, 11.07.2017 11:07 AM

The intangible, impracticable, irrational National: ten reasons it fails

The missus was away.  The dogs had been let out.  I had a Man Cold. I’d finished the Holocaust Week panel at the ROM.  So I collapsed on the couch at Chez Kinsella and turned on the new and improved National on CBC.

So.

Here are my ten observations, in no particular order.

  1. Four anchors?  Seriously?  That’s not a newscast, that’s a sequel to Split, the movie.  Multiple personality disorder makes for memorable horror flicks, but not so much a serious newscast.
  2. The sum of the four is less than one part.  I’m sorry, CBC, but Ian Hanomansing is not just better than the other three – he’s actually one of the best newsreaders on Earth. He is authentic, he is authoritative.  The others simply aren’t.  Sorry.
  3. It’s too busy.  It feels disjointed and disorganized.  It feels chaotic. Just when you get the hang of one of the anchors, another one would pop up on your screen.  That’s not a newscast – that’s 90s-era MTV, folks.  Which, um, no longer exists.
  4. The graphics bugged me.  They are too big, and too simplistic. I could almost picture the moderator at the CBC focus groups: “Hey! Our viewers are vision-impaired mental defectives, so let’s communicate with them with two-syllable words in 100-point fonts!”
  5. It was seriously unserious.  Why did viewers stick with folks like Walter Cronkite or Lloyd Robertson or Knowlton Nash or Lisa LaFlamme?  Because, per above, those people radiate authenticity and authority.  They are serious people, talking about serious stuff.  They have gravitas. Precious few people have that – and Hanomansing is one.
  6. It was CNN-y. And possibly not in a good way.  On CNN, everything is BREAKING NEWS, which eventually means that nothing is BREAKING NEWS.  CBC isn’t making that mistake, yet, but it has already adopted another regrettable CNN tactic: journalists interviewing journalists, instead of having journalists doing, you know, journalism.  The segments with Paul Hunter, Keith Boag and Gillian Findlay were like that, and therefore kind of meh.  Ipso facto: stop talking about the news.  Show me the news.
  7. The set looks like it was designed by Sprockets.  (Am I dating myself? You remember Sprockets, don’t you? Mike Myers on SCTV, black turtlenecks, all Bauhaus-y. Funny. Okay, I am dating myself.)  It was all blacks and blues and angular and about as inviting as a two-day celebration of Blank Verse.  Probably cost a jillion dollars.
  8. Click schtick.  Early on, CBC seemed to be intent on making the National a revolutionary new content provider for its myriad online platforms.  They may still be planning to do that, but – to be sure – I clicked over the main CBC web page this morning, and it looks the same as it did yesterday.  No change.
  9. TV is pictures. That’s what George Frajkor taught me long ago at Cartoon U., and I never forgot it.  TV IS PICTURES, he’d holler, and we’d all nod.  TV is an emotional medium, one that works best when it is delivering powerful visuals.  Not, I note, journalists talking with journalists about the news, instead showing us the news.
  10. It didn’t blow me away.  And, with their ratings plummeting ever-downward, it needed to.  The new and improved National looked like the tall foreheads at CBC didn’t want to make any actual decisions – about one anchor, about one format, about one feel to it all – so they just threw everything into the blender, and are expecting us all to consume the results.

My hunch?  We won’t.

21 Comments

  1. cynical says:

    In general, yes, but Adrienne Arsenault’s piece was stellar, IMHO. Not a journalist, just a consumer and old fogey, eh?

  2. Brant County news consumer says:

    Ian Hanomansing is simply the best and should have been doing this job five years ago. The others are, well, back-ups and ought to cover for Ian when he takes a vacation.

    • Ridiculosity says:

      Precisely. Hanomansing has the right amount of everything – including charm, intelligence and authenticity. Why he didn’t jump ship and go work in the US for a larger pay cheque and greater respect, like Peter Jennings and Robert MacNeil did, is anyone’s guess. Perhaps he likes the weather here…

      • Pedant says:

        This may surprise you, but not every Canadian is just dying to rush to the States just because things aren’t 100% perfect for them in Canada. Maybe he weighed the pros and cons and decided that he simply preferred Canada, despite the lower salary and prestige.

        Otherwise I agree with you on his merits.

  3. Willie P says:

    Give it a chance. They’ll iron the kinks out. Many people point to the ABC example from the early 80s, when they had a triple anchor format (Jennings in London, Robinson in Chicago and Reynolds in Washington). The problem there was that all three were unabashed air hogs and demanded equal time in the newscast, even if there was no noteworthy news in their respective jurisdictions. If the four CBC types can keep their egos in check and let stories dictate the flow of the newscast, I think they’ll do just fine. At the end of the day, however, the ratings for the national newscasts depend largely on the lead in from the entertainment programs that precede them, since old codgers are unlikely to change the dial. If CBC could boost its lead-in programming, as they have done at Radio Canada, they’ll once again be back on top.

