Sat, 12/20/2014 - 15:41

Posted by Lauren McKeon on July 27, 2011

Broadcast veteran Tim Knight talks about how he lost respect for CBC's flagship news program The National on July 7, 2011. After 30 years of watching, some years of working there, and pages and pages of notes, Knight asks: Has The National lost its journalistic soul?

The date was July 7, 2011 -- the day Canada pulled its troops out of Afghanistan after nine years of brutal war ending without even a truce. One hundred and sixty-one Canadian soldiers and civilians died in that war. At a financial cost of some $18-billion. By the close of this day we’d lost more troops per capita in Afghanistan than any of the 21 other coalition nations -- including the United States which started it.

July 7, 2011 was the end of Canada’s longest-ever war. An historic, momentous day for our nation.  A day to remember. A day to show respect. A day to mourn. A day to celebrate, perhaps.

Yet you wouldn’t have had a clue about this day’s significance if you watched the CBC’s flagship news program on the evening of July 7, 2011.  

The National devoted its entire first section to coverage of Will and Kate smiling and shaking hands at the Calgary Stampede. (This followed endless, excruciating weeks of  fawning over two pretty celebrities who had never actually done anything of note except get married and come visit us on their honeymoon. Adding to this fiasco, was The National’s hugely expensive weeklong pilgrimage to London to broadcast that wedding live.)

So the thirteenth day of the Will and Kate tour was lead story on The National. Then, after a commercial, a murder trial in Florida, floods in China, a stadium collapse somewhere and a dust storm in Arizona.

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Only after all this entirely meaningless celebrity-adoring, foreign crime and weather did The National report on the end of Canada’s mission to Afghanistan -- the sixth story in its lineup, not from brutal, battered Kandahar, but voiced-over from Toronto, using free pool video.

July 7, 2011 was the day I finally lost all respect for The National.

I really, really didn’t want to write this story. The National is in my blood, a truly important part of my life. Back in the seventies, I wrote for, reported for, then produced the program. Back in those days we weren’t perfect, but we were always fiercely protective of its journalistic integrity, its rigorous journalistic standards, it’s mission to bring understanding of the world we live in, its dedication to reporting news that truly mattered. We believed absolutely that The National was the best damn newscast in the whole damn world.

Over the years since, however, I’ve watched it decline from proud, damn-the-torpedoes, public service journalism, to just another rather pointless, hungry-for-ratings, TV news program, no better than the private networks. (At least the privates have the excuse that they aren’t directly subsidized by Canadian taxpayers and aren’t, therefore, mandated to “serve to safeguard, enrich and strengthen the cultural, political, social and economic fabric of Canada.”)

In a cruelly ironic touch, The National’s campaign to persuade Canadians to watch the news we pay for was overseen by expensive American news doctors. If you really want more Canadians to watch, those doctors advised, don’t spend your money on all that international crap. Nobody cares. If you must run international stuff, you can get most of it for free from other broadcasters and do the voice-over here in Canada. Anyway, viewers don’t want you explaining the world they live in. They want “human” stories. They want celebrities. Crime sells. Disasters sell. Weather sells. Fires sell. Get with it Canadians!

The result -- The National today. A news program that’s lost its soul, its journalistic innocence.

The warning signs have loomed for years. I base this analysis on watching The National for the last 30 years or so. But also from notes (nine pages, 4,000 words) written after screening it every night for seven consecutive days, then re-screening the next day.  

•    A patronizing chief-anchor-for-life who can read a teleprompter without stumbling yet almost never actually seems to feel the scenes he describes. Unless it’s politics, his specialty, he rather obviously doesn’t care what’s in the stories, doesn’t see the scenes, doesn’t feel the emotions. Has no genuine human response. As a result, of course, neither does the viewer.

•    Fill-in anchors, most of whom communicate no better than the ageing king, specialize in perkiness and fake smiles, talk down to us like elementary school teachers.

•    Writing that mostly lacks insight, knowledge, wit, clarity and style. Writing filled with clichés, codes, bromides and jargon. Writing that too often tells the entire story in the anchor’s introduction, then has the reporter repeat the identical information in the body of the story.  

•    Reporters who still follow old newspaper style, starting the story at the end, the climax, then working back to the context. Reporters who seem to have no idea that good storytelling is almost always a chronological journey (context, dramatic development, moving inexorably to climax. In that order.) Why? Because in real life, cause usually precedes effect. And, anyway, life is chronological. Reporters who announce in a most unnatural manner and confuse speed and volume with energy and authority. Reporters who believe asking people-in-the-street silly questions about matters they can’t possibly understand is keeping in touch with the masses.    

•    And, of course, the aforementioned concentration on often-meaningless “human” stories the news doctors promise will make Canadians watch, thus increasing ratings and bringing glory to CBC executives.

•    And much, much more.

