention the Memorial Cup and the world championships? The basketball playoffs are underway too. Baseball has started. Soccer is winding down in Europe, heating up in North America and the World Cup is on the horizon. The football drafts have just passed and fans are looking ahead to their favorite teams’ prospects in the upcoming season. Tiger is back patrolling the greens and fairways. Horse racing’s “triple crown” has begun. Heck even the lacrosse playoffs have started for those who are interested. I believe it can be described as a cornucopia of sports stories, events and action, certainly enough to more than fill the one hour sportscasts produced by TSN and Rogers’ Sportsnet.

Then why am I so turned off by both productions? I am a huge sports fan. As proof I offer up the fact that I still buy tickets to the Jays and the Argos. That should prove I am more than a fan, I’m a glutton for punishment. But I can no longer take most of the punishment dished out by Canada’s two biggest sports broadcasters.

Based on the great ratings and the huge profits TSN and Rogers’ Sportsnet are raking in I must be in the minority. Nevertheless, I cannot believe the viewers that are over 18-years-old are impressed with what is being aired. Yes, both networks are adept at producing highlights. Thankfully, at this time of the year there are plenty of those. I think they are what keep the fans tuning in. If I watched the hockey game, the baseball and basketball highlights give me an opportunity to see the best plays I missed and keep me up to date on scores and injuries.

What turns me off, though, among other things, are the incessant panels that fail to tell me anything new. Listening to the same guys drone on and on making the exact same points they made last October and have repeated ad nauseum throughout the hockey season is a waste of my time and I would hope a waste of your time to. Panels are a poor excuse for journalism. Opinions are interesting when they are fresh, when they tell me something I don’t know or haven’t heard, but when it boils down to predicting who will win the series, who will score the winning goal in overtime, and TSN’s ludicrous, “the quiz”, can anyone pretend there is any journalism or real value in what is being spouted?

The question all sports fans should be asking is: where is the journalism? Where are the reporters seeking out the stories? Where are the great stories about the interesting characters in the games? ABC’s Roone Arledge brought this concept to television more than 35 years ago. On any given day the sports sections of The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star have more real stories and journalism than six months of SportsCentre on TSN. I understand that TSN is basically a highlights show, fine, but they claim to be a newscast too, so other than the recaps, where is the news? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sports journalism is an oxymoron on television. The newspapers do a great job, The Fan radio and radio stations like it across the country, especially Bob McCown’s show, does a good job of trying to find the whys and wherefores. The print and radio guys actually try to speak to the sources, the people making the news. They get interviews and quotes from and with the newsmakers themselves. TSN and Rogers’ Sportsnet have panel discussions.

I hate the glib insider talk and repartee that passes for hosting at both networks. The hosts kid each other, they banter, they fill air space. The talk is seldom relevant, it’s supposed to pass for show business and it is almost always juvenile. Guys, when you kid each other about your Alberta roots or the losses of your favorite teams, I don’t care.

I’m not crazy about the fact that most TV sportcasters seem to think the hockey fights are as important as the goals scored and the results, Rogers’ Sportnet being the worst offender.

Finally, a particular pet peeve of mine. The hockey game goes into overtime. It ends at 10:14 pm. TSN begins SportsCentre at 10:17 with tease: “Can the Habs continue to roll against the dominant Caps? Can the Caps finally put away the upstart Habs?” Hello! Is there a single person who tuned to TSN at exactly10:17 just to watch the sports news? Hasn’t every single viewer seen the game winning goal in overtime? You look stupid when you treat the audience stupidly. I don’t know if is sheer laziness, you produced the opening an hour ago and you don’t want to change it, or you just don’t care. I suspect the former.

Sports news on television plays to teenage boys. Sure adults watch too, but I find it hard to believe they, the adults, are anything more than casual observers who don’t have anything else to watch until CTV news comes on at 11.

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Where was the News?

After seventeen glorious days the Olympics have come to an end. In Canada all seems right with the world. We won the most gold medals ever and of course, maybe more importantly, we won gold in hockey. The universe has unfolded as it should, at least north of the 49th parallel.

