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 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, December 25, 2007

CBC's News Strategy...if you can't beat 'em, BE 'em.

2007 has been a bizarre year for CBC News at Six, starting with the hiring of rival CTV news anchor Janet Stewart and ending with her predecessor on ice and cooling her heels while head office investigates a scandal that could undermine the very foundation of credibility at the Mother Corp.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall at a CBC production meeting a year ago.

Producer A:

We've got to do something. More people watch Channel Nine's televised fireplace than our six o'clock news.

Producer B: I've got it. Let's blend what made us the No. 1 station twenty years ago with what makes CKY the No.1 station today. Pure dy-no-mite.

And so was born the Frankenstein's monster of television news. But we get ahead of ourselves.

The seduction of Janet Stewart would have made a winning reality show in itself. Building on a brief fliration by her, CBC honchos went into full Lothario mode. Nothing was too good when it came to wining and dining the Queen of Nice to replace Krista Erickson, whose professional on-air persona came with the warmth of a comforter made of dry-ice.

Lunch at the Paddlewheel at the Bay with CBC managing editor Cecil Rosner. Coffee at the Starbucks on Osborne with John Bertrand. How could a girl resist?

The only coal in the stocking was when The Black Rod revealed that Stewart was jumping ship, spoiling the carefully choreographed official announcement.

But she was only half the equation. The CBC reached deep, deep, deep into its Time Vault to resurrect the King of Nice, weatherman Murray Parker, to share the throne with Stewart. Nice meets nice. A sure-win scenario.

They wished.

Instead, we got the monster we've spoken of.

There was zero chemistry between Janet and Murray. Throw in sports guy Mike Beauregard and it was torture to watch. Three soloists, each wondering what the other two were on about.


Producer A:

We've got to do something. More people are watching flags flapping at Portage and Main than our six o'clock news.
Producer B:

By Jove, I've got it. If you can't beat 'em...Be 'em.

Exit Murray Parker. Enter CTV weather specialist John Sauder, their new hire.

Yes, the CBC has consciously decided to become a clone of CTV. If they would only give Waubgeshig Rice a haircut and put him on the police beat, they might fool some people into believing he was Kelly Dehn so they would stick around believing they were, indeed, watching CTV News.

Meanwhile, CBC is giving Janet Stewart the full-court press, pinning all their hopes on revitalization on her red-hair draped shoulders. She's got her very own column in the Free Press, and Rosner pulled a few strings with his friend Ritchie Gage, editor of Manitoba Business magazine, to give Stewart the cover-girl treatment.

Gage recounts a story meeting where Stewart comes across like a crusading Lou Grant chomping at the bit to run a human interest story that touches her heart.

Instead, says Gage, breaking news took precedence as CBC went live to a reporter at the virology lab where a suspicious package was found in the building. By contrast, CTV, he said, lead with the anniversary of the death of Princess Diana, followed by weather, more weather, then a sports brief.

Not so fast.

There's hype and then there's hype.

There's reality and CBC's pretend reality.

For the record, CTV actually lead with the virology package story, and, seeing as how their show starts almost 30 seconds before CBC News at Six, they technically had it first.

The Diana story ran 15 minutes into the line-up.

CBC News at Six has succeeded in carving out a unique niche for itself in the news timeslot. A virtual United Nations of newscasters, it boasts every ethnic group known to man. Except, maybe, the man. There's nary a male to be seen except for Waub, whose sing-song delivery leads the newscast most days; Alex Freeman, who covers the woman-friendly consumer beat, and Mychaylo Prystupa, whose great name speaks for itself.

Janet Stewart wixes her mirds so often CBC should promote her bloopers as a drinking game. And a highlight of every show is watching Donna Carreiro punctuate her every word with hand signals that appear to be a combination of semaphore, American sign language, and orchestra conducting. The man who guides planes to land on an aircraft carrier is a statue next to her.

CTV, though, better not laugh too hard. Whatever shortcomings CBC has, their gamble might pay off, particulary once Sauder joins the team.

CTV needs to find a way to energize their show to hold onto their crushing dominance in viewership.

CTV this year demonstrated it's capable of outclassing its competitors when it wants to.

On June 5th, CTV found itself the subject of breaking news when they were booted from their shiny new downtown studios after a bomb threat.

With a makeshift newscast wired at the last minute to utilize equipment at the MTS Centre next door, and with no scripts to follow, the team stood on the sidewalk and presented what may have been the best honest-to-gosh live newscast in the cities history.

Then this fall they slapped CBC silly with their hidden-camera expose of open-air crack dealing outside Portage Place and Air Canada Park.

It was a story unfolding right on Portage Avenue for years right under the noses of CBC, three blocks away. It forced police and Portage Place security to act, driving drug dealers away from the front doors of the shopping centre and clearing Air Canada Park of thuggish loiterers.

Now that's what good reporting can do for the community.

But it takes a lot to stimulate CTV into action. It's grown so comfortable in the pole position that the newscasts often lack ooomphh.

The interaction between Gord Leclerc and co-anchor Maralee Caruso seems wooden, which in itself is still an improvement over his excruciating happy-chat segues with Stewart. Behind Dehn, the daily cast hasn't much depth when covering stories, although Kevin Armstrong has been noticable for some aggressive city hall reporting. The issue of how to replace Sauder could lead to a change in the too-frequent weather segments, and it may be time to rethink how Sylvia Kuzyk fits into the overall show.

Stacey Ashley does a great job on weekend crime stories and Susan Tymofichuk has confidentally grown into the role of late-night anchor, but what the main newscast needs - genuine personality - was lost when Camilla Di Giuseppe and Leah Hextall weren't promoted to the first team and Camilla departed for Calgary.

And then there's Global.

Oh, what a disappointment.

Global News at 5:30 was a fast-paced breath of fresh air. But moving to six o'clock leached everything that was watchable out of the show.

Mike Brown, the jewel in Global's crown, would often lead the show at 5:30 with his unpredictable slant on news stories that everyone else was playing straight. But he's been relegated to also-ran at six, inserted here and there whenever to no good effect.

News anchor Derrick Oliver disappeared without a trace one day after an unfortunate experience hosting a volunteers awards dinner. His replacement, Peter Chura, brought all the pizazz of white noise in dark room while paint dried. It took months for him to loosen up, but at what cost to viewership?

The revolving co-anchors, Adrienne Pan and Eva Kovacs could have their experience better utilized in field reporting or special features, rather than some consultant's over-analyzed conclusion about what Winnipeggers insist on seeing ie- female anchor(s). The male reporters, by and large, lack presence and come off green as grass. And weekend anchor Nicolle Dube spouts malapropisms that would make Janet Stewart proud.

The departure of weathergirl Kate Stutsman for Hamilton has hurt Global a lot less than was first feared. Andrea Slobodian has left behind her undistuinguished reporting career, started to overcome her nerves, and now is a fresh new face with a beautiful smile and a girl-next-door-to-your-baba's-house appeal.

(Does anyone else yearn for the days of Lisa Saunders and Glen Kirby and A-Channel's phalanx of cameras on the streets. In fact Global should hire Lisa and Glen to give the show some personality. )

So, as 2007 gives way to 2008, television news in Winnipeg has become a soap opera.

Will CBC win back the hearts of viewers while wearing the mask of their arch-enemy?

Will CTV get over the heartbreak of rejection by its host and weatherman?

Will Global News find Derrick Oliver and tell him all is forgiven?

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