I don’t blame the journalists -- that dwindling band of digitally-stained wretches -- who serve The National as best they can. In fact, CBC News still has a few of the finest, most dedicated journalists in all Canada. When they can get airtime, its handful of experienced, travel-worn foreign correspondents are among the very best in the world. Its investigations into wrongdoing are exceptional, if only occasional.

In the main, however, Canada’s public broadcasting flagship The National is no longer in service to the Canadian people. It would rather run “acts of God” disaster stories, and fawn over such as Will and Kate, than tell truth to power. It’s forgotten that as journalism goes, so goes democracy.    

Simply put, the senior executives responsible for The National have gone rotten, abandoned the organization’s mandate and, in their frantic race for ratings, lost their journalistic focus and with it their journalistic integrity.

That sad, obsequious, pandering, insolent evening of July 7, 2011 was the inevitable result.

Tim Knight is a freelance Toronto documentary film-maker and communications trainer. He’s won Emmy and Sigma Delta Chi awards for journalism and trained thousands of working journalists in hundreds of workshops in a dozen countries. He’s worked for ABC, NBC and PBS and for 10 years was executive producer and lead trainer for CBC TV Journalism Training. His most recent book, Storytelling and the Anima Factor (lulu.com), is now in its second edition. Knight can be reached at www.TimKnight.org.

Comments

It would be interesting to review CTV's national news broadcast for that day as well. I watched neither, but I suspect CTV also lead-off with a cheery piece about William and Catherine. I would be surprised to learn Lloyd Robertson's first words that evening were about the wind-up of the war in Afghanistan. I have never worked in broadcast journalism but it seems to me television news is more about entertainment and ratings than it is about reporting and analying current events and the state of the human condition.

I'm willing to be corrected, but television news seems to reflect the general outlook of the governing classes in Canadian society - the politicians, the corporate executives, the leaders of the 'special interests' and their ilk. They all seem to believe the average Canadian is stupid, ill informed, and simply doesn't care about what's going on the world around them. They see us as Ceasar saw the Mob. Distract the mob with shiny baubles or naked barbarism, which will leave Ceasar to do as he pleased.

Television also thinks we have a limited attention span. That's why, I think, it focuses on the 'new' rather than the 'important'. This explains why, for example, Tim Hudak is so popular in the polls. I don't know of a single journalist is critically examining everything he says, does and publishes. It also explains Steve Harper and Rob Ford.

Not one major news organization in this country - broadcast, print or digital - has, to my knowledge, explained why we went to war in Afghanistan in the first place. No one has explained why 161 Canadians lost their lives in a place that seems to want to live in the 14th century.

Mr. Knight's criticism of the CBC is valid and worthy of discussion. But it's a narrow in its focus. It should be applied throughout the profession.

 

I could tolerate all the happy face stuff if only CBC weren't getting so downright dumb. Seeing a reporter point to the Aleutians and talk about "The Alaska panhandle," or hearing an anchor comment that a press conference in Sao Paulo will be "in Spanish" drives me insane. And these things pop up daily.

 

I gave up with what passes as journalism at the CBC years ago, when Newsworld dropped its airing of regional news hours which revealed to me what was happening across the country. Its inane morning show lacked any depth and drove me to MSNBC. Don Newman sunk to new lows by offering every spin doctor in Ottawa and Toronto a platform with no real challenge. The main CBC network went from irrelevancy to pandering in its refashioning of the 10pm news hour and pretty much dropping The Journal. And its featured documentaries betrayed a tradition when they started looking a blue jeans and similar trivia. When our public broadcaster should be giving us an alternative -- like the Newshour on PBS, or TVO's flagship current affairs hour and even Access Alberta's nightly in-depth examination of provincial affairs -- instead the CBC gives us more of the same. And its fixation with the Royals is so fawning that it's programming managers consistently rejects anything of substance that might be critical of the Family or whole concept of the Monarchy (in Canada or the UK)! I agree with everything Tim Knight has written and am saddened by what has become of journalism in search of the masses at CBC television. I am thankful I was traveling in Asia during the royal visit and missed this sorry spectacle on our TV networks. At least in Canada we still have a respectable print media, and a couple of hours on CBC Radio, but increasingly I find myself consuming both audio and video podcasts from other countries to sustain my need for serious news and analysis. Thank Jobs for the iPod!

Thanks Tim for telling it like it is.

The excessive, silly royal coverage broke all journalistic rules. How could CBC let that happen? I'm waiting for someone from the network to comment here but I'm holding my breath.

Just one unrelated matter -- I see there's an "Anonymous" post.  Is this a new policy?

Hi Shannon -- Regarding the J-Source Comment Policy. No, allowing anonymous comments is not a new policy. As you and other frequent visitors to J-Source may have noticed, we have recently switched over to a new platform for the Canadian Journalism Project websites J-Source and ProjetJ. Currently, the comment policy is not published on the new site (we're working on that), so we've let a couple of anonymous comments go through as long as they adhere to the standards set out in our policy.

