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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.