How local is Global’s plan for local news?

Shaw Media calls it innovative and transformative. Critics and the union calls it cost-cutting at the expense of local programming. What the CRTC calls it might become an issue.

Earlier this month, Global announced changes to the way it does local news across the country. The biggest one is that 11pm and weekend newscasts will no longer be anchored locally. Instead, an anchor or anchors in Toronto will produce local newscasts for the various local stations, customized for those stations and containing local news.

I get into the details of what’s changing in this story for the Montreal Gazette.

This is a step beyond what they did in 2008, when they centralized newscast control rooms in four broadcast centres (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto) so that one team could produce several newscasts in a day instead of just one or two.

What we’re left with are newscasts that feature reports from local journalists and are presumably lined up by local staff, but where the anchor, weatherman, director and just about all technical staff are in another city. Can that really be considered local programming?

Morning show co-host Richard Dagenais is being let go from Global next month

Morning show co-host Richard Dagenais is being let go from Global next month. (File photo)

There are also changes to the morning show, which will soon feature eight-minute segments every half-hour produced nationally that will be identical for all markets. As a result, the morning show is losing three employees, including co-host Richard Dagenais.

The promises

The union representing Global Montreal employees isn’t happy. It sent out a press release last week (later corrected) that condemned the loss of local programming. Except for a couple of tweets, no one paid attention.

CUPE/SCFP tells me they will be watching the new shows with a stopwatch to see if Global is meeting its obligations to the CRTC, and will complain if they’re not.

Like all commercial television stations, Global Montreal has to ensure a minimum amount of local programming is aired. For stations in large markets like Montreal, that’s 14 hours a week.

Shaw also made a separate promise to create morning shows at least two hours long when it purchased Global from Canwest in 2010, and to keep them running until at least 2016-17, contributing $45 million to that cause ($5 million for Montreal). Because that’s a tangible benefit as part of a major acquisition, those 10 hours a week have to be in addition to the usual 14 hours a week of local programming.

If we consider Morning News, Evening News, News Final and Focus Montreal as local programming, including their repeats and best-of shows, Global is meeting that obligation of 24 hours a week.

But are they really local?

As far as I can tell, the CRTC only really got around to establishing a definition of local programming in 2009, when it established the since-terminated Local Programming Improvement Fund. In Paragraph 43, it decided on the following definition:

Local programming is defined as programming produced by local stations with local personnel or programming produced by locally-based independent producers that reflects the particular needs and interests of the market’s residents.

Are these late-night newscasts produced by local stations? Do they use local personnel? It depends how you define “produced” and “personnel”, I guess.

When Global first outsourced technical production in 2008, the unions complained then too, saying these newscasts were not really local. The CRTC didn’t see it that way,

In 2009, the commission decided that there was no evidence that Global was contravening its licence requirements by outsourcing production of local news. It confirmed this later that year in renewing the licences of Global stations, but said it “will continue to monitor the situation.”

There’s also a separate definition of “local presence”, which has three criteria:

  • providing seven-day-a-week original local news coverage distinct to the market;
  • employing full-time journalists on the ground in the market; and
  • operating a news bureau or news gathering office in the market.

Global’s new plan fits all three of these criteria, though the first might be arguable depending on how distinctive the newscasts really are.

Global points out that it’s not unprecedented to anchor local newscasts outside of the local market. Its New Brunswick newscast is anchored out of Halifax. Other small stations owned by Global and CTV have their local news produced out of neighbouring markets. And the CRTC hasn’t seemed to have a problem with that.

The CRTC will be reviewing its local television policy in the coming year, and this could become a central issue.

What the new Global Montreal will look like

So how will this affect what actually goes on air? Here’s what we know:

  • The 6pm newscast is unchanged. It will still be anchored locally by Jamie Orchard, and produced out of Edmonton with a weatherman in Toronto. Its news will still be local, since it’s followed directly by Global National at 6:30.
  • Focus Montreal is also unchanged.
  • The late-night and weekend newscasts will have a Toronto anchor, and 11pm newscasts will be expanded to a full hour.
  • The morning show will have more nationally-produced content.

