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BOB WAKEHAM: ‘Here & Now’ is still worth fighting for

Carolyn Stokes, Anthony Germain and Ashley Brauweiler of "Here & Now". —
Carolyn Stokes, Anthony Germain and Ashley Brauweiler of "Here & Now." — Screenshot

Anyone who’s paid even cursory attention to these weekend scribbles over the past 14 years would know I have made scattered mention of time spent in the lucrative but sometimes frustrating bosom of Mother Corp, the CBC.

Thus, even after a considerable period having elapsed since illness brought my career there to a premature conclusion, I find myself taking in the goings on at the CBC with not so much as a token nod of detachment. I’m all ears, from the gossipy whispers about personalities — who didn’t get that job and why, who’s difficult to work with and why, who’s in over her or his head, etc. — to the consequential decisions by the corporation brass, both nationally and locally.

So, naturally, I was not just an ordinary observer of the CBC’s inane and thoughtless decree to eliminate supper-hour newscasts like “Here & Now” in the midst of the worst international crises most of us will ever have to endure in our lifetime.

It was downright journalistically shameful: the CBC, the public broadcaster, with a legislative mandate that inherently demands more responsibility than any of its electronic or print competitors, actually decided to virtually wipe out its television news-gathering operations in the regions of the country at a time when they were most needed.

And the subsequent about-face, by that stunned-as-me-arse crowd in Toronto, permitting the newscasts to return, but with an allotment of only 30 minutes, was almost as idiotic as the original cement-headed order, slashing by half what loyal CBC viewers required, expected and were owed.

We’ll throw you the proverbial bone, the CBC was saying, a half-hour bone, a patronizing bone; go in the corner, gnaw away and keep your traps shut.

Now, look, I’d be the first to admit that “Here & Now” is not what it once was, when — in its glory days — over 200,000 Newfoundlanders tuned in every single evening, with ratings the best in the country that reflected its reputation as must-see television.

CBC journalists and technicians were paid well, for sure, but we delivered, maintaining our unabashedly local philosophy, even though, quite often, we were being treated by the head offices of the CBC as the poor second cousins in the corporation, a politically necessary pain in the butt.

But budget cuts by various governments, slash-and-burn directives by CBC management upalong, a continual and frustrating reinvention of the journalistic wheel (CBC has had more visions than those youngsters in Lourdes), and, it must be said, some questionable moves by local editorial bosses throughout the years, has placed “Here & Now” in a distant second place to NTV.

Nevertheless, there’s a dedicated CBC viewership out there, and I would suggest, comprised to a great extent of the very people most vulnerable to this deadly virus the world is struggling to handle, the not-so-young populace — Newfoundlanders who require every single iota of news they can possibly obtain from a broadcaster they have depended on for decades, a broadcaster they most trust, a broadcaster that has now let them down.

We’ll throw you the proverbial bone, the CBC was saying, a half-hour bone, a patronizing bone; go in the corner, gnaw away and keep your traps shut.

Aside from the blatant disregard for its obligations in the regions, the CBC bosses have also left themselves wide open to the understandable speculation that the cutback in programming will send even more viewers desperate for news scurrying over to the Stirling crowd, and make it much easier for the powers that be in Toronto to eliminate the supper-hour shows for good once this pandemic has concluded its deadly trip around the world.

And it’s not as if we haven’t been down this kind of disastrous half-hour scenario before. One of the oddest moves by the CBC was the “Canada Now” experiment a number of years back, the inclusion of a national news component that supplanted a half hour of local news each evening. “Here & Now’s” ratings plummeted and never recovered.

But that doesn’t mean the fight for regional television should not continue, or that we should accept the kind of advice once offered me by a fellow executive producer, a rather benign fellow (there were too many such types in positions of authority) who thought my belligerence on some issue or another was over the top: “Lay down thy musket,” he said in an email. “The fight is over.” (I ignored him, of course).

That’s why it warmed the cockles of my heart to see that my former colleague, Jonathan Crowe, had certainly not placed his gun on the ground, instead letting loose with both barrels in a blistering letter to The Telegram condemning the CBC’s recklessness.

I shouldn’t have found it all that surprising, though. Crowe, a CBC retiree who now teaches journalism, had always been a passionate defender of “Here & Now” (at one point, when he was its co-anchor, he wrote publicly that my disapproval of certain aspects of the show amounted to a “kick in the guts”; I obviously believed my critique to be justified, but, nevertheless, privately smiled and admired Crowe’s vigorous spin of support on behalf of “Here & Now”).

Friends have told me that Crowe, speaking to Paddy Daly on VOCM, had apparently reiterated what he had said in his letter, bemoaned the muted reaction of local CBC bosses to the moves by Toronto, and implied that I had gone ballistic during my time at the helm of “Here & Now” whenever there was even a thought given to a reduction of local television services in Newfoundland.

Well, I’m now “yesterday’s hero,” as a friend and fellow retiree is fond of noting, no longer on Team CBC’s roster.

So, going off my rocker no longer has an impact at the CBC head offices.

This localized Saturday sermon will have to suffice.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 40 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by email at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com


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