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While I too hve been a critic of the National on occasion and some of Knight's critique is valid, I found the piece over the top and histrionic. His ad hominem attacks are, at best, puerile. On Afghanistan specifically, the CBC has invested and maintained resources throughout Canada's engagement there and some of its reporting has been stellar. It has consistently treated the conflict and Canada's role in it seriously and responsibly. My recollection of Mr. Knight's involvement in the CBC put him as one of the first to urge the abandonment of substantive areas of coverage in favour of populist "story telling." I take his plaint less than seriously. While the CBC may not be journalistic power house it once was, it is still a journalistic leader and a force for good in Canada. I, too, regret some of its decisions to popularize the news in the current competitive environment and in the context of continuing fiscal pressures. But as the public broadcaster it still consistently invests in staffing Canada and the world and reporting news of significance. This sort of screed helps no one.

 

 

 

I would take Mr. Alboim’s message a lot more seriously:

  1. If he wasn’t a former CBC journalist who went over to the dark side to work for the notoriously political Ottawa public relations firm, Earnscliffe Strategy Group.
  2. If he hadn’t trained Liberal leaders Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff how to evade journalists’ questions.
  3. If CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge hadn’t, quite gratuitously, referred to “our friend, Ellie Alboim“ during The National’s At Issue segment last April 7.

"While the CBC may not be journalistic power house it once was, it is still a journalistic leader and a force for good in Canada." """""

Rather limp rebuttal.

Les Horswill

 

As someone living south of the border I have mostly seen The National when visiting Canada. But I've always regarded the show as one of the last bastions of quality journalism in the world. 'Tis sad times indeed that they have become degraded to the same hollow approach to "news" as has long been practiced in the U.S. We expect better of Canada!  

I have also studied under Mr Knight and understand his values and high standards for journalism. I also remember his pride in demonstrating how The National largely lived up to his standards. For Tim to be disillusioned with that news program is dramatic to me. I remember him often saying that we, as journalists, should "... do the best we can ..." Clearly, The National no longer hears that simple standard which is not too much to ask, after all.

- Alan Foster

I agree with a lot of what Tim says. I think the National's ratings must tell them they're on the right track and who are we to argue against the will of the people. I do continue to watch the National and the reason for that is .. well.. . there's nothing else on. What really galls me about their newscasts is their penchant for delivering 10 minutes of background after a three minute story. For example, if the big story of the day is, say a fire that destroys a building in Toronto, they'll do the story on the fire and then they'll follow up with a backgrounder on how a flame, when in contact with a piece of wood, will cause the piece of wood to burn and then they'll follow that with a story on how wood after it burns leaves a residue called called ash! It drives me nuts the way they milk a story. And then of course that leaves little room for anything else, and when I look at the Globe or the Washington Post the next day, I'll wonder,  how did CBC put on a one hour newscast without mentioning any of this stuff. All I can say is, thank god we still have CBC Radio news, it's a very solid newscast.  I find it interesting that the Afghan story is what did it for Tim. He is correct to say that Canadian Army did sacrifice a lot over a very long period of time, but it unfortunately does not mean the end of this country's involvement in that god forsaken land. We will continue to train an Afghan army and police force that have astronomically high drop out rates among new recruits, continue funding humanitarian and  reconstruction projects and continue writing blank cheques for a corrupt, inept and rudderless government. And until that ends, our effort there continues, propping up the ill-conceived foregn policy legacy of George W. Bush.

Elly Alboim and Tim Knight are two ex-CBCers for whom I have great respect. So respectfully, I would suggest they are arguing for opposite sides of the same coin known as "excellent journalism." To suggest that "story-telling" (Knight) and "reporting news of signficance" (Alboim) are opposing values is a false premise. Good television journalism should be made up of both, and more.

Both CBC and CTV committed significant resources to covering Canada's role in Afghanistan (somewhat uncritically at times, but we can talk about that later). They should be applauded for that.

But what is true is that the lineup that night on The National had a lapse in judgment by devoting so much attention to the royal visit. It's not an excuse to say "everyone was doing it."

In this time of dwindling audiences and trolling for ratings, many media appear to be softening their editorial standards to engage in more pack journalism. The desire for ratings increasingly trumps serving the audience as citizens first, and consumers of media, second.

 

I'm still waiting for someone from the CBC to comment.

Exactly WHY did the royal visit consume so much time and resources? I've pretty much given up on CBC TV news for many of the reasons already outlined here.

I'm still waiting for someone from the CBC to comment.

Exactly WHY did the royal visit consume so much time and resources? I've pretty much given up on CBC TV news for many of the reasons already outlined here.

I'm still waiting for someone from the CBC to comment.

Exactly WHY did the royal visit consume so much time and resources? I've pretty much given up on CBC TV news for many of the reasons already outlined here.

