The News Dilution Show

This morning in the Beach, I bumped into the Toronto posse gathering the news. I said hi.

Microwave truck and van. Legend: CBC. Toronto lives here

And right now in the Atlantic provinces, the new 90-minute TV newscasts go to air.

Things you know already:

  1. News was expanded by half but budgets and personnel weren’t.
  2. News was bumped to reschedule foreign shows with high ratings into a block. A new foreign show leads into the news.
  3. Barely anybody watches TV at 5:00 or 5:30.
  4. The province with an undying, decades-long thirst for local news, PEI, didn’t get an airtime increase.

This will probably not end well. You know that already too.

But I’ve got a concern I haven’t seen articulated yet, so here goes. A lot of people say the issue is “How are they gonna fill 7½ hours a week?” But my issue is “How are they gonna fill 7½ hours a week with anything but the easiest and most expedient stories?”

One day last week (I think Wednesday), CBC News at Six’s lede was the kidnapping in California. The next day, second piece in the lineup was the confirmation that MJ’s death was ruled a homicide.

The former example is what I expect a station in Rochester, Minnesota or Bozeman, Montana to do: Use a network feed as an easy way to eat up three minutes. Those stations still wouldn’t be covering their own cities, but at least they’d be covering news that took place in their own country. Those stories make sense as local news only in Los Angeles.

That’s a really obvious and egregious misuse of a local newscast. So obvious and egregious Ian Morrison will surely be putting out a press release, half of which might be made up. It’s a temptation to be avoided.

What I’m more worried about is the temptation to cover easy, even facile stories. Like recapitulating what the local paper covered that morning – egregiously in Toronto, running out to shoot whatever was in the Greater Toronto section of the Star. Or full segments on stories that deserve at best a ten-second narrated mention with B-roll, like when a piece of glass or concrete or a sign falls off a building within walking distance of Fort Dork. How cold the summer’s been. A report spurred by a government press release, with obligatory streeters afterward.

If you want to know what I’m talking about, watch CityNews at Six on the weekends on CITY-TV. It’s four minutes of something resembling news, then six minutes of Michael Serapio biting his tongue and barely maintaining his dignity interviewing kids at the equivalent of the county fair, then a couple of minutes of “international” coverage using syndicated video. The rest of the show is pro sports and weather. Aaand that’s your news.

This lineup barely changes even when something major happens on a weekend, like the Sunrise propane explosion (an actual example – I watched and checked).

So the thing I’m worried about is CBC will fill the extra half-hour with anything that they can shoot fast that meets some wide, begrudging definition of “news.” Something else they’ll do is what they already do: Repeat the top stories at half-hour intervals, now with the added twist that maybe only the first half of a story will get reported at the outset. Tune in at 6:30 5:30 for the rest! (Steven D’Souza did that just last week.)

And if you want a harbinger of this future, call up CHCH on your cable or satellite or rabbit ears. It’s under new management as of today and ostensibly it has an all-news-all-morning-and-afternoon format. They’re already covering nothing in particular, the signal looks like it came from PAL-format VHS, and the first thing to go was captioning. This is not a future I relish for CBC Television.


I’m gonna suggest that the secret here is not epitomized by the old saw “do more with less.” How about doing something different?

There’s still gonna be a bottleneck of people, cameras, edit suites, money. Those could queer even the best-laid plans. But what I’m talking about here aren’t superficial stories or piped-in video from another country. These stories are not more of the same. It isn’t old wine in new bottles. It’s new wine.