By Jim Henshaw
This week the President of the CBC shared his vision of the future of our national broadcaster. It was a vague vision. Something about being leaner by thousands of jobs and less real estate, not overly committed to documentary projects or news and accessing audiences via social media and mobile instead of the way they are accessed now.
There was an amorphous commitment to giving Canadians more of what they want and what they need without revealing how or why the network had failed to do such a primary function of any broadcast entity up to now.
And while I wish them luck (and hope they soon have some actual concrete ideas), I sensed a certain desperation badly masked by confused press releases approved by executives who’ve lost sight of who their audience and their mission is/was in the first place.
In this day and age, the first thing failing broadcasters seem to do is study the media outlets which are usurping them, like Facebook and Twitter, and decide that what they’re doing is what the troubled network should be doing as well.
So they opt for “Click-Bait,” following which of their shows or news items seems to be most often shared or commented upon as the secret to winning back an audience.
You need look no further than CNN to see how badly that works, as serious journalism there has been replaced by constant updates on what’s trending on Facebook and Twitter and a desire to either emulate those views and opinions, or not to seriously criticize them.
However, as a result of this strategy, CNN’s ratings have plummeted further than the Malaysian airliner they were convinced obsessed their audience, and they’ve been repeatedly left behind on other stories sending advertisers elsewhere, further exacerbating the network’s ability to provide programming that might draw them back.
There seems to be a belief that it’s now the audience that determines what’s news or what’s important. Which would be all well and good, if the bulk of those posting on social media were there for news and information instead of sharing pictures and their personal pet peeves.
And despite the fact that nobody can follow everybody on Twitter or Facebook, or assess any issue even with the help of hashtag filters, CNN and others spend more and more time reporting what the man on the street thinks instead of getting to the bottom of what’s making him think that way.
If you’re not honestly informing an audience in the first place, doesn’t it follow that their ill-informed opinions will further confuse how you approach your mandate as a broadcaster?
But it seems much easier or fashionable to be like Buzzfeed, spending as much time on which “Game of Thrones” character you are as you do covering wars in the Middle East.
Hey, it gets the ratings up right? And then you can deliver all that important stuff a news or national broadcaster is supposed to deliver, can’t you?
Except you can’t because most of your time and energy are concentrated on coming up with more lists and social media contests to keep the audience you’ve finally snagged coming back.
It used to be said that in the land of the blind, the one eyed man was king. So maybe the secret is for CNN and CBC to eschew removing their remaining credibility by rejecting the direction of the mob and going back to whatever they once felt they did best.
Maybe the audience doesn’t really know what it wants. or needs somebody to point out that the vast majority of what gets shared on social media is transient garbage.
Maybe they need to emulate a guy like Maddox, host of “The Best Show In The Universe.” Millions of people link to him too.
First published on The Legion of Decency.