Thursday, June 04, 2009

CTV Misses The Boat-er


I get my local news from an ‘A’ Channel in Barrie, about a half hour further North of Toronto than I am.

As part of their parent company, CTV’s, efforts to cut costs or pretend they’re broke or pressure government for a bail-out or whatever, the Barrie affiliate has begun reducing its local news coverage, most notably by repeating its 11:00 pm newscast at 7:00 am the next morning.

I’m not sure if this reduced coverage is the minimum already set out in CTV’s terms of license, is what they’ve been granted in the CRTC’s one year renewal of that license, or they’re just doing it anyway.

I do know it’s already losing them the local viewers they claim they want to serve better.

And that’s not just because an eight hour old newscast is of little use to a population about to begin their morning commute and wanting to know what’s going on in the world. It’s because stale news can quickly become false news.

On Tuesday night, ‘A’ Channel led off their 11:00 pm newscast with the search for a missing boater. Now, that may not seem of much import to city folks and usually these guys are just the victims of a conked out motor or they ran out of gas. But if they’re in the water, even in the warming days of summer and wearing a lifejacket, they’ll only last a couple of hours.

Fortunately for this particular guy, he was found by the end of the newscast and ‘A’ signed off reporting he was safe. Happy ending. Sweet Dreams. Enjoy Conan.

But when ‘A’ Channel re-ran the newscast at 7:00 am Wednesday morning, the boater was once again lost and in danger.

Meaning that when I went out the door to walk the dog, I found my neighbor hitching his boat to his pick up.

Me: Going fishin’?

Him: There’s a guy missing on the lake. I’m joining the search.

At that point his wife came out with a Thermos, some sandwiches and a couple of blankets in case he found the guy.

Me: They found him.

Him: When?

Me: Last Night.

Him: No. It was just on the news.

Me: The news was a repeat.

Him: What?

Me: They rerun last night’s news in the morning now.

Him: Why?

I could detail my explanation, but I’ve already spoiled you with a sample of much more riveting dialogue than you got on last night’s CTV debut of “The Listener”.

The upshot, however, was that my neighbor’s wife looked at the rescue lunch she’d just thrown together and said:

Her: Well, that’s the last time we’ll get our news from them!

Way to go, CTV!

Maybe it’s time somebody over there re-thought this “failing local news” self fulfilling prophecy.

I mean, how hard would it have been for whoever was in charge of the 11:00 pm broadcast to realize they no longer had a lead story and get the newsreader to do a second take that updated the whole thing to avoid confusion?

Or they could have just tossed the tape to some minimum wage intern to edit out the top and tail and stretch something in the middle.

But no, CTV isn’t even that committed to informing its audience.

Can you imagine what would happen to the NY Times if they decided to just put out yesterday’s paper to save a little on type-setting or maybe get rid of whatever issues didn’t sell yesterday?

But CTV is willing to do just that and then pretend they are one of the country’s most reliable news sources.

Mark my words, within the next few months, some kid will freeze to death waiting for a school bus that isn’t coming because his mom checked the morning news and learned from the eight hour old weather forecast that the storm is mild, will pass quickly and won’t cause  school closures. Somebody will get injured because the psycho attacking transit riders isn’t the one the cops thought they arrested last night. Or some guy will be lost on a windy lake when the missing boater he wants to help didn’t need to be rescued.

When that happens, it’ll be on the heads of Ivan Fecan, Leonard Asper, Konrad von Finckenstein and everybody else who won’t call the “Save Local News” scam for what it really is. Like Bill O’Reilly on FOX, swearing that he never fanned the madness of homicidal anti-abortionists, they’ll claim such tragedies were not of their making.

But it has happened before and it will happen again.

Meanwhile, after walking the dog, the news all over the dial was of a bear up a tree just down the road in Aurora.


And again, I don’t want to get on all those big city news directors in Toronto. But that’s not exactly news around here or any place in the country that has both bears and trees.

I don’t live next door to Grizzly Adams or anything, but a bear in your garbage, your garden or up a tree is far from unheard of this time of year. And yet the Toronto media converged in all their tricked out video trucks and we even had a circling helicopter grabbing shots anybody with rudimentary typing skills can already see by the hundreds on Youtube.

