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:

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Winnipeg TV newscasts surpassing dead-tree offerings

Readers forgive us, for we have sinned.

We have to confess. As born-and-bred, dyed-in-the-wool newspaper consumers we never thought this day would come. But it's here.

We would sooner watch the TV supper-hour news than reach for the daily paper.

It hurt just to write that.

Before television news directors dislocate their shoulders patting themselves on the back, we should add that when we say TV news, we mean that in the plural. You have to watch all three newscasts at the same time for the best effect.

Watching the news has become a guilty pleasure. Year-over-year-wise, the quality of TV news has ratcheted up several notches as the quality of local newspaper coverage has plummeted. Undoubtedly, we have CBC to thank.

They kick-started the process, and, to their credit, the other stations stepped up their game to match the Mother Corps. Competition is a wonderful thing.

CBC, which for years had the desperate air of The Bay's bargain basement, has been reborn with the launch of their new format---news at 5:00, 5:30 and 6:00, live/live/live, breaking/breaking/breaking.

There's an unmatched energy on the show, oftentimes bordering on manic, which pours off the television screen into your lap.

Only true news junkies would watch all 3 'casts, which somedays is unfortunate. Important news on one broadcast is sometimes lost on the others.

The fact that Stu Murray was hired by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights primarily as a fund raiser was reported only on CBC's 5:30 news. Another day CBC had an exclusive story about a pepper spray assault on students leaving an after-school basketball game Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute, but only, again, on their 5:30 show.

If possible, CBC opens every show with 'Breaking News.' The problem is that many days there is no 'breaking news'. That's why we're bombarded with house fires and non-fatal car accidents which are beginning to all look the same.

CBC's new format is heavy on weather and live hits. Weatherman John Sauder introduces the show and is sprinkled throughout all 3 broadcasts. It's straight out of the Tammy Faye Baker school of presentation---if some makeup is good, more is better, and more than more is best of all. Replace makeup with weather and you've got the CBC, 2010.

That might be great for casual viewers, but for us, Sauder's face is the cue to switch channels to catch the news elsewhere.

But its the live hits that have changed the game in Winnipeg. CBC goes live whenever they can, even when there's no reason for it. A reporter once did a live hit in the empty stands at the stadium when discussing an assault on a police officer there the day before. (CKY had video taken on game day. Ouch. That had to hurt.)

Reporting live is no easy task. To their credit, reporters for all 3 stations have stepped up and become pro's at the art of the live broadcast. There are more verbal stumbles by host Janet Stewart back in the studio (which, believe it or not, are part of her charm.)

Gosia Sawicka has become the new Kelly Dehn. He pioneered the police beat on television for CKY; she's the CBC's police reporter, coming live from every crime scene in the city. Young, confident, and best of all, exuding an interest in the stories she tells, she's carving out her own territory on the mean streets.

CBC has also added something new to their newscasts -- men. Male reporters were almost extinct on Winnipeg's television news. CBC has beefed up the testosterone level on their broadcasts with the addition of Wab Kinew and Randell Mauricio.

This may have been bad news for Waubgeshig Rice. Once their lead-off reporter, his stories have recently been pushed down low in the line-ups while the new boys moved up the ladder. Did his Valley Girl uptalk finally sink him?

All that said, CBC continues to proudly cling to one fatal flaw -- political correctness.

It's that practice which, ultimately, reduces the value of news on CBC. For all their innovations, the bottom line is CBC cannot be trusted. Their PC filter is set so high that important details go unreported. It's like a four-legged stool with one leg missing; lean one way and it supports you, lean the other and you fall on your heinie.

They once breathlessly reported a warning to all women in Winnipeg's west end about a man who had sexually assaulted a series of unsuspecting females. They gave his height, but refused to say he was aboriginal in appearance. You had to watch the other television stations to get the correct description of the potential rapist.

CTV news, formerly known as CKY, offers Red River journalism -- not the school, the flowing body of water. It's wide, deep, steady, and strong. And predictable.

Hosts Gord Leclerc and Marilee Caruso are as bland, yet comfortable, as that old sofa in your living room. They don't try to be anything they're not. Which is good; watching them try to hype the Olympic Torch run as the greatest thing since the moon landing was painful.

But if CBC takes a big bite out of CTV's viewership in the next couple of ratings periods, expect to see more bells and whistles around that anchor desk. And hopefully fewer goofy hats.

CTV's crop of reporters is matching CBC story for story. The beauty of the competition among all 3 stations is that any one of them can come up with an exclusive on any given day.

The Winnipeg Free Press and Winnipeg Sun no longer, apparently, aircheck the television newscasts, because many excellent stories appear only for fleeting seconds on TV and are never matched in print. The TV stations, however, do recognize good stories by their competition and will do them themselves the next day.

This week CTV had the scoop of two girls arrested for threatening to kill students at a Selkirk high school. It was played well down in the lineup, but CBC still did a follow (as, in this case, did the Free Press). But the closure of Fanny's Fine Furniture, with the blast by the owner at Sam Katz and Greg Selinger that "Manitoba is NOT open for business" went unreported elsewhere.

The aforementioned Kelly Dehn has grown into the Walter Cronkite of local TV---experienced, stolid, the dependable voice of reason. Mr. Excitement, he's not. He's left the breaking crime stories to the new blood, in this case usually Stacey Ashley, whose enthusiasm captures your attention. Dehn, meanwhile, puts out solid stories that are criminally overlooked. He recently broke a story that deserved a wider audience on how Winnipeg police have stopped looking at store surveillance tapes, which have criminals caught in the act, because there's a staffing shortage.

If there's one complaint with CTV it's that they're not using their location to its best advantage. When they moved downtown from Polo Park they broke a major story on the open drug dealing around Portage Place and Air Canada Park. Since then, they've gone to sleep on downtown stories. Not even after their own female employees were attacked in separate assaults did they focus attention on the lack of safety downtown, especially for women.

Global News….we had such high hopes for you. There's one word which used to describe Global: imagination. Or was that 'fun'? When Global's local newscast was at 5:30 they were unique in the then four-channel news universe. It was must-see TV. They were the spunky upstarts fighting for approval and they did it by taking unexpected angles to stories.

Then they moved to 6:00 and became like a child prodigy dumbing down to fit in with his playmates.

Once they were a sneeze away from overtaking CBC and becoming the #2 station in town behind CTV. Now, despite a valiant effort by its reporters, Global is settling into the basement slot. We recognize that Global's bankruptcy protection status weighs heavily on their staff and yet they've successfully adapted to the live hit universe, to the cut-and-thrust of competiton, turning out their share of exclusive stories. Their reporters are regularly poached away. And the loss of co-anchor Eva Kovacs may also affect viewer loyalty.

We still miss Andrea Slobodian at the weather map. (We did catch her once on her new gig with Channel 9. One word: huminahuminahumina.)

Global still has us turning to them first though. Their local news starts a minute before the others. After that, it's a dogfight.

Ladies and gentlemen, clickers ready...

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