Posted in Montreal, Photos, TV

Inside Global’s CKMI-46

The CKMI studio features an anchor's desk, a chair and a lot of green wall

The CKMI studio features an anchor's desk, a chair and a lot of green wall

Earlier this month, staff at The Gazette got an invitation from our new neighbours: Global TV. In order to save money (and face the reality of a declining staff), The Gazette reduced its footprint at 1010 Ste. Catherine St. W. and moved its marketing and reader service departments. Canwest in turn moved Global Quebec from its previous home at the TVA building at 1600 de Maisonneuve Blvd. E. into the vacated space.

I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to attend an open house for a TV station (I went to CFCF’s open house in May and I saw CBC’s Montreal studios when I was an intern there in 2004), so I went downtown on my day off and brought my camera with me.

The station's logo is incomplete since it will be changing names next week

The station's logo is incomplete since it will be changing names next week

The location isn’t all that’s changing. This summer, Canwest got the OK from the CRTC to change the license of CKMI from a Quebec City-based regional station to a Montreal-based local station. (The history is a bit complex, but in a nutshell Global bought CKMI, which was a Quebec City station, and turned it into a regional station covering Quebec, with bureaus and transmitters in Montreal and Sherbrooke. Over the past few years, the presence outside of Montreal has essentially vanished – now only a reporter at the National Assembly – to the point where it’s already a de facto Montreal station.)

The main advantage of this change is that finally it will gain access to local advertising, an important source of revenue, and one that has basically been dominated by CFCF-12.

And so, on Sept. 1, Global Quebec officially becomes Global Montreal. Those ads you may have seen with anchor Jamie Orchard telling us what she loves about Montreal are part of this.

The studio

Anchor Jamie Orchard tells guests about the magic of the green screen

Anchor Jamie Orchard tells guests about the magic of the green screen

Global’s studio is a small room with only a desk and lots of green. It’s a “virtual” set, which is apparently all the rage in Europe. Everything outside of the desk, chair and anchor, is computer-simulated. The glass wall, flickering computer and TV screens, giant TV showing graphics related to a story, are all inserted digitally. Camera movements are controlled by computer which adjusts the animation accordingly, giving a smooth, realistic background that really does look like a studio.

On one hand, this means sets are cheap to produce and can be changed across the country in an instant. On the other hand, it can give the impression of being fake sometimes. And it brings up an ethical question: If photo manipulation is so scandalous in print, why is such video manipulation considered OK in television news? Isn’t it dishonest to show a newsroom behind an anchor’s desk that doesn’t actually exist?

The problem extends further than the virtual set. The weather and sports anchors are based in Toronto and Vancouver, respectively, but give presentations from a Montreal perspective that imply they’re in Montreal (no mention of their actual location is ever given). It’s a slippery slope from there.

Marks on the floor and wall give directions to anchors

Marks on the floor and wall give directions to anchors

If you look at the floor here you’ll see a box marked out with light green tape. This is the zone anchors must limit themselves to for purposes of lighting and focus. On the wall on the top right, a small mark notes where they’re supposed to look when chatting with what appears to us to be a TV screen showing their sportscaster in B.C.

One of the things about dealing with far-away producers is lag. There’s a two-second delay round-trip between Montreal and Vancouver, which means Orchard has to start introducing the next story just before the last one has finished. This took quite a bit of getting used to, she said, but now it’s second-nature. The odd, awkward silences you see with substitute anchors just after a packaged report has completed is explained by this effect.

View from behind the anchor's desk

View from behind the anchor's desk

This is what you’d see at 6pm if you were Jamie Orchard. Two computer-controlled cameras, two monitors, a laptop and a lot of bright lights. Because this is a repurposed office, getting proper lighting in here was tricky. Ceilings in TV studios are usually much higher. They had to strip the ceiling right up to the beams, and install more lights than you’d usually find. But it works.

Under the anchor desk: Not much to see here

Under the anchor desk: Not much to see here

A floor light covered in green paper lights up the bottom of the desk.

A floor light covered in green paper lights up the bottom of the desk.

The anchor's desk. Those things on the left are wireless microphones for the anchor and her guests.

The anchor's desk. Those things on the left are wireless microphones for the anchor and her guests.

A giant box allows the camera to move horizontally and vertically as programmed by the computer

A giant box allows the camera to move horizontally and vertically as programmed by the computer

Not only are the cameras computer-controlled, but they’re controlled out of Vancouver, which handles most things that used to be done out of local control rooms. The people in Vancouver handle the cueing of prepared packages, add the super-imposed graphics that identify who’s speaking, direct the anchors and all the other stuff involved with news production.

