What to expect from CityNews Montreal, which launches Monday

Gazette photographer Dave Sidaway composes a photo of CityNews Montreal journalists Andrew Brennan, Akil Alleyne, Emily Campbell, Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed and Giordano Cescutti at the Citytv Montreal studio on Friday.

A handful of young journalists have been spending a couple of weeks rehearsing for the launch of Montreal’s fourth English-language daily evening local newscast. On Labour Day, ready or not, it goes live.

CityNews Montreal is part of the second half of five local City stations that have decided to join Toronto in having local news at 6 and 11pm. Rogers has determined that these evening newscasts are worth investing in as part of meeting their new requirements for “locally reflective news” established by the CRTC as of last year.

To get an idea what we can expect from this newscast, I watched the existing ones in Edmonton and Winnipeg, and talked with Dave Budge, VP of news and information at Rogers, plus briefly with Melanie Porco, supervising producer in Montreal.

The result is this Montreal Gazette story, published in Saturday’s paper. It explains how the anchorless newscast works. But for the TV and policy nerds, a few extra tidbits here.

I should stress that Budge repeatedly praised the Montreal team, calling them “fantastically talented.” It would be weird if a boss said the opposite, but I figured I should mention that.

VJ independence

Practically, a lot of the heavy lifting for these newscasts falls on this handful of videojournalists. For the most part, they will be working alone, coming up with their own story ideas, driving to get clips, shooting and editing them into a story themselves. (Andrew Brennan, who works mornings for Breakfast Television, is the exception, and will generally travel with a cameraman.)

Budge assures me that editorial control remains in Montreal, and that the show will be lined up locally. Global News says the same thing, though as a recent Canadaland story shows, a lot of out-of-market editorial work creeps in.

Budge also used terms like “intimidating amount of workload” and “high-energy,” which was meant as praise for his new team, but sounds to me like these VJs could have a higher risk of burnout.

Content recycling

Having watched Thursday’s evening newscasts out of Winnipeg and Edmonton, I noticed several stories multiple times. Not only do national stories get shared between stations, but local ones too. And the local stories get repeated in the second half of the newscast. (Budge says this is by design, because most people don’t watch the full hour.)

On the plus side, Thursday’s broadcast allowed Edmonton to show off what it could do in a breaking news situation. Alberta Premier Rachel Notley gave a 6:05pm press conference about her decision to pull out of Canada’s climate plan, and the newscast ran with 13 minutes of it live after about five minutes of stories setting it up.

On the minus side, discounting that presser there was about 10 minutes of original local news. In Winnipeg there was even less. (Winnipeg is considered a non-metropolitan market by the CRTC, so it has half the requirement for locally reflective news.)

Most TV newscasts will grab stories from other sources, whether they’re national bureaus, international wires or sister stations. It’s usually a matter of degree. CityNews’s degree is high.

Sports, as expected, comes out of Sportsnet’s studios in Toronto, though the news will be customized for each market (all six have CFL and NHL teams). Weather isn’t handled the same way everywhere. Winnipeg had theirs done out of Toronto, but Montreal will pre-record its forecasts with BT weather presenter Catherine Verdon-Diamond.

Speaking of BT, we’ve been seeing some of the new news reporters’ stories on the breakfast show, but Porco tells me we should also expect to see other BT personalities like Joanne Vrakas and Elias Makos in some capacity on the evening news. Edmonton and Winnipeg don’t have Breakfast Television (which is why they had to launch evening news last year), so I don’t know what this part is going to look like.

Promotion

I asked Budge about plans to promote the show. You can get a good indication of how much a network cares about something by how much effort it’s putting into promoting it. Neither Global News Morning nor Breakfast Television made huge splashes when they launched in 2013, and it looks like there’s not much different here.

Budge pointed to social media and word of mouth as a way of building interest in the show. BT’s Facebook and Twitter pages have been renamed to encompass both shows.

“I don’t think the average 34-year-old will be that impressed by seeing some handsome faces on a billboard,” Budge said, “but if we’re getting our content out and good content out on social media platforms, and creating word of mouth, and sharing content with BT, those are much more effective ways to convince people that there’s something here worth trying.”

The team

The news team, announced in July, consists of five journalists (there’s an open posting for a sixth), of which two are part-time. Two of the journalists are former CJAD reporters, while the rest are even greener, with a bit of freelance or short-term work under their belts.