I will resist the inclination to heap too much more praise on the Olympic broadcasters. I thought they did a great job, some of you have had very specific complaints, I would characterize them as niggles. All I will say is that no Olympics has ever had total coverage in high definition of all the sports from all the venues. The fact that you had to be a subscriber to many of the channels is not the consortium’s fault. It was made clear from the time CTV, Rogers, APTN etcetera won the right to cover the games that events would appear on all the various and sundry channels that came under the consortium’s umbrella. If you did have access to all the channels you could choose to see every event live and in its entirety. That is a massive technological feat and one that was delivered as promised.

Where there was a major failure was with CTV and The Globe and Mail’s coverage of actual news during the Olympics. It’s one thing to be a shill, as former CBC News and NPR boss Jeffery Dvorkin points out, this is normal. Broadcasters always hype their own events. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I am referring to CTV News going seventeen days without a proper newscast. Five minutes of Lloyd at 11 p.m. give or take ten minutes depending on what Olympic event was finishing or starting is abysmal enough. Worse, on most nights, the five minutes of news provided by CTV was taken up by three minutes of what Brian Williams had just told us about the Olympic results.

CTV can have no excuse for ignoring the news of the world. On most days because of poor weather and built in extra days to make up for bad weather, there were long stretches where nothing was going on. Brian Williams was called on many times to fill airtime when there was no event to throw to.

Further still, there are two TSNs, four Rogers Sportsnets, APTN, Much Music and more channels that were available to pick up 30 minutes of slack per day while CTV provided a decent newscast.

Over at The Globe and Mail the editors decided that if you can’t beat them join them. Day after day the news was discarded for more Olympic stories. The front section never had more than three pages of non-Olympic news…oh, unless you consider three pages of sports news tacked onto the end of the front section most days.

The Globe insists it is Canada’s national newspaper. In that case doesn’t it have a duty to cover more events in Canada and the world than the self-sponsored and self-owned Olympic coverage? If a huge non-Olympic story took place in the last two and one-half weeks I defy a Globe reader or a CTV viewer to identify it. Can’t. They just don’t know about it.

For two media, newspapers and television, that are supposed to be hard hit by the new media they showed no understanding of their precarious situation. Any news junkie who cared was forced to scour the internet for news. Some of those people will have found new sources for their news content and won’t readily return to The Globe or CTV. Only this time CTVglobemedia will have no one to blame but themselves. One question though, what did all the news reporters do for the past two weeks? A paid holiday in the south I hope.

On a completely different note, I do hope my non-Toronto readers will forgive me a short rant. Last week one of the most popular broadcasters in Toronto left his show. Andy Barrie had hosted the morning show on CBC radio for decades and he was a major success story. In a crowded market he was number one. Quite a feat for him personally and for CBC Radio. Andy was not my cup of tea, I found him soft in a crunchy granola, Birckenstock kind of way, but I was always impressed by his popularity and success.

In other words, he will be very hard act to follow. Matt Galloway, Andy’s replacement has been an excellent host of the 4 to 6 show in Toronto. Unfortunately for Matt he is replacing an icon. That’s a difficult job under any circumstances. Matt has to know that he will continually be compared to Andy by a listenership that has been loyal to Andy for a very long time. So what do the brilliant producers of the morning show do? After a week of long goodbyes and tributes to Andy Barrie, the idiots at CBC radio bring Andy back for an encore and an even longer goodbye on Matt’s first show. This is lunacy. Why can’t the bozos at CBC Radio let go?

Matt Galloway should have been given a clean start to his own show, an opportunity to make the morning show his own. Ted Koppel didn’t show up on Nightline on the next show after he retired, Walter Cronkite didn’t return for a bow on CBS Evening News, Johnny Carson didn’t return to show up Jay Leno, Harvey Kirk and Knowlton Nash didn’t come back to haunt Peter and Lloyd. This sort of thing is just not done. It’s unseemly. Andy should have known better. The producers should have known better. The fact that it happened speaks to a dysfunctional CBC.

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The Olympic Muzzle

There’s a new Olympic sized media brouhaha that’s popping up at CTVglobemedia. It appears that CTV and The Globe are so fearful of criticism of their Olympic coverage that they are willing to muzzle their own people.

A few days ago I asked Bruce Dowbiggin, The Globe’s sports media columnist, why his column has disappeared. He did not really answer my question instead changing the subject. This is not the Bruce Dowbiggin I know who is one of the straightest shooting media people in Canada. He tells it like he sees it no matter what the circumstances. Just ask Don Cherry.

