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Jeffrey Dvorkin

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Knowlton Nash and his Vision for Canadian Public TV

Knowlton Nash 1927-2014 
There has been a strongly sentimental reaction in Canada to the death of the CBC's iconic TV news presenter, Knowlton Nash.

The implication is that the past at the CBC was a lot more engaging than how the CBC appears today.

Some of this is pure nostalgia for an era that people remember fondly only because it seems less complicated than today. And public broadcasting audiences have a propensity to feeling nostalgic. Perhaps that is a common human attribute. But it is a strong sentiment among listeners and to a lesser extent, viewers of public broadcasting.

The country has indeed changed since Knowlton read his last newscast in the early 1990s and handed the anchor desk over to a younger man, Peter Mansbridge.

In that pre-digital era, there was a stronger sense of community that the CBC was able to both serve and represent. It's ironic that at a time when media organizations have the ability to have closer connections to the audience, that same audience is more impatient and more fragmented than every before.

So that nostalgia is I believe, less for the CBC as it once was, but for a pre-digital country where the media were agents of community, not for the individualization of the audience.

The CBC, to its credit, has made efforts to connect with that audience, but that is harder than ever specifically because that audience has different needs now. The idea that the public will tune in the nightly news because it wants that connection is very much a 90s concept. The audience already knows the news because it has been awash with information all day. The nightly news assumes that the audience has been kept in the dark and now needs the newscast to catch up on events. Nothing could be farther from the present reality. The audience, however, still wants to know why it happened, not what happened.

Until the CBC figures that out, the once proud national TV newscast will remain mired in third place in a three horse race.

So my own nostalgia is tempered with the thought as per Joni Mitchell, "you don't know what you've got till it's gone..."

My appreciation of Knowlton Nash was in the Globe and Mail today.

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