Media Shakeups: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

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By Harvey Oberfeld

Keeping It Real…

April 13th, 2015

 

First of all, kudos to Bell Media and CTV for firing its own President, Kevin Crull after he interfered in CTV News coverage of a major CRTC decision affecting the company and the network, ordering them NOT to include interviews with CRTC Chairman Jean-Pierre Blais in coverage.

After other media exposed the censorship move, Bell Media and CTV were widely condemned and castigated … placing the very credibility of the company’s news operation in jeopardy.  Crull did a mea culpa and apologized  and frankly, that’s all I expected would happen.

But BCE top brass went further … removing Crull from his post … and I believe that not only did a lot to restore CTV integrity, but also sent a message (hopefully) to other corporate brass that News is not just like any other department, where operations can be directed from above, subjected to interference and editorial censorship … without word leaking out and the network having to face a severe public backlash.

Good for them.

Meanwhile at my old alma mater, Global, another major shakeup last week … this one raising more concerns over more staff cuts and further reducing its Vancouver station’s overall all behind-the-scenes roll in producing and editing news content for other smaller Global stations in the country.

The smaller stations will take on a bigger role in producing their weekday news … which I think would be good; but anchoring and all weekend production will be done in Toronto, which is  bad.

What kind of genius thought goes into shifting more operations away from the best, most successful station/news operation in the network to Toronto, where Global for decades has apparently run third or fourth in the ratings, despite having a much larger news staff than its West coast leader!

“We’ll actually increase reporting assets at the front-line through this in many locations and we’ll be able to increase the number of hours of news that we produce every week, though it is going to be a big change in the way that people traditionally think of television,” explained Troy Reeb, Shaw’s senior Vice-President of News.

He should have left it at that.

But  “Reeb added that the organizational changes were not a “cuts exercise, but an innovation exercise.”

Talk about spin!  I’m sure those who will lose their jobs will understand.

But I also see POSITIVE possibilities with the appointment of Jill Krop as station manager and News Director.

Readers of this blog will no doubt recall my many criticisms of what happened to Global News in recent years, especially under the direction of Alberta import Jeff Bollenbach as News Director.

Ambulance, police and firetruck chasing seemed to be regularly regarded as TOP news stories (UGH!), followed by LOTS of puerile pieces on pets, parochial events, and  all kinds of other small-town-type puffery and poppycock … sacrificing much of the serious investigative, hard political coverage and even quality picture/people features and series that made BCTV very popular and  very rich.

Krop knows REAL news: she has been working in the business for more than 30 years, including 18 years at BCTV/Global Vancouver.

It remains to be seen whether Krop will have the dedication and strength to beef up Global’s Newshour coverage etc … or do, like I perceive other long-timers there have done … give up the fight,  just go along with Toronto’s directions,  cash the cheques …. and get away from the place as soon as they can each day.

In fact, I hear staff there are so demoralized and unhappy with the station’s direction/news content/management/product  (not to mention ratings down 200,000 viewers!) that very few even took part/submitted Shaw’s latest touchy-feely survey of staff. What’s the point?

Maybe Krop can change that.  We should wish her well.

Meanwhile, at CKNW, they need more than good wishes: they need prayers!

The station’s ratings Dec. 1, 2014 to March 1, 2015 were reportedly the worst in decades: 6.9 in the all-ages category; down again from 8.7 Sept-Nov; and 9.3 May-August.

And perhaps more importantly to NW’s owners, Corus Radio (maybe at least as a partial result of NW’s crash), the company reported an $86 Million LOSS in the last quarter alone …and shares are down.

“Corus shares fell $1.07, or 5.76 per cent, to close at $17.52 on the Toronto Stock exchange after the stock suffered its biggest one-day loss since 2001 of 11 per cent after the CRTC’s dramatic announcement,” the Toronto Star reported Thursday.  Downright ugly.

Corus owns several radio stations/specialty TV channels … but its financial performance has failed to impress to the point that a Swiss Credit ratings agency has now downgraded it to “underperforming” status.

The result another corporate shakeup.  Maybe instead of moving the deck shares around, the bosses at Corus should actually LISTEN to their programming.

And speaking of falling fortunes, Postmedia (publishers of daily newspapers, including The Vancouver Sun and National Post) just reported another net loss … $58.2 Million …even worse than it’s $25.3 million loss in the same quarter last year.

Print circulation revenues and digital revenues were BOTH down …as were advertising revenues.

What strikes me in ALL this MSM turmoil are the common denominators others have ignored or glossed over.

Management mistakes in the media  have destroyed their products over the past 10 to 20 years.

