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

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Monday, August 30, 2010

The End of the Nightly TV Newscast?

A short--ish blog today. I'm prepping to teach two courses in the journalism program at Centennial College/ University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. My focus is elsewhere for now.

But some thoughts generated by a friend and colleague from my CBC days who has done some thinking about what's next for the venerable nightly television newscasts, now a staple of virtually all media in Canada, and internationally.

If I were asked what form the nightly newscast should take, I would suggest that the 30 or 60 minute broadcast - the essence of TV news for more than 50 years - has long outlived its usefulness. Audiences are now so bombarded with information all day long, the idea of turning on the set in the evening to devote time to what are now old news stories and events, seems rather antique...very 20th century.

Back in the 1980's the CBC had a brilliant idea: move the nightly tv news from 11 pm to prime time - aka, 10 pm, and give a solid 20 minutes of news followed by 40 minutes of the most innovative and explanatory television journalism every seen. It was called The National/The Journal and it garnered a nightly audience of 3 million, sometimes more.

A few years later it was killed off (that's another story), moved to 9 pm and became a one hour integrated news show. It bombed and was moved back to 10 pm but without The Journal. The program has never recovered and now languishes in third place in a three race market.

Now that citizens are overwhelmed with even more information received on all possible platforms including the receivers in our back molars, it's time to junk the idea of a television news program of record. I would suggest that TV news reinvent the form and bring back The Journal - or a variant thereof.

Sure, the program would start with a news recap - but no more than five minutes. Then segue into the most compelling explanatory journalism that can be found. It would include the biggest story of the day, but one that astonishes the viewers. It would include interviews, information about culture, sports but neither a sports report or a cultural presentation. There would be nothing like it anywhere on television and it would return the notion of "appointment viewing."

Of course, there would have to be a commitment from management to doing news that is important, compelling and not the usual audience pandering and faux moral panic about non-events.

Surprise! That program already exists. It's just not on television. It's on NPR and it's called "All
Things Considered."

1 comment:

  1. And versions can also be found on CBC Radio: The Current, As it Happens and, locally speaking, on shows such as Toronto's Metro Morning. For that matter, the PBS nightly NewsHour is a low cost reflection of The Journal.
    You're quite right about the need to refocus "flagship" TV newscasts; national or local, a public broadcaster needs to be offering an complementary alternative to the privates' breathless ambulance chasing.