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Media, ethics, and journalism. What works. What doesn't.


Jeffrey Dvorkin

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Viewers Compare CBC TV's "The National" and " PBS Newshour." Nolo Contendere




Two giants of public television journalism in North America have just completed a relaunch and a re-design of their respective formats and presentations.

In Canada, "The National" is CBC TV's flagship nightly news which airs in prime time at 10 pm locally across the country. Anchor Peter Mansbridge remains at the helm after more than twenty years in that role.

While in the US, PBS' "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer" has been nominally changed to "The PBS Newshour." Longtime host Lehrer is now joined by Judy Woodruff in what appears to many critics as a gesture toward an eventual succession to the role of anchor.

Both programs have moved away from longer form reportage but not yet to the extent of the abbreviated reporting found on the nightly news shows of commercial television. A breezier presentation is not always a bad thing and indeed, as viewers' attention is abbreviated, television is forced to adjust (some say it may be the other way around, but that's for another column).

What is interesting is the audience response to the changes.

At PBS, according to their ombudsman, the audience seems to appreciate the changes, for the most part. But at the CBC, the critics and the public have been largely hostile to the swirl of images, the brevity of the reporting and the move to softer, chattier features. Amazingly, the audience has noticed that Mansbridge is no longer sitting behind a desk, but standing for the entire hour. That simple gesture has generated much comment including many viewers demanding that he sit down!

Full disclosure: I was critical of the new "National" in its first few days. The constant studio camera movements and the constant de-briefing of reporters (as opposed to field reports) left me both visually disoriented and informationally famished. After a couple of weeks, the studio director was obviously given calming doses of ritalin but the dearth of information from the reporters continues.

PBS, on the other hand, seems to have found the right mixture. Jim Lehrer even gave the audience a primer on the journalistic values that will inform the new program. What a great idea!

Rather than another critique of both shows, I would suggest you have a look at what the CBC viewers are saying about The National here. Compare that to what PBS' viewers are saying here.

Nolo contendere.

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