The idea behind this change was to maximize reuse of staff. Instead of a control room handling only a single half-hour or hour-long newscast a day, they do four or five. Taking advantage of the different time zones, Global needs only four control centres (Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver) to direct newscasts across the country.

Of course, this meant a significant loss of jobs for technical staff, which the union is still trying to fight. It tried to argue at CKMI’s license renewal hearing that because it’s produced out of Vancouver, the local newscast no longer qualifies as a local production, and therefore the station is violating its terms of license. Canwest countered that all editorial decisions are made in Montreal. The CRTC allowed the station its one-year renewal and said it would revisit the issue.

Production

The closest thing Montreal has to master control is all within this picture

The closest thing Montreal has to master control is all within this picture

This is all that’s left at master control, partly as a result of the centralization in Vancouver and partially because everything is now electronic.

Old-fashioned really expensive video equipment

Old-fashioned really expensive video equipment

A monitor shows various video feeds from TV, satellite, studio cameras and editing booths

A monitor shows various video feeds from TV, satellite, studio cameras and editing booths

The station attached to this monitor can be used for things like downloading interviews or other video shot in other cities, which can be edited into local packages and are then sent back to Vancouver for broadcast.

Paul Cormier is a technical producer, one of the few technicians left in Montreal

Paul Cormier is a technical producer, one of the few technicians left in Montreal

Lineup for the 6 o'clock news

Lineup for the 6 o'clock news

The lineup, being an editorial matter, is done out of Montreal, then sent to Vancouver for the staff there to turn into a newscast. Short items are added at the end of the newscast that can be dropped if it goes too long, though most of it is very meticulously timed.

A microphone sits at the end of a hallway. I'm told it's directional enough that it doesn't pick up noise from adjacent rooms

A microphone sits at the end of a hallway.

A closeup view of the microphone.

A closeup view of the voice-over microphone.

This microphone is used mainly by reporters doing voice-overs for packages. I’m told it’s directional enough that it doesn’t pick up noise from adjacent rooms.

The makeup room has two chairs, more than enough when there's never more than two people in studio at the same time.

Makeup room across from the studio

The makeup room has two chairs, more than enough when there’s never more than two people in studio at the same time.

An editing booth

An editing booth

Not much to say about the editing booths, where reporters package their stories. One thing I found interesting is that, because it’s all electronic, producers can monitor packages as they’re being produced.

Dozens of cables carry data between various points of the station.

Dozens of cables carry data between various points of the station.

Engineering has lots of little boxes with lots of little connectors and things.

Engineering has lots of little boxes with lots of little connectors and things.

Promotional videos are created out of this room

Promotional videos are created out of this room

The advertising and sales people always have it better. Case in point: this spacious office is where promotions are created. They’re usually voiced by Orchard or by Global’s national voice man, who’s dubbed the “voice of God”

The newsroom

The newsroom in all its cubicular glory

The newsroom in all its cubicular glory

By any standard, CKMI’s newsroom is tiny. There are less than a dozen desks for reporters, and that includes national reporter Mike Armstrong and entertainment reporter Natasha Gargiulo.

A wall near the entrance shows pictures of the permanent reporting staff

A wall near the entrance shows pictures of the permanent reporting staff

Global’s actual staff is very small. The station relies on many regular freelancers to fill its newscast.

A reporter's desk (in this case, Domenic Fazioli)

A reporter's desk (in this case, Domenic Fazioli)

I was a bit surprised how clean reporters’ desks were. Then again, they were having guests over.

Jamie Orchard's newsroom desk

Jamie Orchard's newsroom desk

Wish I could offer you something scandalous about Jamie Orchard’s desk, but it’s just too neat.

A picture of CTV cameraman Hugh Haugland

A picture of CTV cameraman Hugh Haugland

I saw a few of these cards scattered around. (I’ve also seen them at CFCF.) Haugland died this month on the job in a helicopter crash. The local anglo media community being as tight-knit as it is (Orchard’s husband, for example, works at CFCF), the loss didn’t just affect people at CTV.

A giant clock in the newsroom ensures nobody ever misses deadline (well, in theory anyway)

A giant clock in the newsroom ensures nobody ever misses deadline (well, in theory anyway)

That is one massive clock.

Well, we all know where Global gets its news from (*cough*)

Well, we all know where Global gets its news from (*cough*)

A note attached to monitors reminds reporters when deadline is.