  4. Jinxed says:

    I agree 100% with your review. I didn’t like it at all. I feel like they’re rubbing our noses in the fact they are taxpayer funded so, of course, they can afford 4 anchors. Money is no object.

    Gimme the CTV National News any day over this.

    Were they playing background music when the anchors were talking?

  5. james says:

    huh, wha, oh, is it still on?
    It feels like a John Tory Subway pitch; Light on facts, heavy on dated marketing. Snoozy very snoozy.

  6. I didn’t see the National (I’m in the U.S. right now) but I appreciated your mention of George Frajkor. I hadn’t thought about him in eons, but I well recall his mantra. Cartoon University?

  7. Felipe Morales says:

    Would it really cost that much to have Céline Galipeau do both English and French? I feel they picked the four person panel so it would look like Canada (English Rosie Barton, French Adirenne Arseneault, Ian Hanomansingh representing South Asians and Caribbean and Andrew Chang the East Asian.

  8. Jeremy says:

    I think the point is that by 10pm everyone knows what the news of the day is/was so instead of a daily roundup they are digging deeper into the stories and giving context. I liked it

  9. albertaD says:

    I watched it – and have to admit, I disagree with most of your points. The design and graphics are clean and uncluttered. I’ll take Bauhaus-y minimalism over sliding red and yellow and white and blue graphics swirling and shifting for no reason any day. Just my 2 cents.

  10. JH says:

    Ian & Adrienne yes! The rest blah. Chang has potential but Barton is a lightweight and much too self-satisfied. This will not bring back the nearly one million viewers they lost with Mansbridge the last few years. But then again, there probably won’t be anymore fawning Green Bus rides.

  11. Bill Malcolm says:

    This reads like how I felt after my first beer, wondering who in heck could like this darn stuff anyway. I think I had 12 reasons why it was bad, not ten, but who’s counting?

    Of course, I see there is an opinion from the “CBC has unlimited resources” crowd. Like the equalization formula, where uninformed people think provinces write cheques to each other, pulling the revelations from the exploding grey matter ostensibly located between their ears, a bit of actual checking as to the reality goes a long way.

    But who can expect that in this day and age?

    • Pedant says:

      All Canadians pay tax to the federal government which then dolls it out to provinces in a series of the transfers. One of the transfers is based on an antiquated equalization scheme. Under this formula, Quebec receives $11 billion in equalization while Alberta, you know the province whose economy Quebec is now actively sabotaging, gets back nothing despite only recently emerging from recession. Given total national equalization payments of $17 billion, Quebec receives 64% of the cash from this program while representing 22% of the population. Alberta (and SK and BC) receives 0% of the cash while representing 12% of the population. In total, Quebec gets back much more than it put in to federal revenue pot while Alberta gets back much less. This is all well and good until the disparity between the payers and payees becomes overwhelmingly and until, as mentioned, the payees start openly campaigning to sabotage the livelihood of the payers.

      If you have an alternative reality as to how equalization works, have at it and educate us. You might want to inform Coalition Avenir Québec. It’s ahead in provincial polls and one of its main messages is to wean Quebec off the equalization windfall. I guess you know more than they do about how their province receives federal funding?

  12. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Warren,

    Hokey and overly contrived. Won’t make it past six months.

  13. Pedant says:

    Are they keeping the At Issue panel?

    It was the only reason I tuned into the National over the past few years.

  14. Pedant says:

    I agree with you, but you’re forgetting that the CBC is a mirror of the modern Liberal Party. Merit and “seriousness” got Harper booted and replaced with an intellectual lightweight. The CBC took note and must follow suit.

    Absolutely, Ian Hanomansing ought to have been Mansbridge’s sole replacement. I’ve liked his style for decades, gravitas without any hint of arrogance. But replacing one male Baby Boomer news anchor with a somewhat younger male Baby Boomer news anchor is not acceptable. Because it’s 2017.

  15. Peter Mumford says:

    “…[Sprockets] was to be the basis for a film to be released in 2001, featuring Myers, Will Ferrell, David Hasselhoff, and Jack Black, but the project was abandoned in June 2000 after Myers became dissatisfied with his own script…”

    How bad can a script get before even Mike Myers won’t continue with it?

  16. Laura King says:

    Flashbacks to Frajkor after reading (I was a year or two behind Kinsella) . . . Frajkor was right! Awful.

  17. Pedro says:

    I’ll say one thing about the small part I saw: over too many years, I have watched the beginning of The National and The CTV National News and shook my head at how two different news programs could essentially show the same 5 of 7 or so leading news stories, often in the same order. It seemed to be only 3 of the lead 7 stories that were the same that night. I don’t bother, nor will I in the future, with either. Just more of my earnings taken for stuff I don’t agree that we should do together. Meh, I’m over it.

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