I’d always wondered how working in news over here would be compared to the BBC in the UK. The first thing you notice is how commercial the whole operation is. Viewers mean advertising revenues obviously, but the networks use the US model of tying advertising into news seamlessly. It’s sometimes difficult to know if you’re watching a news broadcast or an advert, as many advertisers cunningly use the news bulletin format as the basis for their commercials. Product placement and on air plugs are commonplace to the point of leading the agenda in some cases.
Another notable difference is the use of emergency services radio scanners. They are commonplace across all news networks here. Of course, news hacks in the UK would just call it ‘Ambulance chasing’ and they’d be right. However, as a colleague who frequently beats fire trucks to blazes told me, it makes for compelling visual story telling. Not only that, the viewers get to see the emergency services, on which they spend their taxes, doing their jobs and often doing them very well. When did you last see a policeman arrest someone on the news in Britain? Perhaps there would be more sympathy if we saw that side of the police than just the aftermath when something goes wrong?
The two networks I have had the fortune to work for couldn’t be more different. Global TV in British Columbia is broadcast from Burnaby (next to Vancouver) and gets in region of 1 million viewers. It’s the highest watched local news programme in Canada, akin to the BBC’s spotlight in the south west of England. CBC in Edmonton, however, is the polar opposite. The bulletins get between 5,000 and 10,000 viewers which is around 2% of the audience share. Bear in mind that the CBC is part funded by the taxpayer, you’d think that they would have the remit and resources to improve their share.
I have some theories as to why this is the case! If you don’t work in news feel free to skip this bit!
News in Canada is very much personality-led. The ‘anchors’ get their face everywhere and are used as much as the company logo to brand the station. Global TV seems to get the better anchors and, crucially, holds on to them. There’s nothing more off-putting for a viewer than to have a different face reading your news every few months, and this has been happening at CBC Edmonton.
Another theory is that the standards of production are higher at Global than CBC. The equipment at CBC is actually more expensive and higher spec (they were usin
g Betacam SX and Avid) than Global (Grassvalley, DVCAM), but the way that the stations use the kit differs wildly. For example, I was told on my first day at CBC Edmonton not to bother getting lights out for interviews indoors! Apparently, this is because there isn’t enough time. And the reason there isn’t enough time is because reporters routinely travel with cameraman, meaning that cameramen have to wait around for reporters to leave base to go to jobs, hence reducing setup time to zero. It is insane how inefficient this is, and more insane how easily solved it is.
In editing, the CBC use an Avid Unity server system which allows their reporters to view and prepare material from their desks. However, some take this process too far and NEVER go into the edit suite, not even to view a finished piece. This is mainly because they are required to ‘top and tail’ their report every day from the newsroom camera. Another pointless and inefficient use of a reporter’s time in my opinion.
Global aren’t without their faults. The editing standards are low (a cut on a move is standard practice and don’t talk to me about audio) and they are still hanging on to 4:3 broadcast, 10 years after the rest of the planet switched to widescreen TVs. However, the fact that they routinely review their standards and have a healthy desire to achieve quality has definitely helped them remain the leaders in local news over here.
One thing working over here has given me is a different view of how the working processes at the BBC compare, and it is mostly favourably. Journalism is better, story count is better, camerawork is better and editing is better. I suppose that this is why Auntie is held in such high regard on this side of the Atlantic.
As September rolls on and the bank balance edges up, our plans are being hatched for a trip through the Rocky Mountains and then back over to the UK another Cheeseman wedding (4 down, 2 to go). I imagine by November I’ll be back trying to earn the dollars again to keep our lavish world traveller lifestyle intact. Probably not for CBC if they read this mind you.