Maybe one story a day on the royal couple but the coverage was way over the top. I stopped watching CBC and CTV because it was the same stuff over and over again. I completely agree with Tim Knight. I don't understand broadcasters priorities sometimes. I have seen this attitude at a few local stations and don't understand it.

There are many mistakes in Tim Knight's posting. Let me start with the one he uses as the foundation for the entire piece. July 7, 2011 was not the day Canada pulled its troops out of Afghanistan. The truth is that Canada started pulling soldiers out of Afghanistan weeks earlier. There are still Canadian combat troops in Afghanistan. In fact, the last won't leave until the end of the year. Another truth is that The National and CBC News have been in Afghanistan to mark this historic and momentous turning point. We know when the pullout started because the CBC's James Cudmore and Mark Kelley were there to report the story(http://www.cbc.ca/thenational/indepthanalysis/story/2011/06/28/national-afghanistan-kelley.html). The National has run 93 stories dealing with Afghanistan this year. There were 20 reports from correspondents inside Afghanistan, including Susan Ormiston's excellent series of documentaries (http://www.cbc.ca/thenational/indepthanalysis/story/2011/03/16/national-afghanistan2011.html). Over the course of the mission, Peter Mansbridge has anchored many insightful panel discussions on the subject. He has interviewed soldiers and commanders, supporters and critics and visited bases in Canada and Afghanistan. The National, a news programme that's lost its innocence? I hope so. No longer a service to Canada? Please. Oh, the allegation about the American news doctors is also untrue. It's a myth which could have been easily checked. I get the impression several truths got in the way of Tim Knight's opinions. Mark Harrison Executive Producer CBC News: The National

I must confess to being a long-time fan of The National, Peter Mansbridge and the At Issue panel. 

While I still do generally enjoy the CBC (particularly CBC radio coverage) I, like Tim Knight, have observed some changes to The National's format, style and substance that have left me somewhat dissatisfied.  And I, too, experienced a moment of acute disappointment with The National's coverage...enough that I had to write about it.  My seminal moment was the sensationalist focus on all the troubles preceeding the Delhi Commonwealth Games, with not one word being reported at the end of the successful run of the Games...not one word.  Only sexy news was worth reporting, apparently.  For more, see my blog: http://mybindi.typepad.com/over_chai/2010/10/the-un-common-commonwealth-games.html

Like Tim, I have also often wondered what more a reporter will be telling us when the anchor has essentially told us the entire story in the intro! 

And, it is worth mentioning, I was wholly unimpressed when The National seemed less like an impartial and objective news source and more like the personal mouthpiece of Conrad Black, with several segments devoted to rehabilitating his sullied image when he was released on bail last year.

Tim Knight makes a number of interesting points.  Given his experience with the media and media training, and his direct history with The National, the CBC might well look upon him as an ally who can inspire The National to achieve nothing but the highest of journalistic standards.

Mark Harrison, Executive Producer of The National, claims “many mistakes” in my posting. Yet he mentions only two.

His first is that July 7, 2011 “was not the day Canada pulled its troops out of Afghanistan.”

Yet it was on Thursday, July 7, 2011, that a farewell ceremony was held at Kandahar base. There was a parade and exit speeches by such as General Dean Milner, Canadian commander of Joint Task Force Afghanistan. Our soldiers stood at attention for a minute of silence to honour fallen comrades. Then the Maple Leaf was lowered and Canadians handed over command of the battleground to the Americans.

As the Associated Press and myriad other news organizations reported “Canada formally ended its combat role in Afghanistan on Thursday.”

Then Mr. Harrison sets up “another truth”. That “The National and CBC News have been in Afghanistan to mark this historic and momentous turning point.” In fact, of course, The National and CBC News simply weren’t there that Thursday. Instead, pool footage with a voice-over from Toronto marked the day.

If Harrison had read my article more closely he would have noted that I never, for one moment, questioned the fact that CBC foreign correspondents – particularly Susan Ormiston, James Cudmore, James Murray and Mark Kelley — have reported on the Canadian mission to Afghanistan. And they've done it with courage, insight and conspicuous integrity.

According to Harrison, my second “mistake” was:  “Oh, the allegation about the American news doctors is also untrue. It's a myth which could have been easily checked.”

I did check. With Jeff Keay, CBC’s Head of Media Relations, English Services. Keay admitted carefully: “We have used Magid (an American news doctor) as consultants in the past.”

Not incidentally, I note that Harrison never tried to defend what I called “endless, excruciating weeks of  fawning over two pretty celebrities who had never actually done anything of note except get married and come visit us on their honeymoon.”

Tim Knight

Kudos to j-source for creating a forum where this type of debate can happen, with some disagreement but all united in the effort to strengthen journalism. Canadian media is largely lacking in public self-reflection, and there are few platforms for discussion amongst a broad audience about the content, behaviour, evolution, etc. of Canadian media.