Many details are still unclear, but here’s some things I’m predicting will happen:

  • The morning show will have national news, world news and entertainment segments that are nationally produced, but still have the local anchor doing local news. There may be a temptation to do sports nationally, but unless they do something like City where the national sports segment is customized to the local market, it would probably be better to leave that local. We might also see some national lifestyle segments produced for all markets, or special all-markets broadcasts like we’ve seen on City.
  • The quality of the morning show will decrease thanks to its staff cuts.
  • Late-night weeknight and weekend newscasts anchored out of Toronto will no longer be live. Which is fine because they’ll be mainly rehashes of the 6pm news anyway, with maybe a report from an evening reporter thrown in. The hour-long 11pm newscast will be heavy on national segments, including some sports content. The ability to make late changes because of breaking local news will be significantly diminished.

One thing that’s unclear is who will be running the show locally nights and weekends. Global says it will commit to having a local person exercising editorial control over those newscasts, but setting aside how hard it is to effectively use that control when everyone is in another city and there’s enormous pressure to not be different from other markets, who will be the person doing this?

Under the current system, the only person in the newsroom for most of the night or weekend is the anchor. They’re handling assignment duties, lining up the newscast, and even calling the cops to get updates. Will there still be a reporter doing this? And if so, why not just have that person still act as anchor?

Global’s plan is clearly to focus on content over its container. But I think the company is underestimating the contributions that anchors make to their newscasts. It’s not a job that involves only 30 minutes a day of work.

How will the viewers react? Well, when your late-night newscast gets a couple of thousand viewers, you might ask if it even matters. And will they even recognize that their anchor is in Toronto, with little or no knowledge of the city he’s describing every night?

Or maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, TV newscasts are so 20th century. And Global is looking toward the future. Its plans for Global News 1, which ironically involve hiring a bunch of staff instead of laying them off, is a similar blend of national and local where the local resources are all gathering news instead of producing newscasts. But we’re still waiting for the CRTC to publish the application for that proposed service.

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23 thoughts on “How local is Global’s plan for local news?

  1. Steve W

    If it means an extra one or two local reporters daily in the field for Global Montreal I’m for it. A late night news anchor based in Montreal is not really needed(the 11pm Global newscast is for most part a rehash of the 6pm supper time newscast). On weekends Global Montreal for longest time, only used one reporter Saturdays & Sundays. Originally when I first heard the news last week I didn’t like their decision, but I’m keeping a open mind now.

    I will miss Peter Anthony Holder doing the weekend Global Montreal newscasts. Any idea of Global Montreal Weekend show ratings with Peter(someone posted a comment on this board that he was attracting at times 20,000+ viewers with him anchoring)? So Richard Dagenais will not be replaced on Global Montreal Morning show(that would mean Camille Ross will be solo host, or Jessica Laventure becomes a co-host)? Richard was also a freelancer at Global Montreal?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      If it means an extra one or two local reporters daily in the field for Global Montreal I’m for it.

      Global seems to suggest this is what will happen to Baynes. I’m not so sure there will be a net increase to local newsgathering.

      Richard was also a freelancer at Global Montreal?

      He’s a non-unionized full-time employee.

      Reply
  2. Dilbert

    “The quality of the morning show will decrease thanks to its staff cuts.”

    I would argue this to some point. Clearly losing @Dagenator isn’t good, and will certainly take away from their morning efforts, but at the same time, it may actually eliminate some redundant work done in each morning show city now. They may actually raise the quality of parts of the show by having a higher end “national” news package rather than having the local anchors reading national news. It may also allow the local staff to concentrate more on the local interest stories they have each morning, and perhaps a bit less on “the news”.

    The downside is, however, that the local aspect of at least part of the morning show will be lost. In some ways, Global seems to be trying to build a Canada AM competitor using sort of a backdoor way to get there, trying to fulfill a local content requirement for their stations but doing it on a national level. It will be interesting how the CRTC sees this.

    It’s clear that Global has a model in mind for local and national news, and it going to push it as much as they can. This is sort of like a lite version of Global 1. I personally think they are on the right track, being perhaps a little too honest in admitting that the individuality of the local stations isn’t as hard to do as all that, but must be done in a financially viable way. The CRTC may see otherwise, but it seems like the plan is a pretty good indication of what is likely to happen in the future no matter what.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      They may actually raise the quality of parts of the show by having a higher end “national” news package rather than having the local anchors reading national news.

