, 08.04.2019 08:26 AM

My latest: Star, CBC no longer lead the way

How the media mighty have fallen.

Way, way back, when this writer was a special assistant to opposition leader Jean Chretien, getting ready for the daily Question Period ritual was simple.

Chretien’s staff, and select Liberal MPs, would gather in the panelled boardroom in room 409-S in Centre Block on Parliament Hill. There, early every weekday morning, we would determine what questions to ask of the government of prime minister Brian Mulroney — and, very briefly, that of prime minister Kim Campbell.

As noted, it wasn’t hard. One of the staffers would read out what the lineup of stories had been on CBC’s The National the night before. Then we would eyeball the front page of the Toronto Star.

Presto! We’d have our lineup for Question Period, as determined by the CBC and the Star.

Like Mulroney, like Campbell, those days are no more. The CBC and the Toronto Star no longer have the political impact they once did.

The numbers tell the story, and it’s not a happy one (for them). At the Star, “revenue (has) continued to decline sharply year-over-year — especially in terms of sales of print advertising space to national accounts.” The source? None other than the Star itself.

Just this week, the once-mighty Star reported a whopping $17.4 million loss in the second quarter of 2019, as its revenues plummeted. That’s even after closing up operations in Hamilton, and slashing jobs.

At the National Newspaper Awards ceremony in May, the Star captured one award. The Globe and Mail, to cite just one example, won 10.

The Star’s national bureau in Ottawa, meanwhile, is led by Susan Delacourt, and it hasn’t had a big scoop in a long, long time. That’s astonishing, when you consider that the Liberal Party holds power. In Ottawa, everyone knows that the likes of the Globe’s Bob Fife breaks the big stories like LavScam and Norman-gate – and the likes of Postmedia’s Andrew Coyne and John Ivison are the ones who dominate federal politics opinion-making. Delacourt’s bureau just doesn’t factor on either front.

The CBC, meanwhile, has plenty of problems, too.

Just before election day in 2019, CBC’s then-president whinged that the public broadcaster was at risk of “extinction,” quote unquote. Justin Trudeau got the message. Once installed in power, Trudeau forked over $115 million to CBC. For good measure, it threw in another $35 million.

But despite that, CBC’s national impact continues to shrink. Its flagship news program — the one that used to literally determine what topics were covered in Question Period — is failing. In the past two years alone, its viewership has nose-dived a mammoth 24%.

A few weeks ago, even the CBC’s editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire was forced to admit that The National isn’t all what it once was: “Are we pleased with the overall state of The National? I think the answer is no.”

She shouldn’t be pleased with the overall state of CBC’s relevance to the federal political scene, either. Despite being the recipient of millions in tax dollars — and despite being allowed to use that unfair advantage to compete in major markets with private-sector media competitors — the CBC simply isn’t breaking big national stories like it used to.

At the most recent Canada’s Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) awards, Global won a dozen awards for excellence. CTV, which regularly clobbers The National in the ratings game, picked up the RTDNA’s best national newscast award. CBC radio and its regional stations won some RTDNA awards, but none were for national political stories.

What does it all mean? Maybe nothing.

But to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, facing a hotly contested election in just over 90 days, it isn’t good. In the past, the Star and CBC could always be counted on to light the way for Grits, and help secure wins.

Those days — like the national political impact of CBC and the Star — are long, long gone.

32 Comments

  1. the real Sean says:

    agreed… no one beats GM for news coverage. Fife is a monster. But no one beats the Sun for sports and smart ass headlines.

  2. Ronald O'Dowd says:

    Canadians haven’t necessarily moved to the right but voting Canadians have. That’s why the leading progressive and left-leaning media outlets have their job cut out for them in stimulating political participation and activism. It worked in 2015 but now this PM and government have a record to run on.

