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Now the Details

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

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sclerosis at CBC News?

A chat with a former colleague at CBC revealed the extent of the problem.

In an effort to be more efficient and to demonstrate to its political masters and other critics that the Crown Corporation has mended its once profligate ways, it now handles and disburses taxpayers' money with crisp efficiency. To do this, a centralized editorial assignment system has been implemented.

Known inside the CBC as the "Hub," the goal is to insure that reporter assignments, camera crew allocations and story treatments are rational and rationalized for maximum exposure on CBC Television, Radio and online at

As my friend showed me on the internal CBC computer system, the daily story assignment is handed out every morning. No other assignments may be made without the permission of the editors on the "Hub." The subject matter may not deviate from the dictat of the "Hub." This means that the range of stories handled by the CBC on any given day has been drastically reduced.

To my eyes and ears, there is more evident sharing of content and presumably of resources. A TV host did an interview with a survivor of the Haitian earthquake which I heard on CBC Radio. Radio tracked down a Canadian who studied Arabic with the so-called "knicker bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. On a newscast, I heard a first-hand, if somewhat predictable description of what this young Nigerian was like ("He was quiet and studious. I never thought he would do something like this..."). The audio was shared and aired on CBC TV. So there are some important editorial synergies that are being developed.

There is a down side to this. One anecdote: CBC Montreal's local supper hour newscast had an exclusive interview with a former Mafioso. A good local story since an organized crime turf war has broken out and the son of a jailed don was shot to death recently. The Montreal show led with that story.

The "Hub" in Toronto had ordered that the lead should be the death in Ontario of a child with H1N1. When that order was ignored, the executive producer in Montreal found herself reprimanded by management.

The worry among the demoralized staff is that a bureaucratic mechanism has now imposed itself with the effect of stifling journalistic initiative. Stories that might make good radio but without a visual component are rejected. A radio reporter proposed a series of stories from Russia, but without the agreement of the tv side, it was vetoed.

The tendency to pack journalism is already far advanced, both inside and outside the CBC. This "Hub" concept will only exacerbate that trend. Until the editors and managers learn to loosen their choke hold, the value of independent journalism and initiative will suffer. But the message around CBC News these days is all about cutting costs and demonstrating efficiency and not it seems, about serving the audiences.


  1. yo jurnalism prof... i call BS.
    mebbe shoulda made a call to check yur fax before posting.

  2. jeff jeff jeff
    the hub can do a lot of a things but deciding the lineup of a show (in another city no less) is nothing short of a miracle. you should know that..or are the facts getting in the way of your negative spin? your students are the worse for it.

  3. The Hub can't figure how how to move pictures from one city to another. It can't figure out why a reporter doing a phone hit for radio can't do a live TV report from the field. The idea that it would even know what story a regional show is leading with is laughable. It is absurd to say that the hub orders a specific lead story. In my experience, the hub people have a hard time figuring how to make a phone call outside the broadcast center.

  4. Jeffrey...

    Here's an investigative idea for you: arrange to visit and talk to your former colleagues now working on The Hub. My guess: they'll admit it remains a work-in-progress, but tell you it has already improved the coordination of CBC's newgathering, and sharing, capabilities.
    Yes, there are gripes (at the CBC! Say it ain't so!) and bumps in the road, but it seems to be moving in the right direction.

  5. You have used 'insure' when you should have used 'ensure'. Need an editor much?

  6. Many years ago when I worked at ABC Television News in Melbourne, Australia, the top five "headlines" for the 7PM TV news broadcast were sent from the Radio Newsroom in Sydney. The main radio newscast, also at 7PM and television, were supposed to have at least the same stories. In Melbourne, we used them as a guide. Our feeling was so long as all five stories appeared somewhere in the Melbourne-originated newscast, then Sydney couldn't complain. And there were nights on the television side when Melbourne lead the television newscast for the entire east coast. And this in a country which didn't have a television network as we know in North America. As an aside: the network links were done through the Channel Nine "Network" in Australia. They had seen the light and had the capacity to link the three eastern states of Australia, but within their premises. ABC had to make the call and seek Channel Nine's permission to access the network.

  7. excellent blog I would like to see more updates