The coverage of the Royal visit by many media outlets, especially television, seems to have lit a fire under long-simmering questions about how Canada's larger broadcast outlets choose what to put on their newscasts. Many, myself included, were left scratching their heads as to why William and Kate's visit merited day-after-day top-of-the-broadcast coverage when there was no lack of domestic and international stories to select from.

Perhaps audience surveys suggest that's what viewers want. But in today's landscape of increasingly segmented audiences, the question isn't only what do viewers want to see, but also what type of journalism should we be producing to bring non-viewers (back) into the fold.

I was sorry to read, according to Tim Knight's critique, how far "The 
 
National" has fallen as a credible and reliable source for Canadian's news. 
 
Growing up in Canada the CBC National News was I recall highly  
  
respected and had a great influence on me to become a broadcast 
 
journalist. However, over the years watching CBC shrink in stature and 
 
influence I joined the exodus of Canadian journalists to work in the U.S. So 
 
I have not recently tuned into The National to judge as Knight has alleged 
 
that it "has lost its journalistic soul." However, I have known Tim Knight for 
 
over forty years and worked with him at ABC TV News in New York and 
 
Washington and can attest to his zeal for high quality journalism that most 
 
of us can appreciate and understand. He has pointed out possible serious 
 
flaws in The National that I hope will encourage widespread discussion 
 
and investigation.  
  
 On both sides of the border and indeed worldwide journalism is 
 
undergoing a seachange. Even as appetites for news and information 
 
grow, newsrooms are closing. Despite the big stories of our era, serious 
 
journalists find themselves all too often without a beat. Just as the news 
 
cycle has shrunk, so has the bottom line. And too often we follow the vapid 
 
council of the Majid news doctors and fill the void with instant commentary, 
 
celebrity gossip and soft stories. We fail to understand the world or one 
 
another as well as we should ---and that has real consequences in our 
 
own lives and in the life of our nation's. However, there are still patches of 
 
sanity to be seen here in the US for those seeking responsible news 
 
coverage. The News Hour on PBS national TV, the BBC North American 
 
Service and occasional flashes of good journalism which can still be seen 
 
on ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. Knight has described The National 
 
overdosing on Will and Kate. Last month when NBC anchor Brian  
  
Williams landed in London to cover the Royal Wedding he was appalled to 
 
find himself in the media circus while  tornadoes were devastating the state 
 
of Kentucky back home. Williams was on the next plane home to the US 
 
and covered the deadly storms in Kentucky live that evening on NBC 
 
Nightly News. Maybe some mutiny is due at "The National" from journalists 
 
who respect our profession more than the producers.   
  
Don North  
Northstar Productions  
Fairfax, VA.

This is a really important article.  I am grateful to hear Mr. Knight's point of view, especially since I have recently arrived at the same conclusion.  It actually began last January when events in Egypt were unfolding.  I was reading all kinds of twitters from people in Tahrir Square and from journalists from other countries all over the world who were there too.  One of them was Nahlah Aymed.  Her tweets, and the information that I gleaned from others, gave a very different story from what The National reported.  I was incensed.  "On the ground" reports showed that Egyptians were in revolt of their government.  It was also clear that the small group of pro-government forces were in the minority and were mostly paid by the govt (there were eye witness accounts of that).

  But the report that appeared on The National was a story of 'opposing factions' in Egypt -  there was an anti-government group and a pro-government group.  That was utter BS.  Even Nahlah's report seemed edited to suit that scenario. 

  That was the day that I lost respect for Peter Mansbridge and The National.

  I should also add that I found Mansbridge's interviews with party leaders before the election laughable.  He was tough and pushed Michael Ignatieff yet he handled S Harper with kid gloves.  Makes me wonder if he is positioning himself for a Senatorship some day!

Great forum and important debate about TV journalism. With some exceptions (TVO's Agenda) I have stopped watching most of it but find the best (most useful truth to power) Canadian journalism and storytelling on the radio. Dispatches, the Current (depending on who's hosting), even Q (Gomeshi is one of the best question askers on CBC)  and the new Know Your Rights all give rich, important and well-presented information I can use. As do a myriad of on-line information outlets such as Project Censored, Democracy Now and Sanctuary for Independent Media. In my view, the best TV journalism and storytelling right now is on Al Jazeera's various documentary strands such as Witness. Would love to see an At Issues type of debate around Tim's mantra:"as journalism goes, so goes democracy" where around the table we'd have the likes of Tim Knight, Elly Alboim, John Pilger, Ray MacIinnes-Rae, an Al Jazeera producer, Paul Jay of the Real News, perhaps a couple of CNN and BBC lifers. But I'd have Gomeshi lead the discussion. In any case, in the current version of the information age where information can be bleakly redacted and outragiously spun in any direction, this debate is important and timely. I will be sure to send my students to this forum when school starts this fall.

Peter Biesterfeld

Feeling remiss: Forgot to mention what I can't do without : As It Happens ... addicted to my daily hit of AIH, there should be more contextual journalism like it and the original  The National had it. Can we bring it back?

