As the Newsworld Turns
But so far CBC’s 24-hour news and information channel with its “uniquely Canadian perspective” has not been a threat to either conventional news programs or the pay-TV channel, Cable News Network, its successful US model. Last November, the Atlanta-based network recorded its highest ratings ever during its live coverage of the aftermath of the California earthquake. CNN was on the air within seconds of the quake with continuous updates and eyewitness reports via radio and telephone.
Newsworld took almost an hour to broadcast anything resembling first-hand accounts of the quake. The network later linked satellites with a San Francisco-Bay area television station. The same evening, while CNN provided coverage throughout the night, Newsworld resumed its regular programming, broadcasting news bulletins every 10 minutes or so. However, these bits of information were hardly enough to satisfy concerned and curious viewers.
Despite Newsworld’s lackluster coverage of the earthquake, the network has been praised for its reporting of Canadian news. For instance, the inquiry into the Air Ontario crash in Dryden may never have been covered so extensively by the media if Newsworld had not carried the story. Newsworld, viewers, after witnessing flight attendant Sonia Hartwick’s heartbreaking testimony as one of the survivors of the crash, called and wrote to the network congratulating it for broadcasting the inquiry.
Newsworld came through again in early December during its live coverage of the mass killing of female students at the Universite de Montreal. The story went to air seconds after it came across the wires at 5:57 p.m. At six o’clock, anchors Carol Adams and Whit Fraser provided updates. But for the most part credit goes to the crew at “Newswatch,” the local CBC newscast in Montreal. Lynn Herzeg was sent to the university in a microwave van equipped for live transmission back to the CBC. She was on the air at 7:07. Unfortunately, microwave vans require a clear line to the home base and Mount Royal was blocking the way. Even so, Newsworld kept airing reports. It interrupted its regular programs with eyewitness accounts, interviews with doctors and updates from the police. As Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias put it, “For Canadians in shock, [Newsworld] was the only source of steady, solid information.”
When it comes to live coverage of breaking stories, Newsworld will likely serve its purpose. But if the network can showcase its talent only when an important story breaks, is Newsworld’s 24-hour-a-day programming too much of a good thing?
Opinions vary. Television columnists praise Newsworld for its regional coverage and its function as a Canadian alternative to CNN. “Canadians are insatiable informationgatherers,” says Greg Quill, columnist for The Toronto Star. “Yet we are always suspicious of American news and the way American values which are vastly different than ours-infiltrate their news reporting. We feel more comfortable with our own style and perceptions.” Brian Johnson, entertainment writer for Maclean’s, says it is not particularly a Canadian perspective that we need-just a lack of an American one. Says Johnson: “I’d much rather see stories on American politics from an unbiased, objective view.”
But media critic George Bain insists Newsworld is not necessary. “I get more than I want or need from standard media programs and newspapers,” he says. Bain is also concerned with what he sees as the increasing media concentration in the CBC. The CBC runs many television and radio programs including “The National,” “The Journal” and Newsworld. Says Bain: “It is dangerous to have one corporate entity with a controlling influence on the Canadian public mind.” As Bain says, any company that gets most of its revenue from one source can scarcely be impartial.
Not so, says Johnson. “The CBC is strict in following its code of impartiality. In fact, CBC documentaries need to portray a stronger point of view.”
Joan Donaldson, head of Newsworld, compares “The National” and “The Journal”
to a beautiful lake. “If you want to sit and be informed in a professional, journalistically sound, good-looking hour,” she says, “then they’re absolutely first-rate. Newsworld, on the other hand, is a river which is, compared to a lake, a lot rawer, a lot tougher and sometimes shallower.”
Mark Starowicz, executive producer of “The Journal,” says CBC’s control over the programs is irrelevant and that there is a healthy competition between the programs. “I see different perspectives taking place on the same stories,” he says. “That’s the argument for multiple newspapers in a city, so why shouldn’t there be multiple television news programs?”
Christina Stansbury was a Reports Editor for the Spring 1990 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.