Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Sclerosis at CBC News?
In an effort to be more efficient and to demonstrate to its political masters and other critics that the Crown Corporation has mended its once profligate ways, it now handles and disburses taxpayers' money with crisp efficiency. To do this, a centralized editorial assignment system has been implemented.
Known inside the CBC as the "Hub," the goal is to insure that reporter assignments, camera crew allocations and story treatments are rational and rationalized for maximum exposure on CBC Television, Radio and online at CBC.ca.
As my friend showed me on the internal CBC computer system, the daily story assignment is handed out every morning. No other assignments may be made without the permission of the editors on the "Hub." The subject matter may not deviate from the dictat of the "Hub." This means that the range of stories handled by the CBC on any given day has been drastically reduced.
To my eyes and ears, there is more evident sharing of content and presumably of resources. A TV host did an interview with a survivor of the Haitian earthquake which I heard on CBC Radio. Radio tracked down a Canadian who studied Arabic with the so-called "knicker bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. On a newscast, I heard a first-hand, if somewhat predictable description of what this young Nigerian was like ("He was quiet and studious. I never thought he would do something like this..."). The audio was shared and aired on CBC TV. So there are some important editorial synergies that are being developed.
There is a down side to this. One anecdote: CBC Montreal's local supper hour newscast had an exclusive interview with a former Mafioso. A good local story since an organized crime turf war has broken out and the son of a jailed don was shot to death recently. The Montreal show led with that story.
The "Hub" in Toronto had ordered that the lead should be the death in Ontario of a child with H1N1. When that order was ignored, the executive producer in Montreal found herself reprimanded by management.
The worry among the demoralized staff is that a bureaucratic mechanism has now imposed itself with the effect of stifling journalistic initiative. Stories that might make good radio but without a visual component are rejected. A radio reporter proposed a series of stories from Russia, but without the agreement of the tv side, it was vetoed.
The tendency to pack journalism is already far advanced, both inside and outside the CBC. This "Hub" concept will only exacerbate that trend. Until the editors and managers learn to loosen their choke hold, the value of independent journalism and initiative will suffer. But the message around CBC News these days is all about cutting costs and demonstrating efficiency and not it seems, about serving the audiences.