CBC's stand-up act - Macleans.ca

CBC’s stand-up act

Two hours of frantic kineticism is exhausting, but the good outweighs the bad in the relaunch of CBC news


It needs to be said that the stem-to-gudgeon relaunch of CBC news today — radio, cable network, flagship newscast, website — shows a hearty re-dedication to the proposition that news matters, and that the public broadcaster should be putting news at the centre of its mission, that should be applauded. Last spring, while mocking the Globe‘s publisher, I took a one-paragraph detour to claim, based on then-ambient rumours, that Don Newman’s show might not be replaced and that the Corp was therefore “trying to decide whether the number of hours of dedicated political coverage in a day should be one or zero, instead of, say, three or six.” Well, things evolved: now pretty much the whole day at Newsworld Network is about breaking news, with an emphasis on politics that reaches its summit with a two-hour dinnertime politics orgy on Evan Solomon’s palatial set.

(The Globe, meanwhile, is a more substantial paper, on most days, than it was before Phil Crawley switched editors. And the Toronto Star is re-energized, very much in line with its traditions dating back more than half a century, under Mike Cooke’s stewardship. And we’re doing our thing at Maclean’s, and Steve Maich has started to transform Canadian Business, and La Presse assuredly will survive its current troubles. Against impossible odds, and even taking the Canwest capsizing into account, I think much of Canada’s media landscape actually looks brighter today than a year ago. I anticipate many furious rebuttals to this paragraph in the comments.)

But the CBC relaunch is a bit of a mixed bag. The deeper news hole is, clearly, a hell of a challenge to fill on a day when there actually isn’t all that much going on in the world. And no amount of frenetic urgency from a dizzying succession of hosts, all of them bolt upright on hind legs as though they had been forbidden the use of their asses (jazz hands, everyone! Motion motion motion!) can substitute for the purposeful use of the extra time the network has allotted itself.

Two hours of frantic kineticism is exhausting. An endless succession of tidbits is not more satisfying than the staid pokeyness of the old CBC: if they don’t start stretching out and luxuriating in the richness of a couple of stories soon, they’re going to become the Official Network of ADD. Tonight’s National had some news, then a long promo for some story we’re not going to get to see until tomorrow, then some news, then an absurd buildup to a promise from Jian Gomeshi that we’re going to hear him interview Gustavo Dudamel tomorrow morning on the radio, then some more news. It is deadly to the show’s credibility if I can’t tell the difference between news and promos-for-news. That whole idea is a visitation from the Dept. of Somebody Thought It Was A Good Idea, just like those gruelling years when Hana Gartner would come on at 10:20 to act out our confusion in expressive dance, instead of doing anything to dispel it. As for Wendy Mesley’s wacky trip to the bookstore in an H1N1 survival suit, well, we can’t accuse the Corp of refusing to take any risks, now can we.

I think the good news substantially outweighs the bad here. The newshole the CBC has opened up is immense; each of those new shows clearly has the attention of a lot of hardworking people; they’re clearly not just punching time clocks. Our 2005 relaunch at Maclean’s erred on the side of nervous jumpiness too. There’s the potential here for a news operation that impresses instead of merely dazzling. First they just need to stop flashing all those strobe lights in our eyes.

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