Video Killed the Radio Star
It appears there have been so many changes and cutbacks to the way journalism is delivered in Canada over the last few years that huge programming changes now almost go unnoticed. People either don't care, or if they do, think it doesn't matter.
A great example is the corporate partnership between Global TV and Corus Entertainment radio stations across the country. One by one, radio stations are being rebranded under the Global banner and Global is actually dropping television newscasts into prime- time radio programming. It's TV on radio. Seriously.
While some people may be happy to hear their favourite TV personalities on radio, I think this is a big step backwards for journalism and the future of the profession in Canada.
Where's My Newscast?
I was driving back to Edmonton on Monday after doing a media training session in the Medicine Hat area in southern Alberta and just before 6pm switched from playing satellite music to good old AM radio.
I wanted to listen to the 6:00pm newscast on Calgary’s Newstalk 770 CHQR. I like listening to news programming when I’m on the road and enjoy hearing different voices, styles, stories and ways of delivering the news. I did radio news many years ago and still enjoy listening to different approaches to presenting news. I’m still a student of the game.
I groaned when I heard a canned announcement leading to a simulcast of the 6pm Global TV news on radio. There would be no traditional 6pm radio newscast on CHQR. I was going to get the same newscast that was airing on Global TV. That wasn’t what I signed up for, and after a few minutes I went back to listening to music.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. I first heard this a little over a year ago when I was in Vancouver for another media training gig. What was once arguably the best radio newsroom in Canada, CKNW, was simulcasting the 6pm news from Global TV Vancouver when I listened last May.
Last week, iNews 880 (formerly CHQT) was renamed Global News Radio 880 Edmonton and it started simulcasting Global’s 6pm TV news as well. It’s also finding ways to use Global TV anchors and reporters on the radio.
I started my Edmonton radio career at what was then CHQT and I never thought I would see the day when it would be playing an hour-long television newscast on radio. We thought recording a newscast to be used less than an hour later was cheating.
Doing More With Less
There’s something I find objectionable to taking a television newscast and plopping it on radio. Actually, there are several things I don’t like.
To begin with, the two mediums are different. Television can use video and images to tell its story, while radio obviously can’t. When a TV reporter who’s on the scene of a flood says to his or her viewers “As you can see behind me” should everyone listening to the newscast on radio reply “Ahh, no we can’t"? I wonder if reporters for television newscasts that are being simulcast on radio are told to keep that in mind and not make any mention of the visuals that people listening on radio don’t get to partake in?
While local Global TV stations can control what its on-air talent says and does on the air, what happens when they want to air an international story about say, a YouTube video that’s gone viral. Obviously, without the opportunity to see the video, the radio audience doesn’t get much out of the story. Does Global decide against running the video story because it knows it won’t play well on radio, or does it run it anyway because TV brings in a lot more money than radio?
Simply put, how is it possible to take news programming that's been meant for one medium for decades and slam it into another medium and think it makes sense?
Sharing Resources is Nothing New
Full disclosure here. When I was News and Public Affairs Director of 96 K-Lite radio in the 80’s and early 90’s, we used to share reporters with our sister station CFCW. It’s amazing to think that we had eight people in our newsroom and there were nine at CFCW. 17 radio journalists between the two stations and now there are three in total I think. My point is, I guess I was involved in sharing journalists too, but I don’t think it cost anyone a job.
Like virtually everyone who worked in the media at one time, I’m concerned about job losses today. Simulcasting programing and having people doing jobs on both radio and TV usually means not as many people are needed. That takes its toll on the industry.
I understand the cost cutting behind programming being simulcast. When TV newscasts are carried on radio and when reporters and anchors are fulfilling roles on both media outlets, it’s another case of doing more with less. Talented journalists, who were already working very hard, are now being told they have to work even harder. Does their performance on TV suffer if they have to do radio too?
I also wonder where future journalists will come from? Many of what were once training markets for radio newspeople have wiped out their newsrooms because they’re getting news programming from, wait for it, a bigger station in the same chain that’s doing more with less when it comes to news programming.
Getting Kicked Where It Hurts
There are financial realities here that I fully understand. The numbers need to work for radio and TV stations, or they’ll be off the air and we’ll be left with nothing. Simulcasting programming and getting talent to do more are ways of being more efficient.
I wonder if the government knew this day was coming when it allowed Corus Entertainment to buy Shaw Media and the Global TV chain for $2.6 billion in early 2016? Having a national TV network and one of the largest radio chains in the country would eventually mean shared programing and shared resources, under one national brand. It’s the best way to make money these days.
The problem is, fewer media voices mean fewer opinions and less choice for consumers. Look at the websites for the three Global radio stations I’ve mentioned – CHQR, iNews880 (CHQT) and CKNW, all former radio news powerhouses. They’re now all part of the Global TV brand, they have some local stories at the top of the pages and then carry the same national and international stories below. They even show the same ads and carry the same look that corporate CEOs love.
It may all work financially and that’s great for Corus and its shareholders, but I sense some “caring for the craft” has gone out the door, not to mention choice for consumers and once again journalism gets kicked in the crotch.