Actually, I find it difficult to believe that serious people would place credence in televised news at all. Perhaps usefull as a manipulator of public opinion, it serves very little purpose today to those who pay any attention to news that counts.

I find it both fascinating and encouraging to see the level of debate over this issue.  I, too, have felt for the longest time that The National was dumbing down its product and hope Tim's remarks might cause a re-examination by The National team of where it is going.  In the case of the Royal Visit coverage, it was over-the-top to this observer. 

I have been asked a by my friend and former boss at Global TV News, who is stranded

in cottage country this week, to post this message on his behalf. Bill is a former head

of CBC News, founding President of Global News, an executive at CTV News and

a distinguished foreign correspondent, including many years in Vietnam.

 

"I believe my fifty years in the trenches gives me a modicum of credibility. I couldn't agree

more with Knight. I am embarrassed with what The National has become in spite of the fact

they are encouraging some good young people. But I'm not immune to the fact that they let

the good old ones go. Like Patrick Brown, Don Murray and several others. Knight is right and

if I can support him in any way let me know." Bill Cunningham.

 

 

 

 

 

I stopped watching the National many, many months ago-- well, truthfully, more than a year ago. That may seem relatively insignificant-- but I was a journalistic child of the Corp for more than 15 years, doing everything from anchoring to reporting and producing documentaries, even subbing in summer for the national correspondent in Winnipeg. That was when the National was miles ahead of CTV for ratings, because it believed in public service journalism, not in pandering to a lowest common denominator audience.

It was in the late 70s and early 80s. Winnipeg's one-hour supper-hour local newscast was top-rated in the city. We were proud (in retrospect, justifiably) of our own local record of staunch public service journalism. We had beat reporters: anyone remember those? City Hall? The Legislature? We covered the stories our training and experience taught us to believe was important for the public in a democracy to know. We did not lead with blood. Much of the time, we led with public interest stories, poltiical stories, economic issue stories. We found human beings to be the people about whom the stories spoke. We had resources. We had enough staff to enable all of us to do good work. We had managers who believed in public service journalism and who supported, groomed and developed their journalists with additional training and varied job experiences.

I have for some time been unable to stomach the devolution of CBC's news work, both national and local, into a sloppy band of under-equipped, understaffed, under-resourced, under-experienced, ungrammatically-inclined reporters working in frantically over-stretched newsrooms, producing pap, serving up warmed-over headlines from that day's print news media  and that morning's cop shop newser.

The CBC used to be the banner news service against which all others were measured and found wanting. It was the news service I took with me into the private sector, infusing its principles in the philosophy of my newsroom at the local Global station-- a newsroom that became a training ground for reporters, camera operators, and producers who wanted to move onto some day to the Mothership.

Today-- well, I just can't stomach it. Not the National, not the local. It is simply too damn sad for me to deal with, when I know what it once was and what it could be, properly resourced and knowing once again that in the end it should not be about numbers. It should be about journalism.

Public service journalism need not be dull-- if you are given the resources and support needed to do it properly. The shrill ambulance-chasing that dominates the video circuits these days is not journalism. It never was. It never will be. I sorely wish the CBC would give me a newscast I can watch and from which I can learn and about which I can think..the kind of newscast I worked with so proudly once.  Today, I am ashamed of what the Corp has become. i did not see the newscast that set Tim Knight off.

As I said, I never watch CBC news any more. And that breaks my heart.

 

Judy,   

Beautifully reasoned.    Beautifully written.    Beautifully heartfelt.   

We are both "a journalistic child of the Corp" (although I had public service Zambia TV and PBS, New York, to guide me).   

Love letter to CBC — I could not love thee dear so much, loved I not honour more.   

Tim

I don't know Tim very well, but I can't have been the only person to notice the echoes here with what I wrote earlier in the month, when I resigned from CTV. The royal visit, the Afghan war, the American consultants, and the race-to-the-bottom doctrine embraced by the CBC. At the time, a number of people tried to write off what I said on the basis that I'm young. I'm curious what arguments are now being mustered to deal with the Tim Knights and Bill Cunninghams of this world. Are they too old? Is there a magic sweet spot, right in the middle, where people are wise, TV news makes sense, and the emperor is clad head to toe?

Tim and I don't agree on everything. Let me be very clear: I don't think insulting people is the best way to change minds. I don't think anger helps people see your point. But in a way, Tim has earned the right to feel so wounded, in a way I never did. A lot more straws were laid across his back. And if the current state of TV journalism leaves him so upset, we owe him the respect of trying to understand why.

Kai,

I'm not insulting people.

As a long-time passionate journalist, I'm merely pointing out — as honestly as I possibly can — fatal flaws in Canada's public service flagship, The National.

The program, quite simply, has lost its way and, in my professional opinion, has to be radically re-imagined before it can ever be worthy of the term "public service" again.

