Celebrating 20 years of CBCNews.ca — and looking forward to many more
CBCNews.ca launched on July 3, 1996
This year, CBCNews.ca is celebrating a significant milestone — 20 years. While two decades may not seem like a lot compared to the 75 years since CBC News was established during the Second World War, it does make us one of the oldest digital news sources in Canada.
It also presents me with an opportunity to take stock of how far we have come and to look at where we are heading.
When The National launched its own website back in 1996, it was accompanied by a TV feature that addressed the following questions:
- What is a website?
- Is The National Online easy to use?
- How do I get around on the website?
A few months later, on July 3, 1996, CBC launched Newsworld Online. It was the first iteration of our breaking news service on CBC.ca, with simple text and photos.
Quaint? Perhaps. But at the time, it represented the work of forward-thinking journalists looking for new ways to serve an audience hungry for information.
Jump ahead 20 years and while the technology may have changed, our fundamentals have not.
Our groundbreaking initiative, Missing & Murdered: Unsolved cases of Indigenous Women and Girls, has been honoured with a number of Canadian and international honours, including the Canadian Journalism Foundation Jackman Award for Excellence in Journalism, a Canadian Screen Award and the Canadian Association Of Journalists' highest honour, the Don McGillivray Award.
But most importantly, this project has struck a chord with hundreds of thousands of visitors in raising awareness about an issue that goes to the core of the Canadian identity. That principle goes to the heart of the following accomplishments where we push the limits of the technology in order to deliver our journalism in new and different ways.
Since we are celebrating an anniversary, allow me to share some other recent successes:
- We have grown the biggest social media presence on Facebook and Twitter of any Canadian news outlet;
- Our Android and iOS News apps are consistently among the top Canadian apps in the News category on Google Play & iOS charts;
- We were named to the list of the 25 biggest publishers on Facebook in the English-speaking world, the only Canadian media company on the list.
These achievements don't come easily. They require the talents of many forward-thinking individuals who are able to detect trends and read tea leaves — such as foreseeing the importance of mobile.
This month, a record-breaking 66 per cent of visits to our sites and apps came on a mobile device, primarily smartphone and some tablet.
Despite the fragmentation that has rocked so many news providers, we have been consistently ahead of the curve thanks to the CBC's 2020 Mobile First strategy, a forerunner of which was presented back in 2010 and later, in its current form, in 2014.
Some of our innovations are pretty obvious: from Peter Mansbridge engaging a digital audience on Facebook Live to a 360-degree video view of fans at the Toronto Raptors' Jurassic Park to SnapChat stories from the newsroom.
Others are less so: our apps are able to detect where our mobile users are and can automatically provide them with local breaking news alerts geared to their region if they choose.
These developments and relationships also bring with them a host of ethical questions that we are constantly grappling with. For example, what role should tech companies like Facebook and Google play in the dissemination and consumption of news, including balance, fairness and trust?
And what relationship should the public broadcaster have to commenting on news stories? After a great deal of study and reflection, we have recently decided to update our commenting policy.
What does the future hold?
Canadians have trusted CBC News for three-quarters of a century — and we are dedicated to living up to the standards of pioneers such as Matthew Halton, Barbara Frum and Knowlton Nash.
We were heartened to learn that a Reuters Institute study has found that "in the era of social media and atomised media, news organizations and traditional news brands still matter enormously." That same study reported that more Canadians cite CBCNews.ca as their main source of digital news than any other website.
What does the future hold?
Website redesign in the works
Right now, we are redesigning our website to ease entry for the many mobile users. Canadians will continue to turn to mobile social platforms to get their news and we are planning new ways to satisfy those expectations.
Will some of our 2016 digital offerings look quaint in 20 years? Perhaps. But what will not change is our commitment to journalistic excellence.
- A decade ago, we asked our audience to predict the future of our site. One reader came eerily close.
A recent paper on digital engagement — meaning page views, time spent and sharing — by the Brookings Institution reports that the single biggest change a publisher can make to improve these measures of success is to produce more original and investigative journalism.
That's what we do. Use digital tools to connect, engage and involve Canadians in our journalism.
Jennifer McGuire is the general manger and editor in chief of CBC News and Centres.