    • JN says:

      True, if you add up the poll data for all the parties the skew to the left it makes up nearly 70%, but most Canadians that actually vote are older, rural, jobless or having a hard time economically, and have too much time on their hands. Dangerous combo for leftist parties. One thing to take part in a poll, another to actually vote. Being 30-something and working in the suburbs, along with family problems, I missed out on my minicipal elections here recently. Not making the same mistake for the federal. Its actually one of the reasons I switched to a less demanding job just in time for the election season, but most other people around here wouldnt be concious of making a decision like that.

  3. Walter says:

    What you say at the very end is both extremely scary, and 100% true – “In the past, the Star and CBC could always be counted on to light the way for Grits, and help secure wins.”
    How could a publicly funded organization show any type of bias at all. That is what happens in 3rd world countries. It is likely time to consider de-funding the CBC. Which by default is also a means of helping all the private broadcasters – which will eliminate the need for that bailout as well.

    • Gord Tulk says:

      Nothing scary about it.

      We are at the dawn of a new era of news dissemination. It’s the great leveling. Media elites in urban centres are dying. Modern-day pamphleteers are on the rise.

      This us an extremely good thing.

  4. Yep Warren is right! Canadians in my opinion have had enough of being taken for granted. What was once bias is still bias but Canadians now see the blunt and national new bias true and true and will not be fooled any more. The electorate is slightly maro cautions of all media.

  5. Mark D says:

    One thing I noticed as an English kid raised in a French neighbourhood (once I learned the language) is how much better quality Radio Canada was over CBC.

  6. Gord says:

    Even the news coverage in the normally-excellent NYT has become so slanted that I recently cancelled my online subscription. Sorry, not interested in reading another piece about how the white working class are destroying American society, or why we all need to unquestioningly support children performing at adult drag shows.

    The Globe is miles ahead of anything else in Canadian journalism. Look at all the Globe stories and investigations that actually forced changes – eg the high rate of dismissal of sexual assault complaints by police, the obscene criminal activity that has destroyed Vancouver for generations of young families, the dismal track record of securities regulators in actually enforcing fines, the shady goings on at the TDSB, etc.

  7. whyshouldIsellyourwheat says:

    The CBC and The Toronto Star have become nothing more than narrative enforcers for the Telford PR machine. How can they break stories? Their job is to tell and emphasize the stories the PMO wants told.

    Both were chosen as organisers for the so-called “non-partisan” debate. Telford will get to dictate most of the questions. And Trudeau will get to see them before hand.

  8. BC Guy says:

    CBC over the past 5 years or so have given up being a newsworthy news source and now just expresses a liberal narrative. I just want the facts, not some stupid spin that distorts the story. I don’t even have CBC News on my TV lineup anymore. People are tuning out eveidenced by the crappy ratings. Why is it so hard for news organizations these days to tell their audience the facts behind a story?

    • Fred from BC says:

      “CBC over the past 5 years or so have given up being a newsworthy news source and now just expresses a liberal narrative”

      You know, it’s really strange how their online comment section works (if and when comments are allowed, which precludes most discussions about racism and “gender identity”). Most of the commenters seem to be Conservatives, which is quite surprising considering how most of their stories have an overt Liberal slant to them. Weird…

      • JN says:

        On Youtube? Oh, you noticed that too? Not only are 95% of the comments they get from ppl who obviously skew to the right but most of them dont seem to have watched any bit of the video they were commenting on (maybe just read the title and thats it). Its really annoying when I want to see some ligitimate feedback and discussion. They say something like “oh look, the CBC showing their lefty bias again!” And I ask them about where in the video that was, and they never reply. I wouldnt blame the CBC from blocking comments for most of their videos in that case. The internet is a crazy, crazy place…

  9. Mike says:

    The CBC is not only suffering from the changes in the media landscape, they’ve abandoned their long term audience with their attention now focused on aboriginal, lgbtq issues and we hate Donald Trump.

    I and many of my friends who would listen and watch to CBC for most of the day have found far more entertaining and believable media outlets and most of agree that it’s time to set CBC loose to live on it’s own merits.

    • Mike,

      The Mother Corp. is far too top heavy and bloated to survive on its own. They would have to close or scale down a lot of facilities across Canada to survive.

