Editor's Blog - How we work, how we make decisions, how we serve Canadians.

Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

Avoiding duplication: How we assign for multiple platforms

Categories: Canada, Journalism

IMG_0408 Toronto Assignment - Large.jpg
CBC News Toronto multiplatform assignment meeting

When I first arrived at the CBC more years ago than I care to remember, I was an associate producer on the radio morning show in Ottawa. At the time, our program was engaged in a heated rivalry with another news operation in town.

It wasn't one of the daily newspapers, or the number one TV news station.  It was the CBC Ottawa Radio Newsroom, located right across the hall from our offices on the 7th floor of the Chateau Laurier hotel. And when we weren't giving the cold shoulder to the reporters across the hall, we were ignoring our fellow CBC journalists at the TV newsroom across town, on Parliament Hill. Or they were ignoring us. We would each follow our own agendas, look for the best stories, and - rarely tell each other what we were up to.

As silly and embarrassing as that sounds, it isn't that we weren't friendly or invested in mutual success; it's just that we had different reporting lines and different masters. We worked for different mediums with distinct and separate news operations. I want to assure you that it's not the way we do business at CBC News today.

That isn't to say that our journalists still don't strive to uncover and tell the best stories they can on a daily basis.  Getting the scoop is part of our nature. What has changed is that we have become much more systematic about sharing and not duplicating effort. In doing so, we've managed to maintain the quality of journalism that you've come to expect from us, even in this time of financial restraint.

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Produced as a learning tool for our staff, this video shows how multiplatform assignment worked on a typically busy day in our Toronto local newsroom.

A few weeks ago, the PEW Research Center in the United States released its annual State of the News Media.  Here are some of the key findings:

  • There are 30 per cent fewer people working in newspaper newsrooms than there were in 2000.
  • Weather, traffic and sports account for 40% of local television newscasts, while stories about government and politics has fallen from 7% to just 3% since 2005. Only 20% of stories ran for more than a minute.
  • At CNN, produced story packages (as opposed to interview clips, and live chats with reporters in the field) were reduced by almost half between 2007 and 2012.
  • And perhaps most disturbing of all, almost one-third (31%) of people surveyed by PEW say they've abandoned a news outlet because the quality of their reporting isn't what it used to be.

I'm not aware of a similar study in Canada, but we've all seen stories about layoffs at newspapers and broadcasting outlets across the country. We're hardly immune to that here at the CBC. But by working together, being smarter about sharing resources, and producing content for our radio, television, mobile and online services, we're able to do a whole lot more than we would have been able to if we still operated in the silos we had 25 years ago. More importantly, we are able to be more consistent with our coverage. Gone are the days when we were sometimes mistakenly reporting different facts on different platforms.Our current approach at CBC News features integrated teams and what we call Multiplatform Assignment. What it means is that senior editorial teams in newsrooms across the country meet regularly through the day to determine which stories deserve coverage, and then how we'll cover them on the different services. Ideally, a story will show up on all of our platforms, in one form or another.  That is because we know our audience routinely shifts their consumption of news across television, internet and radio. They expect to get the content no matter where they choose to consume it.

The video attached to this story is something we put together as a learning tool for our staff. It shows how multiplatform assignment worked on a typically busy day in our Toronto local newsroom.

Gone are the days when we'd automatically dispatch reporters from our national and regional radio and TV newsrooms to the same event.  If it's a big story, we may end up sending more than one journalist, but once the event is over, they can share the task of getting reaction to the news, providing you with the context and balance required for quality journalism. 

And now that more of our journalists are comfortable working in radio, television and digitally, we can send (if necessary) one reporter to cover the story for all our platforms. What this does is allow us to invest in stories that require several days or weeks of research and preparation. Enterprise and investigative journalism takes more time. It is an investment and we have made it a priority. Stories like tax havens or foreign workers or diluted chemotherapy drugs a priority: we are doing more of those than ever before and that is by design. (More on that in a future blog post). It's hard for me to imagine a CBC supper-hour newscast with 40% weather, sports and traffic, and only 3% political coverage, but we might have been forced to move in that direction if we hadn't made this change.

Tags: How We Work, Video

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