There is an interesting discussion going on over at Harvey Oberfeld’s blog about the state of TV news in British Columbia. In the first post, Harvey decries CTV and Global for ignoring important, breaking news (the Conservative funding scandal) in favour of “light” news (biodegradable coffee cups and an update on Canadian interest rates). (“Local TV News: Dumbing Down British Columbians“)
Harvey, now retired, was a senior reporter with BCTV (which was later acquired by Global). (See Wikipedia for his bio.)
In response to questions raised by the post (disclaimer – they were my questions), Harvey wrote a post about why lighter stories are favoured (“Debating T.V. News … the Beauty of Blogging!!“). This prompted a response from Cameron Bell – “State of the News: Read it and Weep!“. (Cameron Bell was the highly respected News Director for BCTV who is credited (along with Assignment Editor Keith Bradbury and the news crew they assembled) with bringing BCTV’s news program to the top of the ratings.)
Harvey points out that it mostly comes down to money – the amount of money a television station is willing to spend on the news-gathering process. Cameron Bell, however, notes that smart organizations are willing to spend lots of money provided that it generates commensurate profits. Profits are determined by the amount of revenue generated from advertising, which fluctuates depending on the number of viewers. The key to attracting viewers is quality content.
However, the low-hanging fruit – the easy stories – are duplicated and re-covered by multiple news organizations. Cameron Bell points out that three major news organizations (one newspaper, two television) covered the warm-up suits for Canadian Olympic athletes. He charitably (in my opinion) gives the original reporter credit for producing an interesting story. I don’t agree – I think it was a travesty of news on the first report that just got worse on subsequent reports.
I find this all extremely interesting, from a news consumer point of view (although my exposure to TV news is mostly limited to clips I see via the internet). It’s sort of a relief to learn that the there isn’t a grand conspiracy to dumb-down the news or avoid certain topics. Instead, there are merely difficult management problems – human resources, finances, planning and “vision”, etc.