If local news will be the saviour of Canadian journalism, what are you going to do about it, broadcasters?
With the Local Programming Improvement Fund set to dry up next year, television networks must find ways to cover news outside big cities without blowing the budget. But cheaper isn't always better, writes Harriet Luke for the Ryerson Review of Journalism.
By Harriet Luke for the Ryerson Review of Journalism
Last month, convicted killer Kyle Halbauer talked to reporter Dan Zakreski about how he started dealing cocaine. The exclusive CBC Saskatchewan interview was a revealing look at Saskatoon’s drug trade and it’s the kind of in-depth story that managing director John Agnew would love to do more often. But the report was possible only with money from the Local Programming Improvement Fund (LPIF)—which has less than a year left to live. The LPIF meant that Agnew’s team was able to send out more reporters and cameras and do more thorough reporting and, he says, “People were delighted to see it.”
Created in 2008 by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), the LIPF helps conventional television stations in non-metropolitan markets cover local news. In addition to pieces such as Zakreski’s, for example, CBC was able to bring back Saskatoon’s suppertime news show. But the CRTC no longer sees the LPIF as necessary, claiming broadcasters are now providing enough local coverage online. The commission will phase out the program by August 31, 2014. “I think it’s going to pose challenges for us,” says Agnew. “Personally, I wish it wasn’t going away.” Sending reporters and cameras to smaller and remote areas is expensive so the struggle to cover local news is nothing new, but broadcasters will need to find new ways to satisfy the demand for these stories as government funding dries up.
CBC certainly isn’t giving up on smaller communities. “Local is top of the pile in terms of things that people care about,” says Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief of CBC News and Centres. “Local is really, really important.” But she says budget constraints mean juggling to cover every region is a challenge. In the past, the network has taken a “we’re in, we’re out” approach to television in local markets, making it tough to grow roots in these places. CBC’s strategic plan, “2015: Everyone. Every Way,” calls for a reallocation of resources to continue serving areas outside big cities. While CBC is expanding its digital presence in markets such as Hamilton and Kitchener-Waterloo—launching new radio shows in combination with online content—McGuire says there is still a strong expectation that CBC is present on TV as well.
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Online forums are one way broadcasters are trying to keep up with the desire for local community coverage. CBC has Your News, CTV operates MyNews and CityNews also provides a portal for viewers to share their stories by uploading photos and videos. These websites allow broadcasters to take advantage of citizens and their smartphones to see what’s going on in communities beyond their regional stations. “There are 27 million mobile phones in Canada, most of them camera capable, so it’s a huge force multiplier,” says Mark Sikstrom, an executive producer at CTV News, adding that contributions from MyNews members fall into one of two categories: breaking news and human-interest stories. “Not everything on MyNews is necessarily journalistic,” Sikstrom admits, noting that on Halloween the site was inundated with photos of pets in costume.
To continue reading this article, please continue to the Ryerson Review of Journalism, where this was originally published. Harriet Luke is a multimedia editor on the Spring 2014 masthead. Harriet splits her time between j-school and working freelance in television. Her writing has been published in McClung’s Magazine and The Bloordale Times.
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