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Killing CBC will not save newspapers

Posted on 21 April 2015

Note: As always, opinions are my own.

In the Prince George Citizen, Neil Godbout argues CBC needs to be killed off for a number of reasons, among them:

“Its very existence actually poses a threat to journalists and members of the media working in the private sector. As a government agency, CBC is competing with private sector media outlets for audience and those audiences have value or CBC would not be able to sell advertising on television or on Radio 2. Every audience member and advertising dollar CBC takes hurts the viability of local media outlets across the country (and the good-paying jobs those outlets provide), starting locally with the Prince George Citizen and the four local private radio stations and one local TV station.”

To put it bluntly: this is absurd.

The Prince George Citizen was founded in 1916. CBC Radio started broadcasting in 1936 and CBC Television began in 1952. I imagine that if the existence of a public broadcaster were some existential threat to local media- especially print- it may have dealt the death blow at some point during the previous seventy-odd years when radio and TV were the hot new kids on the block. To act is if the CBC of today is the reason for declining revenue in private local media is just irrational. We’ve been bleeding resources for the last twenty years or so. If there was any correlation between the fortunes of CBC and the fortunes of the Prince George Citizen, surely they would be cashing in on these cuts.

CBC is not the reason for the tough time print is having. We have no reporters in the Peace, one of the fastest-growing parts of the province, and yet the Citizen’s parent company, Glacier Media, shut down the Dawson Creek Daily news in 2013, merging it with the Alaska Highway News. CBC has just two staff members in Prince Rupert, compared to many more decades ago, and yet the Prince Rupert Daily shut down in 2010. Similar stories have been happening across the country, despite plummeting government support for CBC.

Neil suggests that a better model for CBC would be a community radio station like CFIS or CFUR in town. I may not know much about how the Citizen sells ads, but having been the station manager for CFUR for a number of years, I’m well aware of how that model works, and let me tell you this: there is no way they can afford to be a replacement for the CBC without a significant increase in the government funding they receive, and then we wind up back where we started. I love community radio, but it ain’t no CBC. This holds in communities across the country.

I’ve written before about how I don’t see all media as being in competition with each other. I’m not alone in this. On a recent episode of Canadaland, the Tyee founder David Beers talks about how he was happy when the CBC started covering the temporary foreign workers in Tumbler Ridge scandal, after the Tyee did the initial investigation. To summarize, he saw it as a win because the Tyee got a good original story for its audience, and CBC helped make it a national story (full thing starts around the twenty-seven minute mark).

“You go back to my idea of there being an ecosystem. And the creatures there aren’t always predatory and competitive, you know? If you have a healthy enough ecosystem with enough creatures swimming around it big and small they can be cooperative, they can be collaborative, they can do better because of the diversity.”

Exactly. I love reading the Citizen. It consistently reports on stories- court, civic, community stories- that we don’t have the time or resources to cover. If it were to fold, it would be a loss, and not one that could be replaced by a community paper run by volunteers. I truly believe that having a healthy media ecosystem is good for everyone, the journalists who work within included, and the loss of any outlet is a loss for all. I cheer when they succeed, and I’m saddened when they are diminished. I only wish Mr. Godbout felt the same.

Filed under: CBC, journalism, Prince George

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