Another facelift for the mother ship - Macleans.ca
 

Another facelift for the mother ship

Will new graphics, music and sets, and a fresh political image, help fix the ratings problem?


 

Another facelift for the mother shipThis won’t be your grandparents’ The National. At least, that’s what the folks at the CBC are hoping. In its seemingly never-ending bid to attract younger viewers, the public broadcaster is rebranding its newscasts, with new sets, new graphics, new music, new faces—new everything. Never mind that just last March, having made unsuccessful pleas for a bridge loan from the federal government, the CBC announced it was facing a budgetary shortfall worth a staggering $171 million. In all, 800 jobs would be eliminated, along with a host of television and radio shows. And many of the programs that survived the onslaught were facing drastically reduced budgets.

Indeed, The National’s current identity is a mere three years old. “Humming the new five musical notes that now introduce all our major newscasts will soon become a Canadian rite of passage,” Tony Burman, then editor-in-chief of CBC News, had promised when it was revealed. The 2006 overhaul also represented the ushering in of a new philosophy. In Burman’s words, it was “a sweeping, even radical beginning.” The changes were based on a massive study commissioned by the CBC that recommended its newscasts feature longer, more complex items and “fewer forgettable stories tied to contrived or empty news ‘events.’ ” “We needn’t be slaves to an outmoded, commercially driven, old-fashioned news,” Burman wrote in a 2005 memo to senior news staff. But 18 months after the format’s debut, he was gone and CBC News was embarking on another overhaul—this time in the opposite direction.

As in 2006, the changes audiences will see on TV screens are just the thin edge of the wedge—there’s a big shift unfolding behind the scenes. According to the CBC’s marketing materials, the latest iteration of The National promises more “live, event-driven news.” And virtually every news program at the CBC is likewise getting a facelift. Newsworld, the network’s dedicated news channel, is set to adopt CP24’s ticker-heavy aesthetic, streaming local weather, news, and breaking information using banners on the screen. Local news broadcasts have already been expanded to 90 minutes and their new format may provide a glimpse of what’s to come at The National. “It’s much more about being live and immediate,” says CBC Montreal news director Mary-Jo Barr, “being on top of stories as they develop instead of full thought-out think pieces looking back on the day.”

The revamp hasn’t been embraced by everyone at the corporation, with some saying it represents nothing less than an abdication of the CBC’s mandate. Critics point out that the shift away from more comprehensive news coverage dovetails with the CBC’s decision to hire U.S.-based consultants Frank N. Magid Associates, Inc., who made their name with the “eyewitness news” concept that’s been adopted by most local broadcasts south of the border. “Magid is a sore point among folks who work for local news,” says Lise Lareau, president of the Canadian Media Guild, the union that represents CBC newsroom employees. “He believes in short, snappy news, playing to fear [on issues such as] weather and crime. Basically, if it bleeds it leads—and mile-wide and inch-deep.”

Along with its formats, the CBC also appears to be questioning its ideological bearings. It has undertaken an ambitious three-year study costing an estimated $1.5 million to gauge whether its news division is as ideologically unbalanced as its critics claim. (One issue identified in a 2005 report on the news division’s operations was “that some in our audience, if not the majority, feel the CBC too often reflects a liberal perspective . . .”) CBC spokesperson Jeff Keay insists the study isn’t a direct response to those charges, but says it’s “something we can use, that’s got some empirical depth behind it.”

Regardless, the CBC is desperately in need of viewers. With its news show ratings stuck well behind those of its private competitors, it has struggled to attract ad dollars. Years of cutbacks have left local news broadcasts, usually much more profitable than their national counterparts, in especially bad shape. “The core issues at CBC News have to do with a horrendous financing problem,” says a former senior CBC News employee. “The existing strategy was a financial failure before the downturn. It has since turned from a financial failure into a financial catastrophe.” The network has tried to turn the tide by differentiating itself from its private competitors. Now it appears resigned to swim with them.


 
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Another facelift for the mother ship

  1. If The National is to become an hour long CTV News, I won't be watching any nightly news at all. One of the few things that CBC has going for it is a 'business' model where an in-depth look at issues was treated as a worthwhile and legitimate approach to disseminating the news. If they want to copy the format of the private broadcasters, they are hastening their demise through irrelevancy and becoming that much more indefensible.

    If they want to dumb down The National, just get rid of it altogether and spend the money covering and disseminating the news in areas where private broadcasters can't remain profitable.

    But please continue to co-produce The Tudors.

  2. I think any government-funded enterprise is bound to be unprofitable in the long run, but in this case I believe the primary problem is indeed left-biased news coverage. Kudos to CBC for investigating the problem with an eye to addressing it.

