Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

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Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby jon » Sun Dec 02, 2018 8:53 pm

Tristin Hopper: Really want to help print journalism, Ottawa? Stop CBC from undercutting us
Ottawa is 'Soapy Smithing' Canadian journalism
Tristin Hopper
National Post
November 30, 2018
12:55 PM EST
Last Updated
November 30, 2018
8:07 PM EST

This week, Ottawa unveiled its plan to save Canadian journalism. As expected, the plan essentially boils down to throwing money at the problem; $600 million worth of money.

But there’s a much easier and more egalitarian solution to all of this: Stop subsidizing a competitor that is viciously undercutting independent print media.

Over the last few years — fuelled in part by a $675 million boost to its funding by the Liberal government — CBC has pursued an aggressive policy of expanding its online news site.

This site is not a complement to its radio and television arms. Rather, it functions as a standalone news site, with opinion columns, reprinted wire content and stories specifically reported for print.

The result is that CBC has suddenly become the country’s largest newspaper. Albeit with two major differences: This newspaper is free and it has bottomless resources.

Running any business rapidly becomes much more difficult when the government opens up a competitor down the street offering all the same wares for free.

With his announcement of $600 million for Canadian media, finance minister Bill Morneau praised what he called the “vital role that independent news media play in our democracy and in our communities.”

Yet, when independent news media actually does some democracy-helping reporting, it’s not an uncommon experience that their work is immediately yoinked by the local CBC.

If a reporter scores an important scoop or completes a lengthy investigation, within hours that story will be quickly rewritten and posted to CBC.ca for free, and often without attribution (watch for the phrase “CBC has learned” to spot these types of rewrites).

To be sure, rewriting a competitor’s scoops is common across the industry, but one has to wonder how “constantly rewriting someone else’s reporting” fits within any reasonable interpretation of the CBC mandate. It is the action of a news organization mercilessly slugging it out for web views, not a broadcaster that ostensibly uses its millions in federal funding to stand above the fray.

On top of everything CBC.ca is still fighting for online ad dollars. Despite having most of their bills paid by the public treasury, CBC.ca still sells online ads as a fun extra revenue stream — rather than as the existential bid for survival that it is for their competitors.

This is predatory pricing. A heavily subsidized competitor is moving into a new market and offering an artificially cheap product that existing media organizations cannot hope to match.

It’s as if Via Rail opened a chain of pizza restaurants selling pies at $4 apiece. The price would be unsustainably low for any existing pizza joints, so they would be forced to watch business flow to a competitor whose lights are kept on by taxpayer dollars.

CBC may not be intending to drive independent media into insolvency, but they are certainly reaping the rewards. As news organizations across Canada cut costs and hemorrhage staff, much of that talent is flowing into CBC newsrooms.

The media in other countries don’t have to deal with this. The likes of NPR, PBS and the BBC are wholly cognizant of the special niche they occupy, and don’t feel compelled to shamelessly duplicate content that already exists quite healthily in the private sphere.

In fact, it’s usually the other way around: Private media are the ones shamelessly copying an innovative public broadcaster. A whole generation of documentary filmmakers have taken on the unique style of PBS’ Ken Burns. The BBC’s Planet Earth has utterly changed the look of nature television. Podcasters around the world are desperately trying to mimic the sound of Serial or This American Life.

But if the last few years of the CBC’s mission could be adequately summed up, it would be “copy what the private sector is doing, but without having to worry about inconvenient things like ‘quarterly losses.’”

This should be galling to both haters and lovers of public broadcasting. Imagine how quickly PBS’ donor funding would dry up if they abandoned their mission of quality educational programming to simply slug it out online as yet another HuffPo or Buzzfeed.

At the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, the city of Skagway, Alaska was largely in the grip of a charismatic gangster named Soapy Smith.

The entire city became geared towards extracting money from would-be gold prospectors laden with provisions. They were gouged, pickpocketed, hoodwinked and conned so that they would be reduced to destitution in a matter of hours.

Then, when he had lost everything, the shattered gold seeker would come to seek succor from the most powerful man in town: Soapy Smith.

Smith would express sympathy and pay the man’s passage back to Seattle. Not only did Smith get to play the magnanimous community leader, but he was able to conveniently remove any evidence of a city run by confidence tricks.

Ottawa is Soapy Smithing Canadian journalism: Kneecapping its chances for survival while simultaneously trying to pose as its saviour.

Anyone who truly supports a vibrant and independent Canadian media should question a model wherein fortunes in federal dollars seem to be spent only in the service of undercutting an already-struggling sector.
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby Richard Skelly » Mon Dec 03, 2018 3:09 am

I like the gold-prospecters-shakedown analogy. Me? I was going to joke that, if Murdoch Mysteries lasts long enough, Murchoch or his similarly sleuthing son can interact with a young Conrad Black in a 1960s-set episode, before the future press baron began his journey to become a press baron, member of the House Of Lords and a convicted felon in America.

