'That was a mistake': CBC North scraps plan to consolidate morning newscasts

CBC North managing director Janice Stein has announced that the broadcaster will not be making any changes to its English morning newscasts in Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

Management planned to consolidate 3 news reading positions across North into 1 based in Yellowknife

Following backlash from staff and listeners, CBC North reversed its decision to centralize its morning radio newscasts in Yellowknife, its managing director announced Wednesday morning in an internal email. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

CBC North managing director Janice Stein has announced that the broadcaster will not be making any changes to its English morning newscasts in Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.

The announcement reverses a decision, announced Monday, to consolidate local radio newscasts to one pan-northern morning newscast, read from Yellowknife.

"Overall the response we received from staff and the community was not supportive of the change," Stein wrote in an email to staff. 

Stein wrote that while the original change was made with the "best of intentions," management realized they needed time to reflect on the impact of the potential change on staff and listeners. 

"The communication of our plan was poorly executed," Stein said in a followup interview with CBC News. "We need to start at the beginning, which is consulting with our staff." 

Most CBC North staff members weren't consulted before the decision was announced.

"That was a mistake," Stein said.

"I take full responsibility for that ... It should have been communicated better, and it should have begun with a conversation with staff from the ground up, with their ideas for how we move our programming in better ways."

'The communication of our plan was poorly executed,' said Janice Stein, managing director of CBC North, on Wednesday. (CBC)

The broadcaster is committed to getting out into more northern communities, Stein said. It will fall to staff to advise management on how to do that, within CBC North's current budget. 

"Our staff will figure out how to do that, they can see where there are ways to do that and they can come up with those solutions." 

"In the end, maybe they decide that we need to do [pan-northern newscasts], maybe they decide we figure out how not to do it. We'll see, but we'll have that conversation."

Stein also said there are no major changes planned for CBC North's programming anytime soon.

Strong backlash

The about-face comes after strong backlash from newsroom staff, listeners, and politicians, including the premier of Yukon, Sandy Silver.

On Tuesday, Silver asked fellow northern premiers Caroline Cochrane of the Northwest Territories and Joe Savikataaq of Nunavut to join him in writing a letter to Catherine Tait, the president of the CBC, asking her to reverse the decision.

Yukon Premier and Finance Minister Sandy Silver at a budget address in March this year. On Tuesday, Silver announced in the legislature that he had written a letter to other Northern premiers, asking them to call on the CBC president to reconsider a decision to amalgamate CBC North's morning radio newscasts. (Jane Sponagle/CBC)

On Wednesday morning, before Stein announced the reversal, a spokesperson for Tait said that her office had not yet received a letter from Silver, but that they would "review carefully once we receive a copy."

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Stacey Hassard of the conservative Yukon Party wrote to the newly-appointed federal Minister of Heritage Steven Guilbeault on Wednesday "to ensure this does not happen again."

Hassard called the original decision by CBC North "short-sighted" and suggested it would have contradicted the broadcaster's mandate to serve and reflect Canada's regions.

"This very likely is the first letter that he'll be receiving as the new heritage minister. And we felt that it was important that his first order of business was to to ensure the protection of northern cultures, people and their stories under the Broadcasting Act," Hassard said. 

Iqaluit Coun. Kyle Sheppard had said the Nunavut market is "underserved by all types of media."

CBC Radio is one of the main forms of communication throughout the territory, particularly in its remote communities, Sheppard said.

"People tune in at specific times to news that actually matters to them," he said. "And for that to be changing to a format that's going to take away that local content, and replace it with other regional local news from regions that really don't affect our lives, is a little bit concerning."

Sheppard said Nunavut shares the same political players and policies, which make stories about each of the territory's diverse fly-in communities relevant to one another.

CBC in Nunavut does broadcast news reports outside the territory to Nunavik and Nunatsiavut, but Sheppard said those stories are still relevant because of a shared culture.

Stein responded to the political backlash to her original announcement by saying she welcomed it.

"In a way, if they ignored it and didn't have any thoughts and didn't react to their own constituents, that would be something else," she said.

With files from Steve Silva, Alex Brockman and Katie Toth