  3. I think any government-funded enterprise is bound to be unprofitable in the long run, but in this case I believe the primary problem is indeed left-biased news coverage. Kudos to CBC for investigating the problem with an eye to addressing it.

    I'm not sure "mile-wide and inch-deep" is such a good idea, but it can't be worse than the status quo.

  4. I think any government-funded enterprise is bound to be unprofitable in the long run, but in this case I believe the primary problem is indeed left-biased news coverage. Kudos to CBC for investigating the problem with an eye to addressing it.

    I'm not sure "mile-wide and inch-deep" is such a good idea, but it's bound to be better then the status quo.

  5. It has undertaken an ambitious three-year study costing an estimated $1.5 million to gauge whether its news division is as ideologically unbalanced as its critics claim. (One issue identified in a 2005 report on the news division's operations was “that some in our audience, if not the majority, feel the CBC too often reflects a liberal perspective . . .”)

    Unbalanced , the hell you say .

  6. This is no facelift. It's a lobotomy. I'm picturing my least favourite, breathless newscasters there now moving up the chain while those with a bit of depth will be taking the boomers buy-out.

  7. Regardless, the CBC is desperately in need of viewers. With its news show ratings stuck well behind those of its private competitors, it has struggled to attract ad dollars.

    The CBC is desperately in need of no longer existing!!! Time was, you covered every square inch of the territory with radio and TV signals from CBC & SRC so that every Canadian could get English and French broadcasts. Now, point your own personal rooftop dish and you've got 300+ channels. The raison d'être of the CBC has vanished. But, alas, the CBC has not.

    Creations of government never die. They just continue as line items in budgets year after year after year after year after year…

  8. I think it would be a brave new world for the CBC if they actually embraced diversity rather than merely espousing it. That means giving a real voice to intelligent political opinion throughout the ideological spectrum. The fact that they still pose the question of whether a bias actually exists within in the CBC indicates that the culture within that institution may be incapable of such a drastic change. The CBC has lost relevance because of its predictability – that it will always follow an agenda. Even people that follow the same agenda get tired of being spoon-fed patronizing material. Is there a place for a public broadcaster in Canada? Absolutely, Canadians will always need boost the introspective fabric of the country given the monolithic culture to our south. Can the executives within the institution transform the culture, which includes the ugly task of chopping deadwood and replacing it with people they are politically uncomfortable with? Extremely unlikely. Perhaps they hire a Steyn and let him off the leash for half an hour every week – that is about as much as I would expect from this next step in a series of fail steps to make itself relevant.

  9. I think it would be a brave new world for the CBC if they actually embraced diversity rather than merely espousing it. That means giving a real voice to intelligent political opinion throughout the ideological spectrum. The fact that they still pose the question of whether a bias actually exists within in the CBC indicates that the culture within that institution may be incapable of such a drastic change. The CBC has lost relevance because of its predictability – that it will always follow an agenda. Even people that follow the same agenda get tired of being spoon-fed patronizing material.

    Is there a place for a public broadcaster in Canada? Absolutely, Canada will always need to boost the introspective fabric of the country given the monolithic culture to our south. Can the executives within the institution transform the culture, which includes the ugly task of chopping deadwood and replacing it with people they are politically uncomfortable with? Extremely unlikely. Perhaps they hire a Steyn and let him off the leash for half an hour every week – that is about as much as I would expect from this next step in a series of fail steps to make itself relevant.

  10. I think it would be a brave new world for the CBC if they actually embraced diversity rather than merely espousing it. That means giving a real voice to intelligent political opinion throughout the ideological spectrum. The fact that they still pose the question of whether a bias actually exists within in the CBC indicates that the culture within that institution may be incapable of such a drastic change. The CBC has lost relevance because of its predictability – that it will always follow an agenda. Even people that follow the same agenda get tired of being spoon-fed patronizing material. Is there a place for a public broadcaster in Canada? Absolutely, Canada will always need to boost the introspective fabric of the country given the monolithic culture to our south. Can the executives within the institution transform the culture, which includes the ugly task of chopping deadwood and replacing it with people they are politically uncomfortable with? Extremely unlikely. Perhaps they hire a Steyn and let him off the leash for half an hour every week – that is about as much as I would expect from this next step in a series of fail steps to make itself relevant.

    • That is an excellent point you make about diversity. Rather than worrying about maintaining diversity in irrelevant physical characteristics, a news/opinion channel should really be worried about fostering diversity of ideas.