      The national parts will probably be better produced, certainly. But the local parts will be done with half the staff.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        The question is, is it really half the staff? Before you go off counting numbers, hear me out.

        If the anchors (such as PA Holder) are spending some, part, or a significant part of their day selecting stories and writing all the prefaces to the stories, and this instead will be done centrally, has anything been truly lost? Did we lose a “local perspective” or did Global in fact spot a significant duplication of effort in every city that could be better served from a single central source? From that standpoint alone, the loss of one or more people to do duplicate work isn’t a loss.

        Moreover, if the package as a whole (for the national news) is better presented and more in style with the overall Global “design and appearance”, does that not also help? Everyone gets an at least marginally better product up front.

        So for those people who’s work ends up being rendered redundant in this process, it’s bad news and sucks. Yet, is the rest of the local news produced with truly half the staff, or just the same number of people who have fewer co-workers who were not exactly working on the local news alone?

        I am not a big fan of centralization, let’s make it clear. I think that local stations should be able to operate stand alone without any help, switching, and whatnot happening in another city. However, we long since passed the point in Canadian broadcasting where local stations matter enough to be given that level of autonomy anymore. It’s actually a model that, if it passes CRTC muster, is likely to be rolled out to CTV soon enough as well. Local anchors may be no more relevant to the new TV reality than an SD broadcast signal. It’s something that is nice and all, perhaps comforting for the old folks, but certainly not a must have over everything else in the deal. After all, we realistically tune in for the news, not to figure out what Mitsumi is wearing tonight.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          If the anchors (such as PA Holder) are spending some, part, or a significant part of their day selecting stories and writing all the prefaces to the stories, and this instead will be done centrally, has anything been truly lost?

          It depends if you want someone locally deciding what’s local news. But in the case of Holder, Global is apparently committing to having someone local there on weekends, which means someone will need to be at least partly reassigned to do some of what Holder did. If that’s a local journalist, then it’s a net loss.

          But it’s the morning show that’s going to feel the effects of the loss more than anything else.

          It’s actually a model that, if it passes CRTC muster, is likely to be rolled out to CTV soon enough as well. Local anchors may be no more relevant to the new TV reality than an SD broadcast signal.

          That’s not going to happen in Montreal at least. CTV Montreal has high enough ratings to justify the extra staff. There’s a reason Global is doing this in Montreal and Halifax but not Vancouver and Calgary.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            “There’s a reason Global is doing this in Montreal and Halifax but not Vancouver and Calgary.”

            YET. The Global 1 concept would apply all over. No matter how well those news programs are doing, being able to do the same show with less staff – while producing possibly a better (and longer) program will certainly weigh on them.

            My guess is if the CRTC lets this go through as local programming, it won’t be long before they all do it. There really is no reason not to.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              The Global 1 concept would apply all over.

              The Global News 1 project is separate from this.

              And what they’re doing in Montreal can’t be done in Vancouver because Global BC has so much more original programming. There would be nothing to gain from outsourcing the anchor job.

              Reply
  3. Jimmy

    Who cares? Barely anyone watches the stations news. Is it really worth the effort here Steve? I don’t think so.

    Reply
  4. Rick

    CTV Montreal is the power house for news at Noon and 6. but I always found the11pm report watered down, Global’s was better with PAH, they had a good 11pm cast going.

    Reply
  5. Dilbert

    “Late-night weeknight and weekend newscasts anchored out of Toronto will no longer be live. Which is fine because they’ll be mainly rehashes of the 6pm news anyway, with maybe a report from an evening reporter thrown in. The hour-long 11pm newscast will be heavy on national segments, including some sports content. The ability to make late changes because of breaking local news will be significantly diminished.”

    I have to ask the obvious question here: How much of this was happening to start with? It seems more like a bit of a strawman, as it’s something that would be incredibly exceptional and not an every weekend thing. Does Global even have staff currently available to do this on a Sunday night late? If it is that important a story, might it not be worked into the national package anyway?

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      How much of this was happening to start with? It seems more like a bit of a strawman, as it’s something that would be incredibly exceptional and not an every weekend thing.

