I'm your audience, CBC — for now

Russell Wangersky
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First of all, I know I work for the competition. CBC Radio and The Telegram both cover news and current events, and both try to find a way to attract the most possible listeners, readers and webusers.

But in addition to being a competitor, I’m also a regular listener, and as a taxpayer, an investor, as well.

And while I’ve been onside for years with the idea that CBC Radio, as a national broadcaster, should remain commercial-free, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m hopelessly deluded.

Why? Because CBC Radio is not commercial free. In fact, it’s staggering closer and closer to the world of private radio.

It’s just that all the ads — more and more of them all the time — are for the CBC itself.

I understand the need for self-promotion in the modern world: attention spans are short, and if you don’t highlight the elements you’re going to deliver later on in the hour, you run the risk of losing your audience during the latest must-run interview with the producers of a different CBC production.

But eventually, you cross the line to being a paid shill for yourself — and, locally, I think CBC Radio has finally crossed that line.

Many of the CBC’s self-promotional ads have all the subtlety of a 1990s B&K Carpet commercial, along with the use of CBC news reporters — primarily using Zac Goudie’s distinctively modulated pipes — doing the voiceover for the commercials.

Monday’s St. John’s “Morning Show” included a lengthy interview with present and former “Fisheries Broadcast” hosts, an interview with CBC Television’s “Village on a Diet,” a regular segment promoting what’s on the CBC website and an absolutely endless parade of promotions and contests for the show’s Shrove Tuesday pancake breakfast. Win a dory. Win a CBC “Morning Show” mug. Win a dory full of mugs — and provide the CBC with more self-promotional content at the same time.

I hate to say this, but they’ve out-Heralded the Newfoundland Herald. And if the CBC is going to be just a slightly more-self-righteous version of every other radio player on the dial, what exactly is the point?

I hate to say this, because I’m a dedicated listener.

I’m a dedicated listener, even though the modern CBC seems intent on driving self-promotion right into their newscasts, pumping themselves up with “CBC has learned” tags at the top of virtually every story, even when some of the things they’ve “learned” came from press conference that every other media outlet in the province has been at, as well.

Count how many of those you hear in a week, and ask yourself a simple question: if the station is willing to overinflate its play of a story, what else will it overinflate?

How bad has it been? Well, even though I would call myself the very kind of listener the CBC would like to have in its corner — interested, involved and curious — more and more, I reach out that index finger in the car in the middle of local shows and turn the radio off.

Valuable work

This is not to say that local CBC Radio is not doing tremendous work: it still does, and its newscasts — put together with substantially fewer resources than was the case even five years ago — often lead the province in breaking news.

There is not one single local radio show that I think does not have value. At the same time, there’s not one single local radio show that I have not turned off in absolute frustration.

Maybe I’m kidding myself, and I’m not the kind of listener they want — but I’m the kind they’ve got. At least, I am for now.

One other footnote while we’re still on the topic of the privatization of CBC broadcasts — but this time, CBC Television.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the use of audiotape from pilots on Cougar flight 491, in part to answer fellow columnist Bob Wakeham’s argument that playing emotionally strong tape constituted excellent journalism. Effective, yes, I argued: good journalism, no.

CBC’s “Here and Now” actually added something to that argument last week. Completely without context and without any connection to this province, they broadcast segments of an enraged driver in Brazil mowing down a bicycle protest because he was tired of being delayed, and footage of a midwestern tornado. The pieces ran simply because the show had dramatic video footage.

There is a place for important, emotionally strong stories; there is also an abiding human desire to watch disasters. The two concepts sometimes cross over.

Often, though, they’re just cheap and otherwise meaningless tape.

Russell Wangersky is the editorial page editor of The Telegram. He can be reached by email at rwanger@thetelegram.com.

Organizations: CBC Radio, The Telegram

Geographic location: Brazil

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Recent comments

  • Fisheries Broadcast needs to investigate matters.
    March 09, 2011 - 07:50

    What I would like to see is that CBC's Fisheries Broadcast get into the meat and potatoes of the malaise that is affecting the fishing industry in Newfoundland and Labrador. God forbid that the show should try and relate why a province with adjacency to the resource is so anaemic in that industry; and the fact that the Ottawa Government holds the fish quotas would have anything to do with its demise. I guess it is akin to having the fox guard the henhouse, having CBC, another entity of Ottawa, not only owning the 'fish quotas' but also owing the Fisheries Broadcast show. I am sure the folks for the Broadcast show have a very narrow mandate, so unless things change in that department, we cannot expect any more revealations than we are getting at the moment. What a show it really could be, though, if some money for investigative journalism could be put into it! I am not blaming the messenger on that show, he is good reporter, but he cannot go beyond where he is not authorized to go.

  • Jacob
    March 08, 2011 - 14:20

    Russell I'm in your corner on this. I quit the Morning Show months ago. My reason for that was the stupid triviality of the road reports. But CBC crossed the line with me last week when they broadcast the "news" a pervert smelled his stepdaughter's underwear. That right behind the suppertime close up of a dogsh#t infested shed. But I suppose that all was a fitting background to the pervert who designed the Here & Now desk. It fits right in with the hostess's dingy choice of wardrobe. A while ago Radio Noon's (none of 'em on that show ever heard of the word Newfoundland) Ramona Dearing interviewed now retired classy reporter Larry Hudson. Larry was critical of current photographers sticking a camera right into the face of somebody else's grief. It didn't do any good.