Would you have me generalize about The National's faults without being specific about the journalists who front it, represent it, come into our homes every day and every night claiming to serve the people's democratic right to know?

The phrases I used, "patronizing", "ageing king" etc. have been used by CBC anchors and reporters about politicians, business tycoons, royalty and various other Establishment biggies  — and yes,  even TV anchors —forever. 

All I'm doing is being as blunt as I can, applying those same phrases to our own.

But thank you for your support.

It's important and I'm grateful.

Tim




Saw a comment by Mr Knight on the Tyee a couple of days ago (http://thetyee.ca/Mediacheck/2011/08/04/CTVQuitStrikesNerves/index.html), directing here and soliciting comments - and am taking him up on that offer.


My interest is thus: I have a great interest in helping my country - and world - be a good country for all of us; I think Democracy is the way to do this; I think a good media is absolutely necessary to a good Democracy; and I think our 'democracy' is in pretty dire trouble now, and our media is not only not doing their job which is a good part of the reason we are in such trouble, they have actually, over the last couple of decades, slowly been transformed into a central part of the problem.


First, a couple of comments on the issue at hand.


(1) First, I don't quite get the connection between the title and the ensuing rant - Mr Knight says he has been watching the National decline in quality for years, and apparently the relegating of the official ending of the Cdn 'mission' in Afghanistan to non-headline status pushed him over the line. They've been up to far more egregious things than this on the CBC on a very regular basis (pretty much daily..) the last few years, it seems to me, I can't imagine a relatively small editorial decision of this nature having such an impact - but I guess we all have different ways of looking things.


2. Which may be related to - apparently Mr Knight supports the Afghan "mission" (why else would he be so upset at this pushing the story away from headline status?) - I myself don't support it at all, and one of the reasons I myself gave up on the CBC years ago was their apparent acceptance of the idea that they were, basically (with all of the Cdn media), working hand-in-hand with the government to sell the 'mission' to Canadians. (somewhat contrary to the view of Mr Alboim, in his later comment .. the preponderance of 'pro-mission' views I hear on the radio compared to the rare voices questioning it, not to mention the often thinly-veiled hostility of interviewers to anyone daring question it, compared to their friendly attitude towards those supporting it, makes it very clear where the CBC stands on 'the mission'. Which is not, I would suggest, their job - especially when there has rarely, if ever, been a majority of Canadians supporting this completely illegal invasion, nor has it ever been publically debated as to whether we ought to be invading another country that never presented any threat to us. It's not the job of the CBC to get the Cdn public on board to any particular policy through biased coverage of that issue. (Mr Dvorkin calls the Afghanistan coverage 'somewhat uncritical(ly)' in a later comment - must be looking for some kind of 'understatement of the year' award ...)


3. I suppose a 'disclosure' is in order at some point - I live in Thailand, and never watch television - but for about 3 years my internet connection has allowed listening to the CBC radio - at which I was thrilled at first, having been a CBC radio addict for many years prior to coming here (1994), and missed it greatly - but it was not long before my joy turned to disbelief, and then dismay, and then anger, at how far my great CBC had fallen in 15 years (like the rest of my country, for that matter). No more did we have a relatively middle-of-the-road selection of shows, with almost exclusively pretty intelligent speakers from all around the middle of the political spectrum talking intelligently with intelligent, more-or-less politically neutral hosts about the things going on in our world, it had turned into another monologue NWO- promoter, dominated by rightwing hosts and guests, and with a generally considerably lower level of intelligence all across the spectrum. Exceptions can be pointed to, certainly, but the overall 'quality' level of hosting and interviewing and "news" coverage is something I would expect in college radio, rather than the CBC. I expect the great Gzowski isn't listening anymore, after some countless number of turnings in his grave - hell, he probably wouldn't qualify for a job with the new CBC, for that matter - far too intelligent and willing to talk reasonably with anyone. But I draw dangerously close to a rant ..


4. Although most of Mr Knight's comments are directed at the National, when he says "..In the main, however, Canada's public broadcasting flagship The National is no longer in service to the Canadian people.." - I would add - this pretty much applies to the whole CBC. As with Mr Knight (and many others), I was pretty much appalled at the endless, and largely breathless and adoring, coverage of 'the young prince and his storybook bride' that dominated the CBC and all other media a few weeks ago - this is not indicative of a media devoted to telling *adults* what they need to know to make intelligent, informed decisions about what is going on in our country and world - it is more of a media encouraging citizens to think of themselves as serfs, in a kings-and-serfs world. Happy serfs by and large, to be sure - but still -


5. I very much agree with the first comment, by Michael Knell, with the caveat that I wouldn't confine the comment to the television - I think the newspapers are not a lot better. Some, perhaps, but not a lot.