      It’s mostly the smaller things that get added to late newscasts. Canadiens game highlights for example will probably be handled nationally (whether it’s an identical sports package for the whole country or one that’s customized for each market, we’ll see). But a lot of smaller stories that get worked on between newscasts might not get dealt with in the same way or even at all under the new system. It also makes it much more difficult to adjust things for those exceptional occasions.

      If it is that important a story, might it not be worked into the national package anyway?

      There are many stories that are important locally but have little or no national relevance.

      Reply
      1. Dilbert

        Let me ask the question again: outside of sports (which would likely be treated differently anyway), has there been a case in the last year or so that specifically Global changed their 11 PM news to have a live hit or update because of a change in a story that couldn’t be reflected in a package produced somewhere else?

        It seems you think the news is going to be produced Saturday afternoon and run Sunday night.

        Reply
        1. Fagstein Post author

          outside of sports (which would likely be treated differently anyway), has there been a case in the last year or so that specifically Global changed their 11 PM news to have a live hit or update because of a change in a story that couldn’t be reflected in a package produced somewhere else?

          Sure. It happens all the time. Often it’s minor things. Sometimes there’s a reporter assigned to do an evening shift when they know something’s going to happen. Or a cameraman is sent out to get video of a fire or something and the anchor does a brief about it. Whether this can all be done from Toronto, that’s the big question.

          Reply
          1. Dilbert

            If they know something is going to happen, clearly they can schedule for it in the news as well. It would only be for the truly unknown stories, and then the question would be are they really major enough to merit the special coverage? “smoke fire firemen” can only be done so often (I use to shoot that stuff for your paper, thanks) before it stops being news. Would Montreal be less informed without first video from tonight? I have often thought that the news process on this is more self serving (“we got the latest!”) rather than if it truly serves to inform the public.

            Reply
            1. Fagstein Post author

              If they know something is going to happen, clearly they can schedule for it in the news as well.

              Scheduling isn’t the problem. The question is who’s going to do it?

              Would Montreal be less informed without first video from tonight?

              Yes. But it’s not just about that fire or that flood. It’s just about any local news story that breaks after 6pm.

              Reply
  6. Brett Morris

    I used to watch CTV news for the longest time. Once Global came around I made the switch. If their production suffers they may lose some viewers but they won’t lose me. I will always watch Global news even if production suffers.

    Reply
  7. Low

    Building a National morning show sounds good. Just like the US networks do, with fixed local affiliate cutaways per 30 minute block. That would probably improve the morning show. But, the lost local time due to this should be allocated to other points in the day. Have a local newscast at 5pm. 6pm. 11pm. Or just create a newscast for 7pm and move those gossip ET shows to another slot. Though I really don’t like the idea of local shows being done out of town and pretending that it’s a local show. Seems deceptive. Especially when you consider it as being a news show. What else would they try to do to alter the news.

    Reply
  8. MBR

    During standard time, this is what the broadcast schedule looks like for the affected stations:

    10 PM ET/11 PM AT – Halifax, New Brunswick
    11 PM ET/10 PM CT – Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon
    2 AM ET/11PM ET – Okanagan

    Toronto will most likely be live, so I guess the rest of them will be pre-taped – some hours before it’s actually broadcast? And I doubt the crew in Toronto will want to stick around until 2 AM to do a live newscast for Kelowna.

    Reply
    1. S.Wan

      IMO, in the end, Global Okanagan will live from the BC1 Studio instead of having a late-night livecast from Toronto, but I wouldn’t be surprise if Shaw decided to let Global Okanagan simulcast Global BC instead, they already did in the Morning News.

      Reply
  9. Brett Morris

    With less and less being done in Montreal maybe it’s time for City to create a late night newscast as Global may lose viewers due to not being produced in Montreal.

    Who knows maybe a late night newscast on City will do well.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      With less and less being done in Montreal maybe it’s time for City to create a late night newscast

      Rogers has been very clear that this won’t happen. There are already three local late-night newscasts in English in Montreal, and City would have to hire a complete staff to create a fourth, whose ratings would undoubtedly be poor. The potential to gain the couple of thousand viewers of Global’s 11pm newscast won’t move that needle any.

      Reply

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