  • Fintip
    March 08, 2011 - 13:57

    "CBC is breaking more stories, on more platforms, from more parts of the province than any other news agency in the province." - David Cochrane That is a patently false claim. Indeed if it were true, CBC wouldn't be running a very distant second behind NTV in the 6 o'clock news slot. That said, Cochrane is a fine journalist as are most reporters at CBC. The problem is that they are trying to produce a news cast on a shoe string (and doing a poor job of it at that). Just like Taco Bell, what they're serving to the public is at least 60% filler. They switch from local to national or international news and back to local haphazardly in hopes the viewer won't notice how little local content there is. At times, more than one-half of the local segment is weather. And then Johnathan Crowe takes 10 minutes every broadcast to air viewer opinions on a story he has just read. In fact, he stops after the story-du-jour to issue a desperate plea to viewers to send in their opinions - anything to fill air time dirt cheap. Who does the CBC NL management think they are fooling. People have been voting with their clickers for years now and CBC keeps coming out on bottom. Cochrane and the other reporters are not responsible for this state of affairs but nor should they allow themselves to be used as apologists for those who are. In fact Mothercorp is so sensitive to criticism that when I recently commented on their incredibly inaccurate coverage of a major story in this province, they declined to post it on their website. Let's hope the recent pronouncements from the head office of the corporation (or the 'corpse' as it is popularly known on the mainland) promising the restoration of funding for regional broadcasting has more substance than last night's 'Here and Now' show. Otherwise they should start calling it the 'Now and Then' newscast.

  • Steve
    March 08, 2011 - 12:12

    David, I would take your team into battle too, because your direct competition is the NTV news, where tough questions directed at politicians are a rarity. Local CBC investigative journalism used to be at a level of excellence which we simply do not see today. NTV was not even a factor back then. There are certain individuals, yourself included, who are indispensable to CBC news, however we just don't see enough of the kind of work that CBC used to produce in this vein. When your competition is crap, all you have to be is crap plus one. I know you personally and some of your coworkers aim higher, but I would question whether producers, management, and those with the purse strings at HQ really give a toss about what's on the news here. I can believe that you're winning national awards, because CBC is the best we have in this country in terms of journalism, and you're probably the best supper hour newscast (or "show") but overall the quality and quantity have gone down. As we know, the ratings for NTV went up over the years and Here and Now went down. NTV didn't improve its product, but Here and Now's went downhill, and they've never recovered.

  • mary
    March 08, 2011 - 12:04

    I stopped watching CBC news ages ago and I have recently found myself spending less and less time on their website. There isn't indepth reporting anymore and I don't need a endless stream of "breaking news" lines. I think they are supposed to be offering more local stories on the website - for me that has seemingly translated into more crime related reports. To be fair - NTV is not much better when it comes to the weather reporting - I think it takes up 1/2 of the news hour! The other half is commercial.... And their website is terrible, I have tried using that as a news source and just gave up completely.

  • Ursula Dowler
    March 08, 2011 - 11:55

    @Cochrane : Methinks thou doth protest too much , and I am usually accurate within 2% ,19 times out of 20 .

  • Ursula Dowler
    March 08, 2011 - 11:19

    There was a time when CBC set the benchmark for what could be construed as ethical journalism . Their programing now seems to be all about ratings , they are quite ready to leave behind their loyal audience , in search of those elusive viewers who want tabloid TV and voyeurism . Unlike the authors reluctance to move on , I have no qualms about tuning out and turning off CBC .

  • Scrap the CBC
    March 08, 2011 - 11:14

    I always thought Russell Wangersky was a fair journalist. But, now knowing he is a fan of the CBC, I am not sure anymore. The CBC is nothing but a a mouth peice for left leaning propagandists. You hardly see a right leaning person, be it in politics, businnes, religion, or anything get a fair showing in the CBC, but left wingers have unfettered positive access. If the CBC is paid for by Canadians it should reflect all Canadians, not just some. If the CBC (esp CBC TV) is out there in the market taking viewers from other stations and esp taking advertising dollars, they should be made private as they are no different than any other business. When the CBC was founded maybe there was no viable national alternative so they were needed, but now there is CTV, TVA, and Global. Yes they do provide Canadian content, but government can easily regulate Canadian content on other stations. If there is a demand for the CBC, let the market and donations from people like Russell Wangersky pay for it, not my taxes.

    • Rob S
      March 26, 2011 - 23:31

      I have to agree that listening to the CBC has become an exercise in frustration. They only present left wing ideas and conduct interviews with left wing minded people. They are becoming silly in the level of anti-government rhetoric they spout on a daily basis. "As it happens" has to be the worst. There is never an opportunity for any rebuttal from the right.