Since it wasn’t exactly a slow news day in this part of the world, I got wondering just how much it cost to hover a helicopter over a non-event for a couple of hours. If it’s close to what it costs to have one do the same thing on a film set, it’s significant.

And I realized the reason local news is in trouble is not only because nobody feels it’s relevant enough to watch; but because the people deciding how to spend their news budgets at these networks are idiots.

The bear story ended exactly the way all bear up a tree stories do. Some cop shot a dart in his ass and then they hauled him where the media could no longer vex him.

top secret

Which brings us to today and CTV’s ongoing lead story about whether or not Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt should resign after leaving a binder of secret government documents in a CTV news studio.

Now, while one could argue that the current scarcity of journalists in CTV newsrooms make them a very safe place to leave sensitive material, what I started wondering was why it took a week after the papers went missing for CTV to broadcast the contents.

Did it take that long for somebody at CTV to realize what they had?

Were they offered back to Ms. Raitt in return for a “Save Local News” promo?

Or – did the story break as a form of payback for a Government bail-out that was taking longer than it should?

Whatever the truth, I think it’s safe to say that the oft rumored $150 Million fund for private broadcasters has become closer to myth than reality.

And if CTV and CanWest are going to save themselves they had better find ways of making their local news important to its audience again and not as pointless as their simulcast prime time schedule or Specialty channels transformed into rerun platforms for programming of ever diminishing “special-ness”.

Until then, like my neighbors, I’m getting my news somewhere else.


deborah Nathan said...

Wicked post, Jim. I, for one, can hardly wait to see the new logo for Showcase - that's in lieu of actual programming, I guess. And those A channels are on life support - one-year license with no future. E channels will bow out even sooner. And then following the demise of local TV, how soon will national networks go dark?

Perhaps we'll return to the olden days, when everybody got their news from the CBC. Unless, of course, the government closes them down.

Cunningham said...

I live in Hollywood. Not Hollywood FL, but the real deal. I had a raccoon living under my porch for 6 months, and when I first moved to California I almost hit a deer in Pasadena near the Rose Bowl.

I have never understood the fascination news directors have with "wild animal stories" where nothing happens. It's as I tell my relatives who sometimes call during the day "just to chat":

If no one's going to or in the hospital; if no one's got a sucking chest or belly wound; or if no one didn't get up in the morning...

Then don't call just to chat.

Didn't News directors get that memo?

Yank Azman said...

...and the bear story was so interesting it made the Today Show news. And because Aurora means nothing to America, it happened in Toronto.

Anonymous said...

Imagine my surprise this morning when I turned on the TV (very rare thing but I was running early), tuned to Global TORONTO, and got all the hot local news...from CHCH in HAMILTON.

Really, nothing against Hamilton, but can ANYBODY imagine another TV station anywhere in the world that is based in the largest city in the country doing something similar (i.e., canceling its local news and using a broadcast from a smaller neighbouring city?)

Isn't this like selling your wheels to put gas in your car?

BTW, radio is getting as bad. On Monday on CFRB, the big news was of course GM's bankruptcy. The "news" basically didn't tell me anything we didn't know already, except that the inevitable happened.

Sorta like the same stories the MSM does every year during the first snow storm, the first heat wave...

I can understand that, though. It was news, I guess.

The hilarious thing is they brought in their "business" reporter who said EXACTLY THE SAME THING, adding nothing.

The extra special hilarious thing was that they cut him off to go "live, from New York" to have some CBS hack tell us, "live, from New York" EXACTLY THE SAME THING. Did I mention she was actually live? From New York? You can't get more livier than that, and the value added was...nothing.

The MSM, of all media formats, reminds me of a photo a few years ago of a biplane flying with a Spitfire, beside a jet.

Except in this case the MSM is the blimp that is still being filled with gas back in the hangar, and the internet is the 6th generation stealth fighter that has already landed.

I can set up an RSS feed with custom control to see the headlines I want on the topics I choose, from the sources I trust. I can scan the headlines, open the stories I want to read and digest a half dozen of them before the first commercial for a show I'll never watch is over on TV.

Anybody out there in AsperBellGlobeMediaRogers land listening?

GO LOCAL! Now, and deep.