WHILE CANADIANS were eagerly awaiting Stuart Keate’s word on whether Pat really was trying to build an empire of his own or whether Laurier should be allowed to cry, a young CBC producer was preparing a report for his bosses that may have more impact on Canadian viewing than anything that comes out of the Seven Days mêlée.
Early in June Bill Cunningham, 33-year-old executive producer of TV’s national news, will unveil recommendations on the CBC’s entire newsgathering and news-presentation operations. He is firm that his suggestions—which will affect everything from the room space given the news department to whether Earl Cameron continues—are just ideas which management may—or may not—use to make policy decisions. But since it was management that gave him the fact-finding task last April, it seems reasonable for viewers to expect considerable change in the newscasts. Such as:
□ Longer news programs, with the 11 p.m. edition running 18 minutes instead of 13 during the week and 13 instead of eight on Sunday. The emphasis will be on local news at 7 p.m. and national news in the main broadcast.
□ More sight and sound of what’s actually happening instead of announcers reading across that omnipresent desk. “We should be presenting documented stories in a visual way—films, graphics, stills — everything that takes you there and shows you,” says Cunningham. “You shouldn’t see a guy on camera unless he’s there for a reason; you should see for yourself what he's reporting.”
□ Wider coverage of Canadian stories from all parts of the country. The national news will still avoid barn burnings, but it will look at the possible effects of a story (like U. S. draft dodgers fleeing to Canada) in Vancouver and Halifax as well as Toronto or Montreal. It will be geared to carry important stories, live or filmed, from any place in Canada w'here there is a CBC-owned or affiliated station.
There has been speculation about the possible disappearance of all those grave-voiced gentlemen who tend to
pronounce rather than announce the news but Cunningham refuses to comment on this. He will say that the central news figure should be a hostreporter type. (His hero is CBS’s Walter Cronkite.)
“Longer news programs won’t just mean more of the same old reports,” Cunningham promises. “It’s goodby to those pieces on frolicking dolphins and the newest arrival at the zoo. There will be room for good feature stories but they have to be within the context of the day’s news.
“CBC television news is the closest thing to a national press in Canada. Thus it’s important that we stop being a dissemination machine and start being a real newsgathering operation. There should be more background to some stories and more interpretation to some reports.”
This ambitious revolution (which Cunningham insists is merely “an evolution”) could only be carried out with some major behind-the-scenes changes at the Toronto headquarters of the national news. Announcers would have to start behaving more like reporters and less like robots mouthing other people’s words. (They may even have to write some of the stories they read; after all, Cronkite does.)
The cameras would also move around more inside the news studio
instead of remaining rigidly fixed on a medium close-up of the announcer. Cunningham would like the opening shot to show writers and reporters at their desks with the banks of teletypes in the background. (He can’t do that at the moment because the newsroom is on a different floor of the building, which doesn’t help last-minute communications.)
The reporters and writers themselves will have to become jacks of all TV trades—men who can find a story, write it, produce it. edit it and be able to give cameramen direction. (Moves such as these could create havoc with the CBC’s five delicately balanced and supersensitive unions.)
Other possible structural changes include:
□ An extended film, videotape and clipping library in better, more spacious quarters.
□ A network of highly trained regional reporters who can originate and handle stories at the grass-roots level. (Cunningham thinks he can arrange cheaper feeds across Canada’s microwave system. At the moment it costs about $1,300 for 10 minutes to transmit from Vancouver to Toronto which is w'hy the national news has so few up-to-the-minute visual reports from outside central Canada.)
□ The development of reporters who specialize in such fields as science, business and labor unions. They should be able to make the most complex story concise and understandable to the viewing public.
If Cunningham’s plan is approved by management, the changes will go into effect in the fall. By that time there’ll be another problem to contend with—color. The technical difficulties presented by colorcasts, he says, are staggering. (Even in broad daylight. color TV cameras need extra lighting.)
And all these changes, of course, will cost more money. How much more? Cunningham admits it will be expensive. But he asks: “What’s an informed public worth—particularly to a network with the special responsibilities of the CBC?”
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