Seriously, the Mother Corp. brilliantly gave Murdoch Mysteries second life when the private sector (Rogers-owned City) cancelled it after five seasons. Hand it to then-CBC chief English programmer Kirstine Stewart. She greenlighted a sixth season within weeks of Rogers-City's September 2011 cancellation announcement. Murdoch Mysteries has turned into a flagship Monday night show for the public broadcaster. (My wife shushes me if I so much as mutter during an episode.) Lead actor Yannick Bisson sets hearts aflutter among women of all ages. Hard to remember that Peter Outerbridge played Murdoch in the original made-for-tv movie.

As for Tristin Hopper's critique: Dead on in assailing CBC for rewriting--often minus attribution--news stories that were researched and published by the private sector. Definitely not kosher! I believe the CBC should give credit and pay a modest fee to the originator of each story that is rewritten.

Having said that, I do wonder just how many eyeballs are following text stories filed by CBC News? I don't. But then, my wife and I are weirdos by subscribing to hard copy delivery of The Victoria Times-Colonist, The Vancouver Sun, National Post and The Globe And Mail. Especially with the Sun, some editions are so skinny, a fly would not be afraid of a rolled-up copy.

From the the thin gruel passing as Comments on most Facebook feeds, I don't think many of the younger commentariat read newspapers. Or receive adequate school larnin' about sentence construction. But they can profanely insult like nobody's business, usually with typos and an incoherent phrase or two. I'm sure Tristin Hopper could write a spendid column on that phenomenon as well.
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby paterson » Mon Dec 03, 2018 6:32 pm

The real problem is the paywall. Some of the larger newspapers have tried a paywall various times over the past few years. Nobody wants to pay for something that was free. CBC.ca will likely always be "free."

Newspapers have not been able to generate near the on line advertising that has been lost from the print side of the business. Ad block is also a problem for on line advertising for all media. Getting back to the paywall, when this is introduced viewer traffic goes way down. Fewer viewers and click thru's = lower advertising $$ on line.

Post/Sun Media tends to be quite anti CBC. CBC is left wing, left/union bias, unfair advantage because of taxpayer money, kisses Trudeau's you know what etc. The writer claims CBC.ca is undercutting private websites with low rates. Don't know this, we would need to compare rate cards. Any advertising is based on results, and in the case of websites click thru's. If CBC.ca is getting results for advertisers they will get the business. Advertisers don't really care about low rates if there are no results. I do know that CBC.ca does have strong viewership/traffic. In fact they were the most popular newsite in the country.

In terms of CBC scooping local stories and rewriting without credit, unfortunately public and private media do this all the time. Should they pay for this, nope. Private newspapers and broadcasters also do this among themselves as well. CBC does give credit to Canadian Press which they pay for. Often they state "with files from Canadian Press" if they have altered a CP story.

Generally I have always felt that CBC covers stories or an angle that the private media may not or might not have the time for. CBC was the first to actually question if global warming was a fact or fraud about 30 years ago. On The National they also posed the question if global warming would be a bad thing for a country like Canada which has a cold climate. How times have changed.

Also CBC News Network ran the fascinating documentary "The Rise and Fall of the Big 8*. This film traces the story of CKLW and was very critical of the Liberal Government, CRTC and cancon. This was not a CBC production but they did give the show lots of promo when it aired about 10 or 12 years ago. Again a program that a private network would be less likely to run.

Would be interested to see if BBC gets blow back from private media in the UK as much as CBC does from the privates here. Interesting to note that BBC radio 1, 2 and 3 compete directly with private radio in the UK with top 40, A/C and urban formats. CBC radio contemporary music tends to be very heavily Canadian and independent.
Also BBC receives about 4 times the tax dollars that CBC does.

Anyway just my thoughts and ramblings..
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby tuned » Mon Dec 03, 2018 8:32 pm

If I remember correctly the Big 8 documentary was financed by a private broadcaster and then licensed by the CBC after the original license deal ran out.
They would have paid a very small license fee to the producer.
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby paterson » Mon Dec 03, 2018 11:56 pm

Yes, I don't know who financed the film. We would need to see the credits to determine that. May have been partially funded by Bell or Rogers film funds and I don't think CBC had any involvement but again I am just guessing.
The Rise and Fall of the Big 8 came out in 2004 and was produced by Markham Street Productions. CBC News Network ran the documentary a few years later on the Passionate Eye about six times. I remember they gave it a fair amount of promo and said it was an award winning documentary.
I have no idea what CBC would pay for this film, and I don't know if any private broadcaster ran the program prior. I kind of think it would be unlikely though since CBC, Global, CTV or City-tv normally wouldn't show the same documentary, even a few years later. I don't imagine you would ever see W5 running a doc that CBC or any other domestic competitor had already ran.
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby tuned » Tue Dec 04, 2018 8:47 am