Then I saw this blog by William Houston. He is the former sports media columnist for The Globe and Mail and perhaps has an insight that is unavailable to the rest of us. Here’s what Houston had to say:

Where’s the Globe’s media critic?
“Curiously, Bruce Dowbiggin, the sports broadcast columnist for The Globe and Mail, has not written a word of analysis about Vancouver Olympic TV coverage.
Chris Zelkovich, who writes on sports television for The Toronto Star, has been filing daily columns. I’m writing for Yahoo! Canada in addition to filing to this webpage. There seems to be interest in what CTV and NBC are doing.
But Bruce? He’s cobbling together quotes about the Winter Games from the international media. His Feb. 18 collection consisted of seven quotes from sources such as an NBC news release and newspaper stories in the United States and Britain.
Why isn’t Dowbiggin critiquing the coverage of CTV and NBC? I emailed him and asked, but he didn’t respond. So, let’s guess:
Bruce decided to take some time off and just enjoy the Games on TV. Or the Globe didn’t feel it necessary to analyze the CTV telecasts. (Saturday’s edition includes a short feature by sports writer James Christie on Brian Williams and announcer Rod Black.)
Or perhaps it was decided Bruce would be in an untenable conflict of interest by being required to critique the Olympic coverage of a network (CTV) that is owned by the company (CTVglobemedia) that also owns the Globe.
But, that can’t be the reason. After all, he writes about TSN and TSN2, which are owned by CTVglobemedia. Other media writers comment all the time on the work of outlets owned by the company for which they work. Phil Mushnick, the sports broadcasting columnist for The New York Post, comments on Fox Sports. Both Fox and the Post are owned by News Corp. Howard Kurtz writes on media for The Washington Post and regularly critiques his own newspaper. It can’t be a conflict of interest issue, can it? The mystery continues.”

There’s really no mystery is there. CTV is afraid of a little honest commentary. I am led to believe that while Bruce Dowbiggin is collecting quotes, John Doyle was supposed to be critiquing the coverage. Well John is missing in action on that front. Oh, like Bruce he’s in the newspaper every day but I guess he doesn’t think Olympic coverage is worthy of a column or two. Give me a break. It is all too obvious that the muzzles are on and the journalism, on this subject for sure, has been shut down.

The bigger point is that it is a nutty decision. CTV and the Olympic consortium are doing a very good job. The network, along with TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, APTN and the internet have covered the Olympics better than they have ever been covered before, anywhere. Brian Williams is doing his usual masterful job of staying on top of everything and keeping the viewers well informed, I wish CTV used Brian more often and all year round.  On Sportsnet and TSN they are doing a very credible job covering events live. The internet coverage has been excellent providing both live action and add-on information never before available at an Olympic event.

There have been some surprise stars too. James Duthie has proven to be an excellent host whose wit and presence has brightened our screens. Sale and Pelletier are the best figure skating analysts I have ever heard. Their honesty and friendly family bickering have been a breath of fresh air. Jamie Campbell has been a revelation. For several years the far too stoic voice of the Blue Jays, he has come alive at the games. His call of Canada’s first gold medal will be most memorable for years to come.

Importantly, while the Canadian athletes have “blown the podium” the CTV coverage has been as close to flawless as can be expected. These Olympics are a huge enterprise. The technology and the partnerships have made almost total coverage possible. The consortium has put it all together in a way that will spoil us for anything less in the future. Will Canadians ever settle for single channel coverage of high-lights with the odd bit of live action thrown in again? We have seen the future and we like it. No, we demand it. All you have to do is tune in NBC to see the old style coverage. I guarantee you will be back to our Canadian channels very quickly.

The consortium gets a gold medal. CTVglobemedia gets a DNF (did not finish) for their fearfulness.

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Dropping the Ball

A few years ago I was a guest on a Hamilton radio station discussing the proposition that sports journalism on television is an oxymoron. Brian Williams, who was still with CBC Sports at the time, was my opposite number on the debate. He took great umbrage at the proposition. His proof being his own excellent work on several Olympic games including the coverage of the Ben Johnson scandal and Ross Regabliatti’s near disqualification for having traces of marijuana in his blood among others.

