The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL:

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Krista's gone, so what is CKY so worried about?

Well, the new television season is upon us which means it's time for our second annual examination of the local television news scene.

The '05 season started with infinite possibilities and ended with echoes of Lost and MTV music awards past.

One television newscast dropped off the radar without warning one night.

And CBC host Krista Erickson split for Ottawa, but not before giving her favorite colleague Marisa Dragani a smooch live on TV. If CBC had scheduled it during sweeps week, it may have bumped ratings.

Instead, CBC now goes into the new season as the perpetual owner of the basement. And that's not even the most depressing part of the new season outlook.

Oh, how exciting last year looked compared to '06.
- Global was moving to 6 o'clock to go head-to-head with the CTV powerhouse.
- A-Channel had morphed into CityTV and we were wondering if they would close the narrowing distance between themselves and CBC.
- CBC had Leathergirl Krista as their Ace and Face.
And it was girls, girls, girls on every station you turned to.

So what happened? CityTV tanked. They went in with the "spirited energy" of their young staff who turned out a newshour that told viewers everything that happened in the city that day. Then they reigned in most of that young staff and saddled anchor Lisa Saunders with the gravitas of new co-host Glen Kirby. Half the audience switched stations, not because of Kirby, but because the show got slow and interchangeble with the rest at six..

Not even Mark Jardine's mimicking of Global's Mike Brown could convince viewers the show was fun anymore. When a corporate takeover swallowed CityTV, and the new owners executed the newscast, it was almost a mercy killing.

The big question starting the '06 season is where their viewers landed up.

CBC, which had been feeling A-Channel's breath on their neck as the station closed to within a few hundred viewers in the ratings, breathed a sigh of relief as CityTV shed viewers faster than, well, than CBC.

But that respite is over. CBC is now the least watched news in Winnipeg. It has a hardcore audience of 22,000 to 25,000 which loves the leftwing, politically correct slant on events that the public broadcaster spins out. (But someone who has seen the last ratings book swears they've slipped deeper into the abyss and into last gasp territory with barely 13,000 viewers.)

The only thing of interest in the coming season is to watch how the viewer numbers reflect Krista Erickson's attraction factor.

Auditions for her job won't have the same power of tryouts for Canadian Idol, and you can bet that the pc brass aren't even considering anyone with a penis.

(It was interesting, though, to watch Krista's bye-bye speech where she thanked everybody down to the line-up editor and the director, but failed to mention veteran producer Morris Karp, who did more than anybody to grease her way to the top.)

You would think all this churn in the local market would let CKY - er, CTV Winnipeg - sleep easy at night. But The Black Rod has learned that isn't the case. Not by a long shot.

CTV is worried. The station has been holding focus groups to compare their product with Global News at Six.

Now, given the vast gulf between ratings, its roughly 3 to 1 in CTV's favour, you have to ask -- what's CTV scared of?

Global has turned out a disappointment. Like the quarterback in motion, they were calling the play a year ago. At 5:30 they offered a unique product. Often opening with Mike Brown's irreverent approach to political news, Global had won a loyal audience.

But the move to 6 o'clock apparently spooked them. The station turned into CTV lite. Weatherthingy Kate Stutsman is so airy she defies gravity. Mike Brown can still deliver when they let him off his leash. But overall, the show has lost its sparkle.

Note to Global: Starting your show with a nine minute feature piece on Transcona is a death warrant. D-e-a-t-h. (Pssssssst: Wanna be part of the community? Do your little remotes from say, J-Town, the public housing complex at Burrows and Gilbert -- and tell their story about living with nightly gunplay.)

And yet, CTV is scared.

They have a state-of-the-art new downtown studio. The move was greeted with a big yawn by the public. The station wasn't able to translate the move from Polo Park into any excitement. Which is the definition of CTV News.

It's dull. Bloated. Slow.

Do we really need multiple "weather people" to tell us the temperatures? Jon Hendricks making the entertainment beat un-entertaining ? Eleanor Coopsammy doing a story about kids backpacks ?

But like the Red River, CTV keeps meandering along, gathering viewers by sheer momentum. Thankfully the braintrust has let Camilla and Leah be themselves and kept Kelly Dehn on the crime beat. Can their queasiness be related to something as simple as "our girls vs their girls" ?

Last year we had fun noting the sudden blooming of new, female faces on all the newscasts. This year we're wondering: where have all the men gone?

It's not time for a Royal Commission yet, but you must have noticed that there's hardly any male reporters left on Winnipeg television news.

We confess. We may have subliminally known something was missing, but we didn't consciously recognize it until reading a story in the Washington Post a couple of months ago.

Sea change in TV news
Men become increasingly scarce on-screen and off
By Paul Farhi The Washington Post
WASHINGTON -- As news director of WTTG-Ch. 5 here, Katherine Green gets stacks of tapes and resumes from reporters and anchors -- some young and green, others older and seasoned. But the most common characteristic: Most are women.

By Green's estimate, women applicants outnumber men about 3-1. Bill Lord, Green's counterpart at the local ABC affiliate, sees much the same ratio and says the percentage of women has increased yearly.

The article goes on to say that in the U.S:

Women reached statistical parity with men on the anchor desk in the early 1990s, and their ranks have been climbing since. The number of female anchors reached a record high last year, accounting for 57 percent of the positions in a nationwide survey conducted by the Radio and Television News Directors Association.

Just as impressive are the gains in the rest of the newsroom. Women account for more than half of TV reporters (58 percent) and such middle managers as executive producers (55 percent), news producers (66 percent) and news writers (56 percent).

At the bottom of the career ladder are even more women: Almost two-thirds of bachelor's degrees in journalism and mass communications were awarded to women in 2004, according to research by Lee Becker of the University of Georgia. These days, when educators such as Becker or Craig Allen of Arizona State University look over their broadcast journalism classes, they often don't see a single male student looking back.

Now, that's what's called news folks.

How has this feminization of the news been reflected?

In Winnipeg, not so much, other than watching the CBC's I-Team reporter Alex Freedman become the Consumer Reporter and start doing hardhitting stories about -- what else? backpacks for kids ! -- as he did Tuesday.

But nationally, things begin to make sense. Watching CTV's Lisa LaFlamme almost burst into tears to show her empathy for a Lebanon refugee was embarassing. We didn't know it was only a sign of the times and we could expect much, much more of this sort of news coverage. Only now we have an explanation.

It also explains why men now get their news from the Internet.

The Washington Post story noted that male centred news concentrated on government, politics and war.

When CBC followed that format, they were top of the heap with a hundred thousand more viewers than they can claim today.

There's a lesson there, somewhere.

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