Added late to the list is Fariha Naqvi-Mohamed, a blogger and Montreal Gazette columnist (who I first met way back when we were both at Concordia’s The Link newspaper a decade and a half ago). She will be doing more feature stories centred on local community groups.

The election

It’s worth noting that this launch happens at an interesting time in Montreal — in the middle of a provincial election campaign. CityNews doesn’t have the resources to put journalists on the campaign buses like other media do, but they will be covering the election, if not as intensely as the competition. Citytv Montreal will be broadcasting the anglophone debate on Sept. 17.

Bottom line

Citytv thinks this format, which is more fast-paced because it doesn’t have anchors and jumps straight from story to story, will attract a younger audience. Maybe it will. Or maybe the stories will get more traction on social media than they will on a traditional TV channel. Despite the excitement from those involved, it does look more like this is Rogers deciding to do its homework to meet CRTC requirements in the least expensive way possible.

But maybe I’m just being cynical.

CityNews Montreal airs from 6-7pm and 11pm to midnight every day starting Sept. 3. It’s available on Citytv Montreal (CJNT-DT) and streams live at citynews.ca.

You can find Citytv Montreal at:

  • Over the air: 62.1 (HD)
  • Videotron: 14 (SD), 614 (HD)
  • Bell Satellite: 207 (SD), 1033 (HD)
  • Bell Fibe: 204 (SD), 1204 (HD)
  • Shaw Direct (Advanced Channel Grid): 97 (SD), 546 (HD)
  • Shaw Direct (Classic Channel Grid): 366 (SD), 46 (HD)
  • Rogers: 122 (SD)
  • Zazeen: 20
  • VMedia: 9

8 thoughts on “What to expect from CityNews Montreal, which launches Monday

  1. Mediaman

    Based on your assessment, the other three outlets I don’t think have anything to worry about in terms of stiff competition..

    As for your bottom line observation, i totally agree with your assessment, they’re trying to get the most bang out of their minimum bucks. So what’s new here

    Reply
  2. Michel

    Andrew Brennan ? How is he still employed ? He was one of the worst newscasters / reporters I ever heard on CJAD. He would continually fumble his presentations and his live reports were usually disastrous.

    Reply
  3. dilbert

    Best bang for the buck and meeting the absolute minimum requirement to keep the CRTC happy is pretty much par for the course. City / Rogers is giving a textbook version of how to appear to be doing something while doing as little as possible.

    The lack of an anchor I think is a bit of an issue. One of the things anchors do is cover stories that don’t merit a full rendering. There may only be some footage captured by a camera person, or even obtained from freelance or third parties. City’s solution appears to force things to be full stories or not at all, no real middle ground. It will be interesting to see if they cover all the ground, or if it’s much more of a patchy spray of stories.

    Will it work? I think the market is ripe for alternatives, and if they aim low enough (and that seems to be the case) they will do well enough to keep it going.

    Reply
    1. Fagstein Post author

      The lack of an anchor I think is a bit of an issue. One of the things anchors do is cover stories that don’t merit a full rendering.

      City’s newscasts still do briefs. But instead of being read by an anchor they’re read by one of the reporters, either in studio or in the field.

      Reply
  4. DS

    If Rogers was smart the’d recruit Barry Wilson to run the shop. Wishing all these ambitious television journalists good luck! They’re definitely going to need it.

    Reply
  5. X

    I’m going to watch. The trend is true: I only watch the local stuff. Anything else I’ve already seen and read online. I have n app for weather. I don’t have to wait after the commercial to have it explained to me. Ditto for sports. The young people I know don’t even watch newscasts anymore. And I’ve had enough of CTV 6pm news and the po-faced, somber voiced mitsumi. Actually, I’ve had enough of cjad and ctv since they lost all objectivity and became superhospital shills. Maybe if there had been some investigative reporting like Aaron Derfel is doing now for the gazette, none of the Porter stuff would’ve happened. Instead we got blind boosterism without any questions. And why not? Mitz was the official face of the hospital along with Jean beliveau… The ctv 6pm newscast is going the way of the dinosaur and only the old and aging population of mtl is keeping it afloat

    Reply
  6. DS

    This just does not cut it. Real journalism with polished personalities will always come out on top regardless of budget or format. BT is definitely on its way out. This format is indicative of the commitment Rogers has to Canadians.

    Reply

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