The CBC is a parasite. They get taxpayers money without any accountability and in return we get propaganda. They would have licensed the doc for a bargain basement price in the thousands because like you said no private broadcaster would air that doc without being forced to by government regulations. It's those regulations that allowed for it to be created in the first place however. The Canadian broadcasters don't want successful, great Canadian shows because then people would want more. Easier to just license American shows and save yourself and your shareholders a whole lot of aggravation. LA is thick with successful Canadian producers making "American" television because they aren't welcome to ply their craft in Canada.
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby Dan Sys » Tue Dec 04, 2018 5:53 pm

Give it a rest Tuned. CBC Radio One is the top rated station in most Canadian markets. Does that mean Canadians as a whole have been brainwashed by propaganda from parasites then? Far from it I would say. Canadians turn to the CBC for factual and NON-BIASED news coverage, and I personally think that the CBC does an excellent job in providing that coverage. You Conservatives and your sheltered little world turn my god damn stomach.
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby tuned » Tue Dec 04, 2018 10:18 pm

Don't blame conservatives for your upset stomach when it's from guzzling too much CBC koolaid. That stuff is bad for you.
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby dmehus » Wed Dec 19, 2018 10:50 am

He's not wrong, actually. If CBC wants to continue publishing news stories at CBCnews.ca, then we need to have them license all their content - for commercial and non-commercial purposes - under a CreativeCommons attribution license so newspapers can freely use it without compensation. After all, we're all paying for this content, so it should be free of copyright. Ideally, all CBC content should be placed into the public domain, but a CC-Attribution license would be the next best thing. That way, newspapers can invest in investigative and local journalism, whilst not having to worry about paying wire services like Canadian Press or Reuters. This may ultimately be the death knell for Canadian Press (Reuters will survive because it's got Thomson Reuters' other profitable businesses to subsidize it), but if that's what it takes for newspapers to survive, then so be it.

Alternatively, if CBC doesn't want to give up its copyrights, then its CBC.ca websites should be ad free, so print journalism sources don't have that extra hurdle to try and compete for online ad dollars. Only so much to go around and Google and Facebook take between 60-80% of all online ad revenue!

Cheers,
Doug
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby dmehus » Wed Dec 19, 2018 10:56 am

Dan Sys wrote:Give it a rest Tuned. CBC Radio One is the top rated station in most Canadian markets. Does that mean Canadians as a whole have been brainwashed by propaganda from parasites then? Far from it I would say. Canadians turn to the CBC for factual and NON-BIASED news coverage, and I personally think that the CBC does an excellent job in providing that coverage. You Conservatives and your sheltered little world turn my god damn stomach.


Unbiased? Really? I'm not a "conservative," big or small "c," but just watch them and their sycophantic coverage fanning adoration for Justin Trudeau and being all anti-Trump makes me equally nauseous. They're almost as bad as CNN and MSNBC.

If I want unbiased coverage, I go to Al Jazeera English first, then BBC World News. The latter isn't completely unbiased, but it's better and less sensationalized than CBC. It's what CBC should be!

I do like Fox News, some shows more than others (not Hannity)...if you can't stomach their op-ed programming, I would challenge you to watch their news breaks from Fox News anchors or perhaps their satellite radio news service, Fox Headlines 24/7. You'll get a more well-rounded perspective than just, "Russia! Russia! Russia!".

Cheers,
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Re: Columnist Blames CBC for Newspapers' Woes

Postby paterson » Wed Dec 19, 2018 3:36 pm

Unbiased coverage Al Jazeera English? I would find it hard to believe that the government of Qatar has no influence or pressure on coverage. In fact they have been called out on this by BBC and others, which in fairness is not surprising. I don't think you could find any news organization in the world that was totally unbiased whether it was intentional or not.

Fox News? Please! A terrible website, with troll filled comments after articles, misleading headlines and a weird mix of hard news, one sided opinion columns, and trashy National Enquirer content. I find Fox News and CNN, TV and websites to be too opinion based and not enough of actual news coverage. At least BBC World, CBC News Network and CTV News still actually cover news.

I don't think that CBC editorial content should be free to other media. Canada's news media in my opinion is rather lazy and this would only make the problem worse. And taking CBC content which you feel to be biased does not add to the diversity of viewpoints. It would be nice to think access to CBC material would free up local news organizations for investigating reporting, but I doubt this would happen to any great extent. Not when all organizations including CBC have been cutting news staff levels for years.

Post/Sun Media for years have whined about CBC being left wing and kissing Trudeau's butt. Actually I find CTV overly sympathetic to Trudeau more than CBC news. What really galls Post/Media, Global/Corus and Quebecor is the $350 million that CBC takes out of the market in advertising every year, and the fact that CBC.ca is Canada's most popular news site.

Those on the right of the political spectrum also complain a lot about the 1.2 billion dollars that taxpayers pay every year for CBC. Advertising, program sales, subscription cable fees bring in another 500 million for a total budget of close to 1.8 billion dollars for all CBC/Radio Canada services. Just to compare the BBC received 6.3 billion in taxpayer money last year and from other sources including program sales, advertising, cable subscription fees etc. 2 billion for a total budget of 8.3 billion in Canadian dollars.
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