  • Craig Jackson
    March 08, 2011 - 10:46

    I understand the point Russell Wangersky is making in his column RE: CBC and self advertising. However, I don't think the issue should be taken to the level that somehow CBC's reporters aren't doing a good job. With any newsroom, you have to bring in younger staff to replace those ending their careers., And, while many of the newcomers have a lot to learn, they are very intelligent journalists. I don't take any issue with the level of reporting at CBC. I admit being bugged during the supper hour news when technicians put up the wrong clips when Debbie and Jonathan are anchoring the news, but technical issues happen everywhere - TV, Radio and Print. CBC brass have decided a particular approach to self-advertising. While it may be over the top sometimes, welcome to 2011. For those of us in the industry, swallow what is reality - This is 2011, a new era for journalism. Craig Jackson, Telegram News Editor

  • Austin
    March 08, 2011 - 10:16

    I had the privelege of working in the media in Nfld many years ago and we prided ourselves on getting the most up to date news on air ASAP. There was clean competition among the media outlets, each one trying to get the details on stories that others missed. Nowadays, the emphasis is on what happened a few days ago (not on updates but repeating what we already heard). I don't need Saturday's news on Mondays unless some new information is added. I don't need six weather reports on Here and Now every night, each more complicated than the last one. Is up to date news and no re-hashing, too much to ask for and get?

    • David Cochrane
      March 08, 2011 - 11:02

      The young reporters in our newsroom have enormous potential and I'm already proud to call them my co-workers. There is a reason why CBC Newfoundland and Labrador wins more peer-reviewed journalism awards than any other newsroom in the province. I'm part of a smart, hard-working dedicated team of reporters, producers, videographers and editors. Are we perfect? Of course not. People in every profession make mistakes. But I will take my team into battle any day of the week. People will always quibble with and criticize the CBC. That's the burden that comes with being a public broadcaster. But I don't think its fair to say journalism has ''gone down the drain'' or that our young reporters are doing ''fluff.'' CBC is breaking more stories, on more platforms, from more parts of the province than any other news agency in the province. As I said, I'm proud of my team. As for self-marketing and self-promotion, that happens everywhere. http://www.thetelegram.com/News/Local/2011-03-08/article-2311416/Telegram-staff-pancake-breakfast-supports-food-drive/1 http://www.thetelegram.com/News/Local/2010-11-18/article-1973850/Digital-newspapers-to-reach-every-student-in-province/1 http://thetelegram.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx http://www.thetelegram.com/Arts---Life/Festivals-%26amp%3B-events/2009-02-03/article-1450990/Wangersky-wins-national-non-fiction-prize/1 http://www.thetelegram.com/News/Local/2010-10-16/article-1854668/Author,-premier-team-up-for-book-launch/1

  • James II
    March 08, 2011 - 08:58

    You almost had me Russell until you dragged the Cougar disaster into it. I realized then that it was only re-hash of your lousy line of logic from last week's column that CBC was guilty of junk journalism and sensationalism by airing the cockpit tapes. Wakeham still gets my vote on that one. It is true in the meantime that CBC news coverage in this province has gone down hill big time over the past decade - but then so has the Telegram's. Given the time it takes to wash the cheap ink off my hands, I can't say I much care anymore whether I pick up a copy or not. I'm old enough to remember the hedyays of the old Herder owned Telegram. It was a great paper then. Now its owned by a Quebec outft that could care less about real jouralism. In fact the only local media that has improved its news production in the past decade is NTV. And to think Jeff kept CBC out of Newfoundland for years because he was afraid of the competion!

  • Don
    March 08, 2011 - 08:52

    I agree with Steve. Journalism in Newfoundland has gone down the drain. The younger reporters are good at doing fluff and picking stories off the news wire service and that is it. There are a couple of female reporters who are so biased in favor of the Government in their reporting that they may as well go work for the Government and be done with it. There is no investigative reporting happening anymore. Most reporters are lazy and are simply marking time while trying to avoid doing negative stories about the Government so they won't damage their chances at getting the next Communications Director job that comes open at Confederation Building. Where are the likes of Ray Guy, Bill Callahan, Deanne Fleet and Russell Wangersky when you need them?

  • Steve
    March 08, 2011 - 07:30

    Russell, I agree. CBC, particularly TV, but also radio to some extent, have been moving towards the US infotainment model for some time now. How many times do I have to see the GD weather on Here and Now? I can get it in 30 seconds any time I want on the internet. I also saw that Brazilian clip of the guy mowing down the motorcycles, and I totally agree - it's pure shock journalism at its best. I don't need CBC to be a Howard Stern "light" - I need good investigative journalism. By the way, a lot of the young reporters, such as Zack Goudie, are great on music and puff pieces, but I think they would be totally lost if they had to interview the Premier. A lot of the younger reporters (who are my age, by the way) don't seem to have the depth to appreciate and really dig into political stories. You've got David Cochrane, and a few of the older ones such as Doug Greer and David Zelcer, and whatsername with the deep voice, and that's it. I watch and listen to CBC waiting and hoping for in depth local content, particularly investigative journalism. I'm having to wait longer and longer between fluff for something worthwhile. I tape here and now everyday on the PVR. I can easily watch it in about 15 minutes based on what's actually there in terms of content.