A note attached to monitors reminds reporters when deadline is.

The old "on air" sign, always a must-have

The old "on air" sign, always a must-have

I’m a celebrity

Though I was taking pictures with what could pass for a professional photojournalist’s camera (one or two people originally thought I was a photographer for the paper), I went through the tour mostly inconspicuous.

I was about to grab some free food and leave when Orchard walked down the hall in my direction.

“Are you Steve Faguy?”

Shit! I’ve been discovered! Run!

Actually, we had a pretty good conversation, and she was quite cordial, even with all the things I’ve said about her station (and her). Through that conversation I learned that I’m read much more among local media types than I’d originally thought. (Hi guys!) That realization happens quite often, and yet it surprises me every time.

A bad situation

Like any good leader, Orchard argued the case for her hard-working reporters and staff, saying that they’re doing the best they can. I actually don’t disagree with this, and I explained to her (as I’ll explain to all you now) that I don’t blame the station’s troubles on its staff. It’s clearly been dealt a bad hand ever since it launched in 1997:

  • Until now it has had no access to local advertising.
  • It’s not carried on satellite, which is particularly problematic in Quebec because of its above-normal satellite subscriber base. Many people who live here couldn’t watch the newscasts if they wanted to.
  • It entered a market long dominated by a CTV station with exceptionally high viewer loyalty. It’s the third station in a market of less than a million anglophones.
  • Ratings numbers don’t accurately reflect how many francophone viewers watch the station, artificially deflating its viewer count.
  • Its budget is far too small to be able to counteract any of these problems with a large amount of high-quality programming.

Some of those can be blamed on Canwest. Others on the CRTC, satellite companies or bad decisions made 12 years ago. And while the station is not totally blameless, it is working with one hand tied behind its back.

Irony

Feeling a bit guilty that I had perhaps judged the station and its new green-screen studio too harshly (Orchard said she too was skeptical but eventually came around to the idea as a way of being able to focus a tight budget on local programming), I watched the newscast that night at 6pm.

At about 6:15, suddenly I saw a Toronto city life show begin. Did I miss something? Had the newscast been cut in half? Did they not have time with this open house going on to produce a full 30-minute newscast?

After what seemed like an eternity but was actually just under five minutes, the program abruptly cut to Orchard who apologized for the error made at master control. The lost time cut the newscast significantly, from its usual 24 minutes to about 19:30. You can see the complete newscast here, with the offending program cut out but with Orchard’s apology intact.

Once again, this was a matter of the local station suffering for a problem that wasn’t its fault.

I wondered, looking at that, whether it would have happened in the same way with a local master control. Sure, someone could have flipped the wrong switch or pressed the wrong button, but would it have taken four and a half minutes for a local master control to realize there was something wrong?

The ultimate betrayal

Though Orchard made it clear that she didn’t hold a grudge and she accepts criticism, I also learned that people can get the wrong impression from my criticisms sometimes. I know everyone works hard, and they do their best under the circumstances to put out good programming.

I try to keep my criticisms constructive (or at least amusing), but even then I’m willing to accept the kinds of errors and missteps that happen on a regular basis. (I’ve made enough of them myself.)

But there’s one thing I can’t accept, and it goes to the heart of viewers’ trust in this station:

Domenic Fazioli is a Bruins fan

Domenic Fazioli is a Bruins fan

Your eyes are not deceiving you. That’s a Bruins mousepad, and a Bruins puck under the monitor, and CKMI reporter Domenic Fazioli on the left.

I asked Fazioli later by email about this disturbing paraphernalia, and he was unapologetic:

Yes

Proud to be a bruins fan.

I have no words to describe the outrage I’m feeling, so I’ll leave it to you: Is this a firing offence, or should he just be suspended until he reorients his loyalties?

Global Quebec’s Evening News airs every day at 6pm, with a one-hour News Final every night at 11pm (half an hour on weekends). Focus Montreal, a weekly interview program with Jamie Orchard shot mainly in the same studio, airs Saturdays at 6:30pm and repeats Sundays at 8:30am. You can subscribe to the weekday evening newscasts and the weekly Focus Montreal show through your RSS reader.

Global Quebec becomes Global Montreal on Sept. 1.

15 thoughts on “Inside Global’s CKMI-46

  1. James

    Fascinating, thanks for taking the time to visit and give us your thoughts. The opportunities for not-100%-honest ‘local’ content concerns me, but if CKMI can now finally call itself a Montréal station and tap into Montréal ad revenue, perhaps its leaner shape and size means it can sooner benefit from its new advertising market.

