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Jennifer McGuire

General Manager and Editor in Chief

Behind the Scenes of Breaking News

Categories: Canada, Journalism


Blair Ford - large.png

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair 

Of course no two days are the same. That is what makes journalism invigorating, if not addictive. But a press conference held by the chief police in Toronto showcased what has to happen to deliver fast-paced accurate news in a multi-platform environment.

It all began slowly before forcing us to turn on a dime. For weeks now, media organizations have been arguing before the courts that information obtained by the police into allegations surrounding a variety of associates of the Toronto mayor should be made public. This week a judge agreed, in part saying the public was entitled to more than they had been given. That ruling began the ball rolling that resulted in the big news events of Thursday.

City hall and police reporters have worked the story that surrounds the Toronto mayor, Rob Ford, for months. But as with so much source based work traction and consistency can be elusive. Sometimes the story needs somebody to go on the record. On this occasion it was Toronto police chief Bill Blair, saying he had watched a video that left him "disappointed."

That statement set off a flurry of activity across our news system: CBC News Network threw out its original plans, and kicked into high gear. Our station in Toronto did a Radio special. Hanging on every word that Chief Blair or Mayor Ford had to say was our "Alert Desk" that issues breaking news alerts to anyone who wants them, and writes the "news ticker" on the bottom of the screen on CBC News Network - their task was to get word out instantly without making a single mistake. It didn't help that one of the technologies we rely on had a problem at the very moment the news was unfolding. It was a good example of the type of hidden challenge that we have to make sure doesn't affect what you see, hear and read.

Meanwhile, show lineups had to be suspended and changed. Our live desk moved resources, coordinating with our assignment desk, to make sure reporters were able to appear live at city hall, at a city centre courthouse and a number of other potential locations. And our social media efforts went into overdrive - @CBCToronto alone sent out 64 Ford-related tweets over the course of the day.

But nothing can happen in a vacuum. All this meant other stories had to be called down, either killed or delayed as cameras and reporters were reassigned to support the story of the day.

For some that had unintended consequences. Interviews already set up had to be cancelled, an investigative piece that had been months in the work was at risk because program lineups were already having to accommodate the essential news pegged to the day into a limited number of program minutes.

And all the while, our political reporters stayed on the Senate story as the Conservative party prepare for their convention weekend in Calgary, and the foreign department pushed Egypt, Syria, spying on allies and more.

At the same time, the Governor General was in a studio doing a series of interviews with radio shows across the country. And the CBC was hosting foreign editors who work for a range of North American news organizations from the Miami Herald to the Associated Press, Bloomberg and the Christian Science Monitor. The session spoke about the risk-taking in reporting conflict and the challenge of reporting the world where dollars are finite. Given a tour of the CBC newsroom participants were impressed with the togetherness of our teams in radio, online and TV.

They recognized that Thursday belonged to the story of a police chief and a mayor but today, and into the weekend? We'll be preparing ourselves for the next big story.

David Walmsley
Director, CBC Newsgathering
CBC News

Tags: How We Work

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