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Now the Details

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

Jeffrey Dvorkin

Saturday, January 30, 2016

More Digital "Deviancy" at the CBC: From My Source - "Deep Microphone"

Mindy Kaling - American Actress
The late New York Senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined a phrase "defining deviancy down," the catchy alliteration equivalent of "permissiveness" in political rhetoric about crime and criminal justice.

The CBC continues to pursue a race to the bottom of the digital culture on its website,

This time, the story is out of Newfoundland.

Three important stories recently emerged concerning the justice system in that province.

The first involves a 12-year old fraud case. It involves a complex condo-flipping scam. The judge in this case threw it out because the RCMP took too long to get the case to trial. This resulted in millions of dollars in fraud and court costs being lost. And it seems, this is the second such case over the past year thrown out because of allegations of RCMP fumbling.

The second case involves a homicide. Charges were again dropped against a man in Labrador accused of the second-degree murder of his infant son. A critical piece of evidence was a piece of the 4-month old's brain, accidentally disposed of by the medical examiner. The defence argued that without the tissue sample, there was no way to determine the veracity of the photos that the Crown intended to enter as evidence.

Third case: the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is under investigation for turning a blind eye to the illegal activities of a CI (confidential informant) until he assaulted two individuals.

None of these stories was covered by the CBC.*

This, at a time when local news everywhere in Canada is being diminished by the collapse of the newspaper industry and the closing of commercial TV newsrooms.

Instead, "Deep Microphone" informed me that the CBC newsroom in St. John's assigned TWO journalists to cover this "important" story concerning the American celebrity, Mindy Kaling who can properly pronounce "Newfoundland."

It is possible that the CBC did cover the more significant stories. But there is no sign of them on the local website. I hope I'm wrong. And I'm not against the occasional "clickbait" to brighten up our dismal times. But news judgement at the CBC seems to be in favour of the trivial and what Neil Postman called "Amusing Ourselves to Death."

In economics, there is a theory called "Gresham's Law." Gresham (1519 - 1579) was an English financier who observed that "bad money drives out good"...that any dubious coinage causes all monies to be suspected as worthless.

Perhaps there should be a similar law in journalism.

* I have been informed that these stories were reported locally. Apologies to the journalists who did these stories. But I am still appalled by the prominence of clickbait on The public broadcaster remains our last best hope for substantial local information in Canada. But I sense it is slipping away under the pressure of the marketers and the digirati.


  1. I share your deep concern about both clickbait culture in newsrooms and the ways in which years of cuts are affecting CBC content, particularly at the regional level, and I rolled my eyes at how everyone (not just the CBC) bit on the Kaling comment. But... I didn't have any problem finding the much more important stories you cite "on the local website".

    In fact, it looks as if (and I haven't checked this either) Cochrane and Kelland broke the RNC confidential-informant story, and the Labrador story credits "files from Jacob Barker" the CBC's VJ in Happy Valley Goose Bay. Again, haven't checked but I doubt many/any other regional/national outlets have managed to maintain reporters with cameras in Labrador...if they ever had them in the first place.

    One more, maybe pedantic, note about defining 'local', whether it's online or on air: it's an example of how the attempts to cover and spin the effects of cuts have transformed the meaning of the word to "regional if it's not Toronto".

  2. Nice to know they were covered Sue. Thanks. But the reliance on clickbait still worries a lot of folks both inside and outside the public broadcaster.

    1. To clarify, two last points re this post. First, the important stories were covered, and well, and I'm still not sure why they would have been hard to find. I look forward to the updated post; we know how mistakes can breed on the interwebs.
      Second re: Kaling – while I don’t know how it was covered, I don’t disagree with covering it. I should have mentioned earlier - Nflders will always pile on when someone *mis*pronounces the place, as you can probably recall from your days at CBC Radio! ;) So yes, you can call it clickbait, but not pejoratively so. While there may be may other examples, it may be unfair to infer an inappropriate 'reliance' from this one. I can pretty much guarantee that back in the day, CBC St. John's would have been lobbying Toronto to send a camera to Kaling in LA for a double-ender! That was part of how Here & Now's connection to its audience, along with a tradition of solid investigative reporting going back to the days of Robin Taylor, gave it a stranglehold on ratings for so many years. And yes, I miss my days there still. cheers

  3. Jeffrey -

    I am saddened that you decided to publish something so extraordinarily inaccurate.

    Not only did CBC cover ALL of the stories listed above, we broke some of them - either from the start or through developments. They are, because you don't name them, about Matthew Rich, Myles Leger and the investigation of the RNC by the Halifax-based Serious Incident Response Team. The opening sentence of our first story about the third is this: "The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary is under criminal investigation by an external agency, CBC News has learned."

    Much of what is publicly known about all three of these ongoing stories is due to our reporting.

    Perhaps before taking the word of an unnamed person, you can get in touch with us to do something old school: verify. We're in the book.

    It's too bad you or your correspondent could not find the stories, or had not seen them. All three were among our most-read stories on publication, and were widely shared. They are also easily found through Google.

    As for the Mindy Kaling story, it's what we call "a talker." That's it. It's not unlike a brite or a kicker or some other analogue in other media. It's a fallacy to assume that covering one meant not covering the other.

    By the way, I'm a senior producer (digital) in the St. John's newsroom. Please get in touch if I can help you in the future.

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