It was heralded as part of a renewal, a refocusing on local news and information that would bring people back to the CBC: Local newscasts in Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Montreal, Halifax, Calgary and Toronto would be expanded from an hour to 90 minutes. This comes just a few years after they were expanded from half an hour to an hour.
There's just one hitch: There's no additional staff to fill that extra time. In fact, the CBC is having to deal with much fewer staff than it had last year. So the idea, the CBC says, is to have three separate 30-minute newscasts back-to-back, each giving a different angle on the top stories of the day. People could watch the entire 90 minutes, or they could just watch a 30-minute segment and get the top headlines.
Yesterday, I watched the entire 90-minute newscast with my stopwatch laptop and crunched the numbers on how exactly they're filling their airtime in these extra 30 minutes.
Here's what I found. Note that these numbers are based on a single newscast, and so the average could be wildly different from what we see here.
As with my previous analysis, I broke the newscast down into major categories:
- Advertising: Commercial breaks. There were nine of them through the broadcast, an average of 2:21.
- Filler: Includes show openings and closings and “coming up” previews. There were an astonishing 10 of the latter (13 if you include the ones in the show openings). The newscast spent more than five minutes telling you what they were going to talk about later.
- Local news: This includes six local briefs and the following news stories done by local reporters:
- Opus card troubles by Amanda Pfeffer (two packages and a brief)
- Drunk driving sentence by Amanda Margison (two packages and a brief)
- Peel pipe burst by Tim Duboyce (two packages and a brief)
- New surgery technique by Kristin Falcao (one package)
- National news: Eight story packages provided by the national network, and a single national news brief.
- Wire news: Five briefs about world news stories with video provided by wire services.
- Weather: Frank Cavallaro got a lot of air time: eight weather segments, averaging 1:37. And this doesn't include the short 5-second bursts he presents during the "coming up" segments.
- Sports: There was no separate sports segment, so I've included these two local sports stories under the sports banner (a third story, about the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, has been filed under national news):
- Impact thinking of leaving the USL by Kim Brunhuber (two packages)
- A brief on funeral services for former Alouette Sam Etcheverry
- Business: Graphics with closing numbers were shown twice (once with anchor's voice-over, once without)
- Arts: Consists entirely of The Scene, a national arts roundup by Jelena Adzic, which was presented once at the end of the 5pm newscast.
If we consolidate the categories into local news (including sports and weather) and non-local news (including the arts segment), it looks like this:
- Local: 43%
- Non-local: 27%
- Advertising: 23%
- Filler: 7%
That actually doesn't look too bad, but it's more complicated than that, as you'll see.
Before and after
Comparing before and after, we see most proportions are about the same, but local news has taken a substantial hit, mainly at the expense of more weather and more national news.
Here's the changes in chart form:
* Business numbers weren't included in the previous charts, but represented about 1% of the average newscast. Arts numbers also weren't included. The Scene is not presented daily, and was aired during only one of the three studied newscasts, where it was categorized as national news.
The CBC big-wigs say you could watch the entire 90 minutes, but you don't have to, because the main headlines will be in each of the three newscasts, but each time a different angle will be presented.
Technically that's true. The three main local stories (the Opus card lineups, drunk driving sentence and Peel St. pipe burst) were presented once in each of the newscasts (a live reporter stand-up or packaged report in two of them, and a brief without the reporter in another), and the reporters did seem to file two slightly different packaged reports, with different interviews or a slightly different angle.
But the story was the same. I don't feel I learned anything new from the second time I watched it.
The repetition even got annoying at times. It led to at least one case where a story would be teased as "coming up" 13 minutes after it was reported (in the same half-hour block).
Stretching the staff
Of course, the real reason for all this kinda-repetition is the lack of additional staff. Five reporters presented local stories (four news, one sports). This is the same as the average from the 60-minute newscast. The number of (distinct) local briefs actually went down compared to the 60-minute newscast average.
