Saturday, December 13, 2014

Canadian broadcasting shortens local supper-hour newscasts

Laura KaneThe Canadian Press
CBC will shorten all local supper-hour newscasts to 30 or 60 minutes and will broadcast Radio One morning shows on TV beginning next fall.

The changes will save the public broadcaster at least $15 million and are part of a five-year strategy to shift priorities to mobile and digital offerings announced in June.

“The audience behaviour is shifting. More and more people are getting their news via their smartphones,” said Jennifer McGuire, editor-in-chief of CBC News, in an interview.

She said the broadcaster was ditching concentrated 90-minute supper-hour newscasts in favour of more frequent local updates throughout the day, to reflect a shift in how people consume news.

“If you know you’re watching television in a market like Toronto or Ottawa, you’ll be connecting locally more often than you are now. Will it be for 90 minutes? No, it won’t. It’ll be for one minute through the afternoon and through the updates through primetime and either 30 or 60 minutes at supper hour.”

Shows in Vancouver, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Halifax, Charlottetown, St. John’s, N.L., and the North will be trimmed to 60 minutes, while programs in Calgary, Edmonton, Regina, Windsor, Montreal and Fredericton will be chopped to 30 minutes.

McGuire said the reductions are expected to impact jobs but layoffs will likely not be announced before March. She would not estimate the number of jobs that will be lost, saying, “We’re not there yet.”

Local Radio One morning shows such as Toronto’s “Metro Morning” will be broadcast on CBC Television, the main network of the public broadcaster, between 6 and 7 a.m. CBC News Now with Heather Hiscox will continue to air in that timeslot on CBC News Network.

“We dominate in radio across the country in most local markets. We have incredibly strong radio morning shows who have incredibly strong resonance and relationships in communities and I think there’s an appetite for it,” said McGuire.

The union representing most CBC workers accused the public broadcaster Thursday of “taking a step back from commitment to local news,” arguing the cuts would hit smaller cities hardest and that overall news coverage would be affected.

“Everyone knows that local news gathering is an essential foundation of a relevant national news organization,” Carmel Smyth, national president of the Canadian Media Guild, said in a statement.

“This plan will hack at the roots, especially in the North, the Prairies, Windsor and New Brunswick. And the uneven approach to the cuts seems unfair and unbecoming of public broadcasting. These are the same places that are often least well served by private media.”

McGuire said the broadcaster is not stepping back from local news, but changing how it is delivered. She said CBC is investing in new mobile services that will lead to new jobs being created, but that it is too early in the development process to offer specific details.

“We will do more stories updated more regularly through the day, through the week. Even how much content we are putting out locally in mobile, that will increase. We’ll do more live specifically for mobile. There’ll be a social element that isn’t there in the way it is now,” she said.

Further, CBC said it will create a new bureau in Fort McMurray, Alta., and increase its presence in Sherbrooke, Que. It also said it would maintain, and in some cases grow, its spending in local investigative journalism.

Asked how the broadcaster decided which markets would have 30-minute newscasts and which would have 60 minutes, McGuire said CBC now considers 30 minutes the “base level of service.”

“We said, ‘Every market gets 30, and that is the base service Canadians can expect. Only in cases where there is a strong business case to see that go larger, we’ll look at an exception for those markets,'” she said.

CBC/Radio-Canada has already begun rolling out new regional websites across the country with geolocated French language content. These websites, along with other new digital content, will be available Canada-wide by fall.

CEO Hubert Lacroix announced in June that the broadcaster was planning to cut down local newscasts as part of a plan to increase digital offerings by 2020. He did not provide details at that time.

The broadcaster plans to cut up to 1,500 jobs over the next five years, as it struggles with federal budget cuts and advertising shortfalls.

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