6. Afraid I must take exception to Mr Knight's July 29, 2011 - 8:06am comment, in which he states National journalists acted in Afghanistan with "..insight and conspicuous integrity..". As a debating position, my rebuttal statement to this notion would be something along the lines of 'in Afghanistan, Canadian journalists have basically played the role of embedded propagandists whose job is to tell Canadians what a great job 'their' military is doing bringing democracy and freedom to the poor beleaguered souls of this country' - I could doll that up a bit, but that is basically what I have been hearing on the CBC the last few years, with only a handful of non-embedded commentators ever allowed to question this, and then only to a point - there's never, that I've ever heard (or seen elsewhere in the Cdn media), been any analysis of the validity of the excuses that were used to start or continue this (in my view and that of many others) completely illegal invasion, or the various rationales that have been used to continue it - by and large, the media is working *with* the government, to 'sell' this mission to Canadians. Not the role of a media in a democracy.


7. Well, there's a great deal more I would like to comment on here, and a great deal more I would like to add - but I grow long for a comment. I have been watching and writing about the Canadian media for quite a few years, however, as central to my own broader ideas about what is going wrong and what needs to be done here, and if anyone is interested in any of my analysis of what is happening with the Canadian media these last few years, you could start here - Canadian Media: Reporting or Managing the News of the 2008 Election?   http://www.rudemacedon.ca/vgi/backgrounders/creating-cdn-narrative.html . The issue the essay is built around is past, of course, but the general analysis is as valid now as it was then. I have sent many things to many Canadian journalists over the years talking about how I think they have been doing a somewhat less than stellar job, with comments such as in this essay on various particular issues, and gotten no response at all - which may, of course, be the result of intelligent judgement that I'm a nutcase of some sort nobody has time for - or perhaps I'm seeing and getting into things far too clearly that would be far, far too uncomfortable for those I have written to to want to deal with. If anyone wants to get a small discussion going here on the state of Canadian journalism, from a truly critical and 'out of the box' perspective - I'd be happy to play your devil's advocate.


(and I would note that I do not think all Cdn journalists are intentionally churning out propaganda, and spinning and otherwise gatekeeping what appears in the Cdn media - although it seems a pretty inescapable conclusion that those at the upper levels know exactly what they are doing, I expect most in the lower levels are in the same box as most Canadians, and believe the things they have been taught all of their lives to believe, and truly are trying to do a good job, and tell Canadians what they need to know within the limits of that box. It is helping people to understand and escape from that box that I try to do. Believe me, if you think journalism is a thankless job sometimes, you ought to try this one ...)


Dave

 

I stumbled upon this site while researching Patrick Brown and Don Murray, hoping to find them doing well.  I am a citizen in James Moore's riding and a longtime CBC fan .... in fact, I credit the CBC with saving my life ... but that's another story.  I was stuck by how critical many of you are about your colleagues at CBC, and while I have many criticisms too, the people on the front line and those who support their work aren't the ones I deplore.  I recall they all spoke up strongly when PB and DM were so badly treated.  I had the misfortune to stumble upon 'citizen' blogs when I was working on a submission to the CRTC which was delayed in expectation of the cuts to come.  I have since found them on many other sites, including the CBC service itself.  I cannot imagine keeping my perspective, equilibrium or composure in an environment where there is nothing but pressure to do things you would never choose to do, by people who hold an axe over your head, driven by people who irrationally HATE you .... call you biased (with no evidence) left-wing (now that's funny!) incompetent, spendthrift, etc. etc. ...  hate is not too strong a word .... the vitriol and insulting accusations are rife .... MPs circulating petitions that feed this nastiness... and you have to politely interview these jerks on air?   They are jubilant, rubbing their hands in glee ... pushing for the elimination of David Suzuki, Terry Milewski, and Wendy Mesley  at the top of their list, and they are full of derision that the CBC is 'too ethnic', too 'french' and 8 Aboriginal languages! ha, what nonsense.  Then we have the Globe and Mail's Doyle dancing all over the CBC's grave, telling them to 'suck it up' ....  and next day a piece on what a fine guy Moore is,   right,  who's behind the push to focus on the royals ....?  Moore's having a party at all these events and trips and performances ... if he 'loved the CBC' as he told me, he would have fought hard enough for us to notice.   You folks seem to have a reasonably comfortable spot to launch your opinions from .... maybe a little objective analysis of the impact of the 2009 cuts plus the working environment created by those and the everlooming threat of new ones should be considered ... where are the articles about the need for talented foreign correspondents?  unfettered journalism?  less media concentration?  All CBC journalists can do, is resign ... and I'm sure many of them will.  I admire them tremendously for putting up with all this ***** this far, and what will we have left?  Tony Parsons.  If people who should understand your plight only add insult to injury, and offer no support, what else can you do?  I'm sure there are many facts about how well the CBC actually performs as a national broadcaster ... especially when funding levels and mandate are compared... but they would get ignored/clobbered if they published them .... sounds like a good project to me ... guess I'll have to figure it out for myself ....   thanks for listening to a stray voice from the outside .... have a nice life!   

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