News

Staff 'incredibly angry' as CBC North merges morning newscasts


The CBC is to cease broadcasting tailored English-language morning radio newscasts for each territory, managers told staff on Monday.

CBC North will instead run a new, pan-territorial newscast across all three weekday morning shows in the Yukon, NWT, and Nunavut, an email to employees announced.

The change is expected to take place in January.

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The CBC, which did not respond to requests for comment, told staff merging newscasts would free up resources to produce more news "for more platforms." No jobs are understood to be at risk, but some employees said the move was the wrong decision.

In an internal email seen by Cabin Radio, CBC North managing director Janice Stein wrote: "At the [CBC] North managers' meeting last week, we made the decision to move to pan-northern English AM newscasts."

Follow-up: Our interview with CBC North's managing director

The email continued: "Details will be worked out with programmers over the coming weeks, in collaboration with communications. We aim for beginning of January."

Currently, the Trailbreaker – CBC North's flagship Northwest Territories show, hosted by Loren McGinnis – features five-minute NWT-specific newscasts at the bottom of each hour (6:30am and 7:30am). Its Yukon and Nunavut counterparts each have separate newscasts specific to their territories.

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Afternoon radio newscasts, which also used to be territory-specific, were similarly merged several years ago. Afternoon newscasts are now compiled in and broadcast from Whitehorse; the new, pan-territorial morning newscasts will come from Yellowknife.

CKLB and Cabin Radio (with partner CKHR) are the other broadcasters to offer NWT-specific English-language newscasts prepared and delivered by journalists.

All stations use reports from other parts of Canada, and the North, to fill out newscasts on quieter days in the NWT – but they dedicate entire broadcasts to the territory when there is plenty to cover. It's this ability that CBC North will lose.

Listener relations

Several CBC North staff, who requested anonymity to speak about a decision affecting their work, expressed concern at prospective damage to the corporation's relationship with northern listeners.

One employee, who said they were "stupefied" by the change, suggested listeners in smaller NWT communities would lose out. The move will mean fewer NWT news stories are broadcast on radio each day, while reducing opportunities for CBC North broadcasters to gain on-air experience.

Though newsrooms worldwide now prioritize the web and social media, radio remains a mainstay for some residents of remote northern communities, where the cost of internet access is high and connectivity poor. The CBC's broadcasts are heard in some NWT communities where no other radio service exists.

(The CBC also maintains a nightly TV newscast, Northbeat, in order to serve northern residents with a preference for televised news. Several members of staff believe that audience – which is not measured – to be small, though other CBC employees contested that view on first publication of this report.)

Outside the NWT, employees at CBC newsrooms in Yukon and Iqaluit were understood to have similar misgivings.

Basing the morning newscasts in Yellowknife would appear to end the on-air role of Elyn Jones, a Whitehorse-based morning show newsreader and one of CBC Yukon's best-known voices.

"People are incredibly angry at all stations," said one apparent employee in an unsigned message, sent to Cabin Radio from an anonymous email account. Though the sender's identity could not be confirmed, they attached a full copy of Stein's internal email, matching those received from other sources.

"She didn't consult with anyone," the anonymous author added. "Everyone found out this morning."

'Increasingly social'

Stein and CBC North managing editor Mervin Brass did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment on Monday.

"This is to address the 'what do we change doing' in order to focus on priorities," Stein had told staff in her email announcing the move.

"It will help reporters meet the priority to file for more platforms, radio/TV/web, and increasingly social," she wrote.

"It will add resource to program teams in Yukon and Nunavut as they develop new digital services [and] initiatives to deepen community connection and engage with young audiences."

Stein's email also told staff fewer radio reports voiced by journalists will be aired. Newscasts will instead rely more heavily on clips – short soundbites from interviews or events – than recordings of CBC journalists explaining the issues.

How the success of the changes is to be evaluated and what scope, if any, exists for territory-specific newscasts to be reinstated at a later date was not clear.

Two staff members feared loss of territory-specific newscasts could mean the CBC's territory-specific English-language shows – such as those airing each weekday morning, at lunchtime, and in the afternoon – may in future be vulnerable to a similar measure. There was no immediate suggestion the shows are under threat.

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