      Canada’s equivalent to the Politburo, insofar as structure is concerned, will never be totally or partially privatized so long as an Act of Parliament remains on the books. You know what they say about a national mandate.

    • BC Guy says:

      Yes…it is time to defund much of CBC and get on a even playing field with their competitors, although the Feds are throwing cash their way too. Pretty bad these days

  10. abtrapper says:

    Social media is were its at. Nobody under 40 reads a newspaper or watches the news. Things move rapidly and the MSM cannot be counted on to deliver anything.

    Gord Tulk is correct, it’s a new era

    • Steve T says:

      Using social media for “news” is one of the key reasons we have the Mango Mussolini in the White House right now.

      Social media is not news. It is, at best, sound bites of news that strip away most of the meaning and context. But often it is much worse than that. Opinions and half-truths masquerading as fact.

      Those who truly care about understanding a topic will take the time to pick up a newspaper or read a fully-written article online (like from the NYT, G&M, or Atlantic).

      Lazy people who want their news during the commercial breaks of watching the Kardashians will rely on social media. And their vote negates the vote of knowledgeable people. Sad times indeed.

      • Fred from BC says:

        Agree wholeheartedly. Social media has not been a net benefit to society, not at all. Misinformation, online bullying and the Outrage Mob I can live without, which is why I have never had a Facebook or Twitter account and never will.

        Oh, and if you want to actually “do something” about both mass shootings and online radicalization of young people by terrorist organizations –

        (and when I say “do something”, I’m not talking about the standard Liberal practice of throwing a useless law at the problem, then patting yourself on the back and bragging about how you just “solved” the problem (you didn’t, sorry), I’m talking about taking actual action that results in tangible, measurable benefits)

        – don’t bother trying to take away the guns of people who don’t abuse them or freedom of association from people who don’t misuse that either. Do something real for a change: BAN SOCIAL MEDIA. Because THAT would make a difference. THAT would yield results that we could all see and appreciate.

        (not holding my breath…;)

        • How is banning social media any different then taking away freedom of association? The only difference between this website and Twitter is scale.

        • Gord Tulk says:

          While you are at it ban the telephone and regular mail.

          Social media technology is just that. It gets misused like any other.

          What needs to be stopped is censorship by its owners/operators. Not much longer before they are regulated to act like the telcos and the postal service.

          As for anonymous participants that comes to an end within the decade as the cloud era ends and blockchain and its derivatives are adopted.

          For an excellent discussion on this check out this podcast:

          https://podcasts.apple.com/ca/podcast/uncommon-knowledge/id1378389941?i=1000420362137

          • JN says:

            Comparing the misuse of telephone and regular mail to the internet is kinda like comparing a handgun to an A-bomb, though, to be fair.

  11. Robert White says:

    I very much appreciate the stories of Parliament given that I have still yet to take a tour of Parliament and have only seen it from the outside. Stories of the Chretien days are the best given that he was the most fun PM of all time bar none.

    Newspapers are so quaint today it is of no wonder why they are disappearing en masse. I, for one, think that the website format replaced the brick & mortar buildings and things are just evolving to online blogosphere type political punditry.

    What I do is pretty much the same as everyone in that I search the right & left domains for the type of balanced news reporting we all used to get back when PM Chretien was in power. Heck, back when Mulroney was in power I was reading the Globe, Ottawa Citizen, & Ottawa Journal every day. Today, I would never be able to afford three newspapers daily. Times have changed the infrastructure of news reporting & the 80s type of work schedule to meet the lifestyle of today’s journalists and the way they report on news or conduct research for news articles.

    Cost wise I think the move was much more financially responsible in that the 80s style of news reporting was high cost compared to today with email. Can you imagine what it would be like if we went back to writing snail mail with CANADA Post stamps? We would stop writing as much.

