An update on CBC News, local TV newscasts and COVID-19
CBC has had to temporarily suspend local supper-hour programs during the COVID-19 crisis
People care deeply about CBC News. They care even more deeply about local news, including the CBC supper-hour TV newscasts at 6 p.m. in many cities across the country.
So, it's no surprise that we got plenty of concerned reaction to our temporary decision to stop these newscasts in the wake of mounting technical and staffing challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
I wanted to address head-on some of the questions, complaints and deeply felt worries we've heard about this difficult decision — and why we believe it's the right thing to do.
First, we have millions of Canadians turning to us every day in record numbers on TV, radio, digital and social media. They join us at every minute of the day.
I'm not surprised by our audience numbers. CBC News is one of Canada's most-trusted sources of news, and Canadians everywhere are desperate for good information and the latest developments as this crisis mounts.
We have some of the most comprehensive coverage of this pandemic anywhere, and much of it is intensely local. For example, in the last two weeks, we have carried more live press conferences by officials at every level of government in every province and territory than ever in the history of CBC News.
On Monday alone, we carried 37 press briefings. A typical day would see us broadcast about eight of these "lives."
Staffing and resource challenges
We are providing this critical, essential service despite having nearly half of our Ontario staff working from home to ensure social distancing; a quarter of the staff at home in eastern and western Canada; a large percentage of news staff sick; many self-isolating after travel; and the real potential that many more will be forced to stay home as the virus spreads.
In that way, we are like so many other companies around the world that are making dramatic choices — many of them halting operations, sending employees home on indefinite leaves and closing up shop.
Unlike those companies, we will not shut down.
We are an essential public service, and we will be here for Canada through it all. That is our mandate and promise to all Canadians.
Television is resource intensive, and much of it can't be done from home. The spine of our television broadcast infrastructure and the support for many of our local supper-hour newscasts run through Toronto facilities. On Monday, with fewer technical staff in the Toronto building, that spine was at risk of breaking.
More importantly, we see what's coming: more cases, more illness, more people in isolation, more restrictions on travel, more staffing challenges in all of our newsrooms. To get ahead of the curve and the enormous strain we expect it will place on our news service, we were forced to act.
So, we put a temporary pause on one piece of what we do — local TV newscasts at 6 p.m. and some at 11 p.m. — in order to protect everything else: local and national reporting; local and national radio service; local and national digital service; our national nightly newscast; and our 24-hour news channel, CBC News Network (NN).
Local programs will be back
As we replaced those local TV newscasts with CBC NN, we changed its programming significantly at 6 p.m. to provide local stories, local hosts, local headlines and local weather. We will do more and more to ensure you get the best of your local news, CBC NN and The National.
We also took the lead in co-ordinating pool coverage with Canada's private television broadcasters, which are also stretched, so press conferences are covered everywhere.
Still, it's a painful choice. Our local newscasts are beloved. We hope to get them back on the air as soon as possible. I assure you, they will be back.
But the weeks ahead are uncertain because of the rapid spread of COVID-19. We are doing our very best. While we've since stabilized the system, we can't do anything that puts our core service at risk. Every decision we make is about ensuring we are here for Canada with essential news and information through to the very end of this pandemic.
Thank you for your patience and understanding at this unprecedented time.