Meanwhile, the use of national packages tells a different story. The number used was double the 60-minute average (8 vs. 4), and not a single one was repeated throughout the 90-minute broadcast. Not even the national and international briefs were repeated.
This forces us to ask: Why does local news need to be repeated in each of the three broadcasts, but non-local news doesn't? Is national news (like, say, the fact that the Liberal Party no longer supports the government) unimportant?
The new anchor
Andrew Chang is currently anchoring solo. He'll be joined by Jennifer Hall starting next Tuesday. You could definitely see the bright green glow under that stylish suit as he somewhat nervously stumbled on the occasional line. But he was comfortable enough that it didn't seem awkward. Plus, he's adorable. I'm comfortable enough in my masculinity to say that. My gut feeling is that he'll do a good job in the chair.
Michel Godbout, the former anchor and now a Really Important News Correspondent, seemed a bit odd in his new role. It wasn't that Godbout was bad. Rather, having him talk to Chang in a split-screen (one designed in such a way that Godbout looked much bigger than Chang), it was hard to see Chang as the anchor and Godbout as the reporter. Especially because Godbout still has many of his anchorisms - explaining stories to us in the "now, what that means is" way that he would do so often in the anchor chair.
I'm not sure if this feeling is because the two still need to get used to their new roles, or because we need to get used to them being in their new roles, or a mixture of the two.
Let it not be said my criticisms are not constructive. Here are some suggestions for the new newscast(s).
- Split or get off the pot: This whole different-angle thing isn't working. Either design a newscast that people can watch for 90 minutes, or tape a 30-minute newscast and replay it twice.
- Reschedule: If your mantra is that you want people to check in whenever they're free, why are you limiting them to a 90-minute segment of the day? CBMT is the only one of the three anglo stations without a late-night newscast. Why not take out one of those 30-minute blocks and move it to 11pm? Then it won't matter if you're repeating the same stories because you'll be reaching an entirely different block of viewers.
- Get a local arts reporter: "The Scene" is a joke and an insult to your viewers. Its top story was about a new Cirque du Soleil show opening ... in Toronto. And that's the next stop in a worldwide tour for the show which began in Montreal. I realize you're under budget constraints. Steal someone from radio or something. Even if they're just in studio talking to the anchor without visuals, it would still be better than canned filler from Toronto. This is one of the reasons CFCF is the market leader in local newscasts - its competition isn't even trying with local entertainment reporting.
- Ease up on the "coming up": Seriously. And don't tease stories you've already reported. But that brings us back ot the first point.
- Stop telling us the obvious: It may sound cool to say "you're watching CBC News: Montreal at [time]", but it's completely useless information for us. We know we're watching the newscast. Just give us the news already. Besides, this is a sure way to get anchors to screw up by saying "CBC News: Montreal at Six" when it's actually 5:17. I see no purpose in having each newscast given a different name based on what time it airs.
- Update your website: The "top stories" part of your newscast's website hasn't been updated since Friday. It also wouldn't hurt if you put video up in a more accessible format than streaming Windows Media.
Have any other suggestions? Add them below.
Finally, the set looks like something that's larger than a phone booth for once. Hopefully they get some good use out of it.
CBC News: Montreal at 5:00, CBC News: Montreal at 5:30, and CBC News: Montreal at 6:00 air weeknights at ... well, you get the idea.
UPDATE (Sept. 9): Chang explains during one of the newscasts (Windows Media Video) the subtle diferences behind each. If you can't see the video, here's how it breaks down:
- CBC News Montreal at 5:00
- Top local stories
- Weather (next 48 hours)
- National/international news in brief
- CBC News Montreal at 5:30
- Advancing (read: repeating with new angle) top local stories
- Weather (seven-day forecast)
- National/international news in depth
- Arts, opinion, environment segments
- CBC News Montreal at 6:00
- Complete (read: repeated) top local stories
- Weather (short-term and long-term forecasts)
- "Developing" national/international news
UPDATE (Sept. 16): Toronto's newscast is about the same as ours.