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Relevance: Delivering News that Affects Our Lives

Categories: Business, Canada, Journalism, Politics


CBC Morning radio hosts and newsreaders: Rick Cluff, (Vancouver);  Don Connolly (Halifax); Mitch Cormier (Charlottetown); Terry Seguin (r) (Fredericton)

Do newsrooms want to be disconnected artists, or make a difference in the lives of the communities they serve?   

That almost seems like a rhetorical question, but when Earl J. Wilkinson, executive director and CEO of the International News Media Association posed it at a gathering of journalists, he received a good deal of reaction from the audience.

Perhaps it was because he prefaced it with an admonition of local journalists who think it's more important to mimic the New York Times than focus on producing news that's relevant to their audiences.  Quality and relevance are not mutually exclusive, of course.   But he's right when he says journalists have to place relevance at the top of the list when they're choosing which stories to tell.

At CBC News, we talk a lot about relevance. Stories and programs have a much greater impact when people can relate them to their own lives. Our health reporters cover the latest in medical research, but they also examine what happens to each of us at the hospital or in the doctor's office. Our business reporters are as interested in issues around the workplace as they are interested in a company's annual report.

Across the country, our morning shows on Radio One have made relevance a cornerstone value, and the payoff in popularity has been immense.  In fact, those shows are #1 in 11 of the markets we serve across the country.  And all of our shows are in the top 2.   It's at least in part because we believe in making these shows relevant to each community.

They all contain the same basic elements like news, weather, sports, and, in the bigger centres, traffic.  But aside from that, each show is different.   (Speaking of traffic, it's partly because our listeners in places like Kitchener and Victoria didn't appreciate hearing about traffic jams on the Don Valley Parkway and the Lion's Gate Bridge as much as our listeners in Toronto and Vancouver do that led us to create new, much more relevant morning shows for their communities.)

This video features several CBC locales, including CBC Calgary, which outlines why in fact there are three "C"s in success when it comes to our Radio One morning shows, and indeed all of our regional programs.  Capturing the CHARACTER of a city or region is just as important for a program as the CONTENT it produces. And we're very proud of our progress on that third "C", COMMUNITY.  While our hosts and other employees have always participated in local events when asked, we have been much more proactive on that front in recent years.   One good example:  What started as an ad hoc series of open house broadcasts at CBC locations across the country during the holiday season has now grown into a single day of special radio and television programming, and charitable giving, from coast to coast to coast.   This past December, we collected $4.4-million which we hope is really making a difference in the communities we serve.

As it does in so many areas, new technology makes producing relevant news content easier and harder at the same time.  We don't have to wait until the top of the clock any more to share important breaking news.  And by monitoring hits and comments on the website, we can quickly determine what kind of stories matter most to Canadians.   Those comments and questions help us in our continuing coverage of the story, and make it virtually impossible for our journalists to be "disconnected artists".

But sharing our news content online and via social media means that many listeners and viewers will be aware of many major news stories before they tune in to the World at Six or The National.   The trick here is not to assume everyone is up to speed, but at the same time, we have to do more to keep the attention of those who have heard at least the basic "who, what, where and when."    So the "how" and the "why" take on added importance, especially on our signature news broadcasts. That context is one part of what keeps our CBC News programs fresh and relevant each and every day.

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