The Garret Tree
Saturday, October 01, 2005
  CBC 123: We need a reporter-driven CBC News

Wnat has made the news provided by the locked out for the past seven weeks so attractive to the audience, the audience for CBCunlocked, the too-short life of Toronto Unlocked, yes, even the blogs?

All these sites, broadcasts and podcasts are largely reporter driven. The blogs are completely self-assigned, blogger driven.

For the formal sites, stories are pitched. Many are accepted and the reporter goes out and gets the story or calls in the guest (as was the case at Toronto Unlocked). For the blogs, you just write.

Brian Jones, clearly no lover of the CBC, writing in the St. John's Telegram says:

I’ll let you in on a little trade secret. The CBC obtains some of its “scoops” from newspapers. Toss a handful of pens across any given newspaper newsroom, and you’re bound to hit a busload of reporters who have had the unpleasant experience of hearing their stories read — sometimes almost verbatim, and usually without attribution — over the CBC’s airwaves.

Well Jones must listen to and watch CBC a lot, perhaps to the exclusion of all others, because broadcasters scalping the newspapers has never been a secret. Everyone in broadcasting does it, from the tiniest radio station to the big international cable networks. Ask someone on the New York Times and they will tell how that on an ordinary day the stories on the three U.S. broadcast networks usually mirror that morning's Times.

Which brings me back to getting a reporter driven stories. If I had a dollar for all the times I have heard a reporter or producer at CBC complain that their ideas were ignored until the story appeared in the Globe and Mail or Toronto Star or another paper, I wouldn't need my lockout pay.

What can make the CBC dull at times is that it is too top heavy. Decisions made in early morning meetings are hard to change. There are lots of talented reporters and producers at CBC, chasing stories that were in that morning's paper when they could be doing something more interesting, the kind of reporting we have seen on no budget for the past weeks.

At a recent get together I was recalling my first job on the Sudbury Star where as police reporter, I could just hang out at the cop shop in the afternoon. It was a Thomson paper in those days, they may have been cheap, but they understand to fill in the space between the ads, reporters had to be reporters. And I did get scoops about a botched investigation. And a phone call at 3 a.m. one morning about a major fire. No one called my friends in TV. I got stills of what we inside call "great flames." The TV stations had a VO of smouldering ashes shot at high noon. But the TV reporters who were at the morning briefing never got to hang out in the afternoon, they were on some other story, so they never got that call, never got the brown envelope.

These days the emphasis is on "productivity." Just hanging out is not "productive." One of the CBC's political reporters agreed with me. If nothing is happening in the political arena that day, the reporter doesn't get to hang out, there are too few reporters and the desk has already decided what to do. So this reporter is sent on a time-filling story when the time would be better served back hanging with the politicians, aides and civil servants and hearing what is really happening, instead of waiting for rhe next news conference. (I also have a couple of friends, ex-CBC, who are now political or public service PR. Everytime I meet them they grin and say, "Gee if you really knew what was going on...." or "We fooled you guys on that one.")

The best newspapers are reporter and writer driven. Good newspapers begin to die when the beancounters and MBAs take over and demand "productivity" and don't care what the product actually is.

I made a similar point in the How to Save the CBC Post

A newspaper reporter has never needed nothing more than a notebook. Once tape recorders were small enough to carry first on the shoulder and then in the hand that gave radio reporters that freedom. You now have digital video cameras that also fit in the palm of your hand. Yet broadcasting is still largely stuck in the assignment paradigm when to produce even the simplist story you needed heavy equipment and a technical crew of at least two, plus the reporter and the producer.

I have been in too many assignment meetings where the desk says "we are short of reporters." So the CBC has to find a way of getting more reporters, a lot more repoters, a lot more original stories. And as I said earlier, online stories and blogging provides an opportunity for good reporting by people who are not so good on air--and that has been proven every day by CBCunlocked, where people have been able to show what they can do.

If the CBC doesn't become more lively, with more originality, the audience won't come back.
It appears that management may be planning a fancy ad campaign. But management ads had very little impact during the lockout, so without something for people to watch or listen to, those ads will be as ineffective.

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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