Is TV News Salvageable? A response.

Ready to go on air in Sparwood, B.C. (Dan Rodenbush)

To be fair, I should have known.

Look at the title: “Is TV News Journalism Salvageable?” It presumes a thing broken, that may or may not be rescued from the alley before the garbage truck comes.

But, I went, because I find it a luxury to step back from the daily panic of doing, and talk about doing better. Maybe there would be talk instead of sanding and refinishing, or a fresh coat of paint.

One new path

Kai Nagata was headlining, with a critique of TV news, and why he quit his job when he felt more like part of the problem than the solution. He’s a very engaging speaker, but I bristled when he took some cheap shots, mocking CBC News and CTV’s Investigators (one of whom was in the audience) for having flashy graphics. As I said on Twitter, if you’re going to criticize TV news, don’t start by dogging new investment in enterprise and original storytelling (something CBC is also putting more local resources into).

Still, he made solid points analyzing one of his own previous stories, describing how he hadn’t the time or freedom in that job to do the journalism he wanted.

So, he’s now sleeping in a tent in his parent’s backyard, working on a solution—networking online and across the country to talk about new models of production and distribution. And let me be clear: I don’t take umbrage with that, or with anyone taking risks to tell stories they care about.

Is that it?

But the discussion that followed left me disappointed, because it turned so cynical, despite the smart people assembled on stage. [It would have helped if there was someone who currently works in TV news participating; the organizers had tried to find someone but were not able to.]

There was acknowledgement from a couple of panelists that there are some good people in TV “working their guts out” to tell important stories. But little talk about how to get more of that.

Instead, we heard blanket criticisms of the industry, repeated references to “cat up a tree” stories, and the crowd applauded the panelist who thought TV news should die. It felt more like a discussion called, “Is TV News something we can roll our eyes at and dismiss?”

Now, take this all with a grain of salt; I work in TV news. I’m not saying it’s perfect, nor am I in a position to critique or defend the industry or my employer. But at the very least, if you’re going to host a discussion called, “Is TV News Journalism Salvageable?” surely there’s a more interesting and intellectually challenging answer than “no.”

I have some ideas I’m working on, to loosen some of the logistical shackles on my own televised journalism. More on that later, I hope.

Maybe you have ideas too. What do you think would improve television news? Tell a reporter what you think would make it better. Genuine suggestions, not sneering please.


  1. It seems to me that a lot of reporters, especially guys, talk in a loud half-shout kind of voice. They use the same voice when talking about a murder as they do when talking about a cat being rescued from a tree. This may be superficial. But I think there’s a case to be made that reporters should be afforded the ability to put a little more of their personalities and opinions into a story.

  2. I agree with you about the tone of voice – though I hear this in men and women. I remember when I started at CBC, a smart colleague coached me to stop the way I was “voicing” my story. I’m not sure it was a half-shout I was definitely committing the rookie mistake of trying to be “Captain Radio”; some caricature of what you think a reporter sounds like. Not good.

    Now, I try to sound as human/natural as possible on a story. There aren’t any editors telling us to sound one way or another – certainly a description of a murder should sound different than a happy cat rescue.

    I don’t agree on the opinion piece; I think there is a role for reporters who are not columnists and don’t share their opinion. But I do think it’s incumbent on us to offer some analysis when we can, of what the story means, why it matters, or (in a dispute) on which side the balance of evidence lies.

  3. TV News ain’t dead. But it can be deadening on the people who practice it, over time. Cures to that include deciding that the daily news agenda will not blinker your thinking, and that common wisdom stunts insight. Cures also include shooting one’s own material.

    A MAJOR shortcoming in the process is The Desk. Assignment Editors need to be senior journalists with years in the market who can bring context, depth, and currency to every decision. Sorry, but i don’t know what the ‘today’ fix for that might be…

    Note: Every story should be important.

  4. Lisa,
    I find it sad that the organizers of the event could not find a TV news person to attend the panel. Obviously they didn’t spend much time looking. I could have found and recommended at least a dozen well spoken and knowledgeable people in Vancouver.
    On the matter of whether or not TV news is salvageable, I disagree with the question. It should be “Can TV news be improved?”. Rumours of the death of TV are greatly exaggerated, usually by a vocal crowd of online-addicts or disgruntled ex-TV news journalists. TV news can, and should be improved. Less emphasis on stories driven by “minute-by-minute ratings” and more emphasis on enterprise reporting (as CBC is attempting.) More “back-to-basics” such as beat reporting and contact development. More emphasis on the reporters, not just the on-air presenters, more stories from BC’s ethnic communities and more collaboration with news producers (of which I am one). Journalism is a craft. It takes work to build credibility, solid contacts and critical thinking skills. Once managers realize that this will create better TV news shows, then the sooner TV news will be recognized as a legitimate and genuine source for daily news.

  5. Thanks for the comments, guys. @Mike – I agree with you I wish there were more beats; I was lucky when I had one.

    @George – I think a lot about shooting my own stuff. There’s a clear advantage for pitching out of town trips, but even in town I think it would allow some more of the go-out-and-see practice I remember from radio, without knowing what you’re going to get before leaving the building. More serendipity. I don’t have it in me to VJ with official cameragear – I’d hurt myself – but there are so many more nimble alternatives now. 5D comes to mind, or I’ve even shot a standup with my current home camera, from the Canon G series.

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