    RW

  12. Pedro says:

    Oh! To try and get a comment on. Here goes:
    CBC is run by and uses as reporters and journalists well-fed, sated, self-satisfied and smug elitists. It comes across and people notice. The Star? No clue. Never read it anymore. As Orwell wrote: “The typical Socialist…youthful snob-Bolshevik…probably have made a wealthy marriage…often with vegetarian leanings, with a history of Nonconformity behind him, and, above all, with a social position which he has no intention of forfeiting.” Hunger is a powerful motivator.

  13. Pedant says:

    Remember when the National Post launched in 1998 to finally provide a platform to the 40% of Canadians who lean conservative, and the Left laughed and said it wouldn’t last a year?

    Well, who’s laughing now. The Star on the brink of bankruptcy. Feels good.

    • The National Post has a long history of losing money. The rich where willing to subsidize it because it led to tax cuts.

      • Pedant says:

        You made that up.

        Not the money-losing part – naturally, all print media is struggling.

        Unfortunate how the Star’s readership base these days consisting of green-haired nose-ringed marxists in Parkdale can’t find it in them to actually buy a copy once in a while to prop up their mouthpiece.

        • The National Post lost money from 1998 to 2011. While the goal of supporting the right was explicit, if its goal wasn’t to make money, that means it was subsidized for some other reason. I believe it was to promote tax cuts and other neo-liberal policies.

          For your ad hominem attack, I pay for a Toronto Star digital subscription.

  14. Interesting. Has anyone considered that sales in advertising trumped over newsworthiness? Or, unionized reporters no longer have the grit to get out and dig for the big one? Communism as an example where equalized distribution is in affect kills initiative as well as prohibits it. When the free press is no longer associated with freedom of the press than people intuitively and intellectually perceive truth of told at all is biased. And how about the big one: were consumers decades ago told by news personalities like Brokaw, Jennings, or Conkrite etc etc how to interpret the information?

  15. John Matheson says:

    The banks in Toronto make 57% of all Canadian corporate profit. We don’t need Toronto dictating our news as well. Good riddance to the Star and the CBC.

  16. JN says:

    Everyone on the internet keeps telling me that the CBC has a leftest bias and is apparently dead-set on helping the Liberals or maybe other leftest parties while putting the conservatives down. As someone who’s watched CBC almost every day for the past 15 years I have yet to see any evidence of this myself, could someone please finally point me to some evidence of this? I started trusting the CBC more than other news networks precisely because it isn’t a commercial service like the US’s CNN, since its funded by taxpayers more than ad revenue, and because from what I’ve seen myself, they just gives the facts, good or bad, for whatever party those facts are relavent to. If the Cons ever look bad, its of their own making, just like the the past year the Libs got no special treatment for their stupidities either. Being a fan of CBC I should be loving the Liberals right now, right? Nope. Unbelievable to some, I’m sure.

    Even if I agree personally with left-leaning parties in general, I’m finding all of them to be weak and problematic, tbh. I actually hate the party system in general, but the Libs and Cons are never gonna disappear because once people start to see something as part of their heritage, its like a kid and a beloved teddy bear thats never been washed and even though its become grotesque and unhealthy its still near impossible to pry it out of their hands. JWR is one of the few people who has the right idea in my book.

    I’m not a fan of any party or political groups, I’m a fan of the truth no matter who it hurts or helps, and that’s what good journalists should provide and from what I see most of them still do that (its the fringe ones on the internet and a few major stuff from other countries like RT and Fox that dont)… its just the rhetoric against them thats heated up since the internet came into the picture, since people in general have become more partisan and divided (especially because of the culture wars), and since politicians of all stripes have gotten more bold in blaming the media for their own problems. Truth tellers get the most enemies in this world, and theres few truths more true than that.

    Maybe I’m in a niche and vast minority of Canadians, since most would probably be indifferent, just plain hate them, or have been brainwashed by “alternative news media” on the internet or by partisan politicians, but I’d hate to see the CBC go away.

    (In trying to post this I kept getting set to a screen saying there was a captcha problem and didnt see my post showing up, so hopefully by trying again its not going to show up multiple times, sorry if thats the case).

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