    As for green screens being ‘all the rage in Europe’, they are prevalent but by no means dominant. Here in Scotland I can watch newscasts from the BBC (London & Glasgow), Sky, Channel 4 and Five all recorded in predominantly ‘real’ built sets, although it’s amusing to recall the first virtual news set on British TV, which I believe was the national BBC news from the early to mid 1990s…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y9P1AnTTjc8

    As you can see, they never quite got the proportion of the desk right: it looks to be too shallow with the newsreaders sunken in the floor or perhaps kneeling…

    Reply
  2. Kakei Chan

    Great article.

    The Global news room set looks like those used by community programmings, small in size, low budget and almost guerilla-like. Something that can be setup in your basement. Whereas real local ethnic community shows on CJNT (E! Montreal, also own by Canwest) get a studio with real background built with soild material. Kind of ironic. Although they do not need the flashy CG to interview local community leaders.

    As for Domenic Fazioli, he must have been converted or at least tainted being in a Bruins bias environment such as Hockey Night in Canada. Just look at all the former Bruins who work there: Cherry, Stock, Milbury.

    Reply
    1. Steve

      I’m surprised at quite a few people working in Montreal media ‘are not’ Canadiens fans(even people working in Montreal sports media). I used to keep quiet that I’m not a Canadiens fan(born & raised in Montreal but never a Canadiens fan), but now realize I’m not the only one in Montreal.

      Reply
  3. Jean Naimard

    Thanks. I don’t really care about media (they’re all croporate ’hos who sell-out and do their utmost to suppress our legitimate collective aspirations at breaking from the colonial bond), but it is interesting as I would not normaly seek the kind of information you provide here.

    (And I never realized how much of the glitz of news studios backdrops is oxdung).

    Reply
  4. Christopher

    Great piece.

    Any idea why all of the Global newscasts across the country seem to be available as video podcasts except Global Quebec? They obviously archive the newscast and put it up on the Internet, they just don’t seem to make it available as a podcast.

    I watch the Global National news on the train every morning but I really miss having a local newscast (English or French) that I can watch daily.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    No amount of bells, whistles or technology will hide the fact that Global News is a sham. By my accounting you spoke with almost 30 per cent of the newsroom staff by speaking to Jamie Orchard and emailing Dominic Fazioli. I agree they seem to work hard and are not the problem at Global, but they don’t produce local news. They fill air-time. I tried watching for a while but it ends up being two stories on something I read in the Gazette that morning, weather from Toronto, a feature story from another Global station, more weather from Toronto and then a Jeanie Moos report from CNN that I saw last week. This is a bad joke. Really, if a major news story breaks in Montreal today are you really going to tune in to Global to learn more?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’m pretty sure it’s CFCF that tends to use the Jeanne Moos reports from CNN.

      And all TV and radio steal their stories from newspapers. It’s the way the industry works.

      Reply
  6. Jessica

    Hi Steve!
    You may not remember me, but I was your TA at Concordia.
    First of all, congratulations! I just wanted to say that I’ve been reading your blog for about a year now, and I think it’s great! You’re insightful and funny, and you talk about things that aren’t normally covered in the media, or at least not as in depth.

    Anyway I just read your entry on Global and I couldn’t help commenting. I worked at Global for three years, first as a casual (freelancer) and then in 2007 I got a permanent job in the Quebec City bureau. I packed my stuff, moved to QC and started working there as a researcher. Before I knew it, I was reporting, hosting and doing look-lives for TML. I loved my experience there, it was really like a second school for me.

    Unfortunately, my wonderful experience as a permanent employee lasted 4 months. The station closed down, I lost my job, I eventually moved back to Montreal and that was the end of that.

    Anyways, I have really great memories of my time at Global. It was just really nice to read about and see what they were up to. Thanks for the info, the pics and everything else.

    :)

    Jessica

    Reply
  7. James

    A slight update on my earlier comment: the ITV network in the UK has recently gone all green-screen for it’s national news. The way in which virtual space and studio space is spliced together in the opening titles suggests the newscasters are hiding in a big black hangar full of yellow curtains and raw news… :)

    Reply
  8. Joe DI Lena

    Oh my God, I was quite literally SHOCKED AND AWED and I felt betrayed and hurt by that last shot of Fazioli’s desk. It’s so true, I had already gotten over the greenscreen by the end of your post but this, this will never leave my mind.

    :-(

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Notebook from Global Montreal – Fagstein

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