      I disagree with your outlook concerning their intentions however. For a media organization even to admit the possibility of leftward bias is a remarkable step forward – I once had a friend who faced legal action just for suggesting it about the CBC! Now they're investigating it themselves, their Ombudsman openly admitted the problem last year, and their online editor published a letter promising to improve.

      They've come a long way. It's just the beginning of the beginning but I think there's hope here.

      • Well I hope you are right. My pessimism lies in the extremely resilient nature of established culture within a public-and-paradoxically closed institution.

  11. The CBC is definitely too Liberal. They sometimes appear to be an arm of the Liberal propaganda machine.

    I'm not hiring US consultants to evaluate Canadian tastes is a real good idea. I don't want a US style news program.

    I love CBC Radio One. They need to take the same sense of "cool" on shows like "Q" and "DNTO" and produce TV equivalents. I would love to see "The Debaters" on TV.

    I would hate to see the CBC disappear because it is vital to us maintaining an identity seperate from the US.

  12. I note that even the fm radio people ( eg on music programmes) are droppin' their "g"s. Is this a mistaken attempt to be folksy or "with it" ?

  13. The CBC should remain, but they should be informed to broadcast news as it happens, and do not put a Liberal Party spin on anything. Some blatantly liberal reporters should be fired.

  14. Who'd be left ?

    • Not very many.

      • proverbial crickets chirping

  15. Wondering how much Mansbridge brings in, and whether they are considering replacing him. I find him to be honest and hardworking, with a real interest in the story he is presenting while some of the lesser reporters need to gain much more perspective, or be replaced.
    Also, I hope they start to realize that not everything is centered in the Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal corridor….I guess we will see.

  16. How is the CBC still considered Liberal? They go out of their way to avoid being being seen as left wing they are pretty right wing these days.

    Just look at their at issue panel. Andrew Coyne – Conservative. Rex Murphy – Conservative. Alan Gregg – Conservative. Sometimes Don Martin – Conservative. Chantel Herbert – maybe a centrist. There is no left wing perspective there or on the national at all really.

    • absolutely right on.. this "facelift sounds like a disater in the making

  17. Can someone tell me why a national weather forecast is needed, when there is the internet, the weather channel, etc available?

  18. Kevin, you make a good point. CBC in general is left wing though. Like take that show DOC zone. Its all left wing and sometimes extreme left wing documentaries. If people see that stuff enough they may believe it. You would never see a documentary on tv about how taxes are too high, unions may be coorupt, we are too soft on crime or that drugs are bad.

  19. As an American who has always lived near the border and watched CBC for years, for God's sake DO NOT make it like US broadcasts. The national at 10 and the CBC News at 7 am are the only sane news programs I can watch.

    As far as a liberal bias, it's a myth. If you want to see truly unbalanced news, compare a typical CBC broadcast to Fox or MSNBC.

    On Election Day 2008, I was in London, ON on business and was fortunate enough to watch the US election results on CBC. It was truly refreshing.

    One of the greatest things about living in upstate NY is to be able to be close to Canada and see a different perspective of the world. If CBC is to survive, it should promote Canadian uniqueness and not become a American TV network clone like CTV has become.

  20. I think the CBC should be broken up, sold off and privatized. And FOX rules! It's lively, informative and fun.

  21. Does that means local and national news coverage won't be inundated by sour faced female mafia? It's shameful in the perceived need to promote females as equals to men in the CBC heirachy, the pendulum has shifted to the rare male reporter out in the field braving bullets and hurricanes while females rule the airwaves – in perception, appearance and ideology. What happened to balanced reporting and at least some attempt at gender equality in media messaging?

    • I agree with you. A good 95% of the tv reporters are all females. I have only seen 4 males on newscasts/week. There is a definite imbalance between the sexes. It seems as though the females at CBC try to overtake the men and make the men feel unsuperior somehow. It sure would be nice to wake up in the morning and see a balanced news show on CBC newsworld. I feel like i am watching "The View". Yikes!

  22. $1.5 million to study whether it's left-leaning. That money could have hired 20 more left-wing journalists for a year. What a shame.

  23. The plan… "being on top of stories as they develop instead of full thought-out think pieces looking back on the day.”

    Funny: on the rare occasions that I'd watch CBC news, it was entirely for the purpose of watching "full, thought-out think pieces looking back on the day." The fewer of these they have, the more likely I'll stop watching altogether.

    I'd love to see a list reviewing the thirty-odd changes to CBC news time, format, graphics, branding, and so on which have all failed to do anything but justify the next round of consultants and pointless experiments. What I want is good, old fashioned journalism. I don't even mind if it's a little on the liberal side provided there's actual news value to the reporting.

    Is that so hard to stick to?