Yes, some very serious cost/revenue problems arose in print, radio and television; and yes, there were necessary cuts and eliminations of some behind the scenes production activities/services/operations …with accompanying job losses.

But then, they also began ripping limbs and wings and strangling the geese that laid their golden eggs: upfront news operations.

How many times have we seen stories about buyouts/layoffs/job cuts in newsrooms … the public face of media operations … including some of the best senior columnists, seasoned reporters, feature writers, investigators, on-air moderators, talk show hosts, pundits and just plan experienced, entertaining great writers!

Did they really think they could do all those layoffs, buyouts, watering down of products and programming, replacing them with inexperienced hires and delivering the public sub-standard NEWS content, written poorly … on t.v., on radio, in print …. would not be noticed?

Apparently, they were so arrogant to believe the rest of us … if surely not themselves …  would keep watching, listening, reading such clearly lesser products?

And I don’t buy their chicken-and-egg excuses for all that slashing  ….  that people …especially the younger ones …  just aren’t tuning in anymore.

YES, they are…but to OTHER media, OTHER sources of information, OTHER sources of entertainment…that provide interesting, entertaining, pertinent QUALITY information.

The population is GROWING, the potential audience is GREATER , and the younger generation ARE media savvy and hungry for information.

But they …  like the boomers who have also tuned out ….  INSIST on information THAT MATTERS … topics and issues that are important to them and affect their lives …. not mostly accident reports, fires, crime, charity walks, runs, bike rides, lots of promotional advertorials and house price stories ad nauseum …  and don’t forget all those lost/found dogs or cats epics.

Very heartwarming …but NOT news. Especially NOT the type of news that will draw readers, listeners, viewers in today’s HIGHLY COMPETITIVE media/social networking world.

These latest failings … in all major platforms …  prove the points I have been making on here regularly: taking their audiences’ desire for QUALITY news/writing/story-telling has come back to haunt them.

Media bosses are now getting what they deserve…. in all sectors.

I just hope the good people left in the industry will not be the ones who … once again … pay the price for more mismanagement  mistakes.

Harv Oberfeld

4 COMMENTS

  1. Excellent, balanced analysis of recent events. “LOTS of puerile pieces on pets, parochial events, and all kinds of other small-town-type puffery and poppycock” is typical of Vancouver media in general. I think it’s because corporate owners don’t want to offend big advertisers which includes not only large corporations but provincial and federal governments. Broadcasters and publishers have sold out their audiences and many of them have noticed. Excellent observation that the Vancouver market keeps growing but the incumbents share of the dollars keeps shrinking.

  2. I cannot comment on TV as I was so fed up with local TV (read Shaw Cable), that I cut the cord 18 months ago. I still enjoy AM radio and have been a life long CKNW listener, (I’m 71), but now I don’t get entertainment, I get pablum. Weekends on NW is a joke with US based garbage hour after hour, it’s no wonder listeners have spun the dial, or turned the radio off completely. Give me a Rafe or a Bannerman and I’ll be back. Until then I’ll make more trips to the library for my entertainment.

  3. Sadly Arnie, modern media does not care about 71-year-olds. It’s about ‘key demographics’, code for 18-34 and 34-49 segments.

    As for Post Media, it is nothing more than a vehicle for it’s financial backers, a U-S hedge fund. The more it borrows and loses and borrows, the more interest this fund collects. I can’t see it actually surviving much longer.

    Harvey is dead on about Kevin Crull. The man was a power-mad, delusional nutbar. Just check out some of his edicts and rants.

    Jill Krop likely has her hands tied financially and will only be able to make superficial changes. The real challenge of suddenly going from colleague to boss is making necessary personnel changes that affect your friends. That is unless she has no friends among the staff. I just can’t picture her taking Steve Darling aside and saying, “If you can briefly explain ebola and locate Sierra Leone on a map, you can stay.”

    The best evening TV newscast these days is CBC’s, with Andrew Chang. He’s not only got some passion, but he’s a damn good LIVE interviewer. Most other TV ‘anchors’ are happy to just read their bits, indulge in inane banter and go home. As for content (choices made by producers and senior editors) I think Global still leads the way, followed by CBC.

    If I were Jill I wouldn’t change too much.

  4. Right on Arnie. ‘NW’s emasculation is about complete with even JM gentled. Silly Sara, Eekford and Dreck don’t draw anywhere near the listeners of a Rafe for instance. The closest thing they have occasionaly is the rough-hewn Smythe and whatever else he is or will be, he’ll never be a professional broadcaster. Sadly, he is the closet thing to a pit-bull they have.

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