Concerning himself, he was right. Brian Williams has made a long career of trying to actually practice sports journalism on TV. His recent Olympic and CFL mini-docs for CTV and TSN are no exception. Brian has proved to be a fine story teller and a prime example of how it should be done. But Brian could not name another television reporter who was doing the same. CBC did eventually produce an excellent weekly sports journalism show but today that’s long gone. Bruce Dowbiggin won a well deserved Gemini Award for his work on the Alan Eagleson scandal, but CBC sports refused to run his work so it ran on CBC News. Bruce is no longer a TV reporter, he’s a Globe and Mail columnist.

Now, name another sports journalist on TV today. I dare you. Rogers Sportsnet and TSN produce hours and hours of what purports to be sports “news” every week. A viewer is warned not to hold his or her breath waiting for journalism. For the most part, say 80 percent, the coverage consists of highlights from earlier action. On earlier shows there’s the odd preview of upcoming action. The rest of the show is filled with banter and lists of the top plays, best fights, whatever can be scrambled together from the archives to fill out the hours. But journalism, as in WHY an event or situation occurs and where it’s going, you won’t find it here.

It seldom existed on local television newscasts either. When you have only five or six minutes to recap the day’s events there is little room on the sportscast for actual journalism.

The one place I would expect some enterprising sports reportage in Canada is on hockey broadcasts. Now that games come in at just over two and one half hours there is a 30 minute hole to fill, and that’s on top of two 15 minute between period segments. So where are the stories? Where’s the field work? Where’s the old “up-close-and-personals” that we see on the NFL coverage and even NBA coverage. The same sportscasters that lament the lack of star power in hockey are doing nothing to alleviate the problem.

Hockey Night in Canada is truly a wasteland. The first intermission is always Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry and Ron MacLean. I will be the first to admit that it’s an entertaining segment. It’s like waiting for a train wreck. When is Don going to say something stupid about fighting or foreign born players? How will Ron get a word in and when he does what silly pun will the viewers be treated to? Between Don’s “I told you so’s” and Ron’s slavish support of the dinosaurs of hockey it is all too predictable and lacks any semblance of information.

Cut to the second intermission and the viewer is treated to a panel of rumor mongers led by Al Strachan. Has anyone kept tabs on how many times Al’s insights turn out to be correct? I suspect they are few. In any case this is inside hockey talk that speaks to a small minority of Canadians. If you want to sell the game and increase the ratings it’s time to go back to story telling. When I was a youngster there were actual feature stories on players, coaches, owners, referees, etc. They created interest in the people around hockey. They introduced us to the personalities that make any sport more accessible.

It’s not any better at TSN. The same panel returns intermission after intermission with the same predictable opinions. No depth. Nothing new. Cheapo TV that fills minutes rather than enterprising reporting and journalism that could really wow an audience. On TSN they even use the same formula for football, but at least on CFL coverage they do have the Brian Williams stories.

It is frightening to see how low game coverage has sunk to in Canada. Interestingly this has come at a time when sports journalism has been growing by leaps and bounds in this country. The newspapers are doing a great job. The Globe and Mail in particular has a fine group of writers and columnists. You seldom pick up a sports section without seeing great stories, interesting commentary and real insight into what is happening in the sports world. Writers like Stephen Brunt, Dave Shoalts, and Bruce Dowbiggin in the Globe and Damien Cox and Doug Smith in the Toronto Star never seem to fail in finding new stories and new angles that make one think about sports in new and interesting ways. They engage their readers with new information and new insights.

Even on radio, where sports radio has talk shows like Bob McCown’s show on The Fan 590, to delve into the issues by going to experts and people in the know. Sure, they have panels too, but they don’t stop there. McCown and the other radio hosts get interviews with general managers, coaches and players. They talk to Jim Balsillie and his lawyers. They get legal experts and business experts to help us understand the underlying decisions being made by leagues and teams. There is a strong attempt to answer the only real journalistic question: WHY.

At a time when sports is as much about the legal and business affairs of players, teams and leagues Canadian television is dropping the ball.

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About the Author

Howard Bernstein is a former TV producer. He has worked at CBC,CTV, Global and has produced shows for most Canadian channels as an independent producer.

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