CBC isn’t afraid to talk about itself

By now just about everyone has heard about the 800 job cuts at the CBC and various other cost-cutting measures being taken. The cuts got quite a bit of attention, both from the media and from politicians. More than similar cuts from CTV, Canwest and others that preceded it.

The main reason is that the CBC is publicly funded. Nobody can do anything about private media cutting jobs, but the government can do something about the CBC’s budget (and, of course, opposition MPs can grandstand and complain about the government without offering any budget-friendly suggestions on what they should be doing differently).

Perhaps the media outlet that best covered the CBC cuts is the CBC itself. In fact, some might argue that CBC News spent a bit too much time talking about its own financial troubles to the detriment of other news stories, though others argue that Radio-Canada hasn’t been quite as vocal as its English counterpart.

Second perhaps only to Canadian Press and certain bloggers, the CBC has been very interested in stories about the media. There’s even a section on its news page devoted to it (though it unfortunately throws in pop culture stories there too).

I would argue that there’s a different culture at the CBC when it coms to newsgathering and transparency. When they said they were laying off 800 people, they put the word “layoffs” right in the headline of the press release. They didn’t talk about “streamlining” or “reductions” or “stop gap measures” that try to obscure the truth. CBC’s president, Hubert Lacroix, became a willing interview subject on just about every news show that would have him, explaining what this decision meant without any marketingese.

The CBC not only tolerates but endorses a blog about the corporation that (while it’s accused by some of toeing the party line) is the most liberal such blog I’ve ever seen, with the freedom to criticize the CBC where such criticism is deserved.

There’s an element of not just legally-mandated transparency but honesty at CBC that I think is sorely lacking at other publications and broadcasters. Bad news sucks, but news consumers are adults and they’ll understand decisions if they’re explained properly and honestly. They’re certainly much more willing to accept such decisions if they feel that they are part of the conversation and their concerns are being heard.

One of the latest decisions to come to light is the cancellation of CBC News: Sunday, which has spawned a Facebook group in protest. Rather than try to pretend it doesn’t exist, the show’s website opened up a forum for viewers to express their feelings about the decision.

I think there are lessons here for private news companies. Those who will survive the media collapse will be those who can connect with their consumers on a human level. It’s much easier to do that when they can trust you. Having a human face, warts and all, is a good way to start.

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