Democratizing daily news: CBC’s Connect

People can watch, read, or even create news content whenever they want. As a result, journalists who run daily news shows are scrambling to find ways to attract viewers. But strangely, they don’t really seem to be trying anything that different to get those viewers to tune in.

When a show is revamped, like The National for example, video-walls and shots that are trying to be creative, but often look awkward, are poor substitutes for any real editorial changes.

Connect with Mark Kelley, however, is really turning daily news on its head. The host doesn’t deliver a sermon from the mountaintop, but makes an effort to transparently relate with the audience. The goal is to “democratize” news coverage. Here’s how:

  • People tell their own stories, and are given more time to do so than in a traditional newscast
  • Connect works outside traditional news formats
  • Resources are allocated to uncover interesting stories and characters buried on the web
  • An effort is made to interact with the audience at a level of authenticity and familiarity rarely seen in daily news

The Ted Williams story provides a good example of how Connect differs from other mainstream shows. Out of the gate, Connect avoided the good-news, fairy-tale ending angle and questioned whether or not the aid that was being given to Williams would truly improve his life.

This stance was taken in part because of the input of a homeless man living in Toronto. Used as a source, he was able to describe why it’s next to impossible to spend years on the street and just pick-up and have a normal life—foreshadowing some of the issues that surfaced within weeks of Williams’ discovery.

But it’s not just about making room for alternative voices—when a young woman who watched her father murdered on a boat in Honduras agreed to talk, decisions on how to treat the interview weren’t based on whether it would fit the show’s usual format, but how the format could be changed to best accommodate her story:

“I watched it and I just walked out and said throw the whole show out, we’ll just do a full edition of it, 20 minutes of it.”

Connect also builds relationships with the online community, uncovering stories and different versions of truth, because its organizational structure includes a cross-platform contributor:

“Even if we end up putting them in a studio or sending somebody else out to do a traditional news story with them I think it’s because they feel like…there’s a kinship there that exists because of the way she communicates and talks to them because of her online presence.”

Then there’s Connect’s unparalleled transparency during production. Forget the trite “sorry for the technical difficulties”; it’s  a genuine dialogue with viewers when things go wrong:

“We were covering the G20 and there this was viral video of the Oh Canada moment at Queen and Spadina…basically the protestors finish Oh Canada and the police storm them. So we air it—and it gets cut off at that point where the police storm. So a couple of viewers write in and say how dare you cut out? And they’re all up in arms—CBC not telling the full story. What had happened was it was just a mistake the switcher had made. It was a mistake in the control room. So the next night _______ comes on: ‘Hi we got a couple of emails. You guys were wondering why we didn’t play the full clip—it actually was just we’re a live show, sometimes mistakes happen. Here’s the full clip.’ We played the full clip. Old news would never do that. Not like that.”

Although Shirky compares journalists to scribes whose jobs are redundant, mainstream media still attract the widest audience by far and there’s a great need for story curation—not everybody has the time to research and validate sources. It’s important that mainstream shows work to both engage and include the audience. Given the appropriate resources, a show like Connect could revive daily television news.

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2 thoughts on “Democratizing daily news: CBC’s Connect

  1. I agree with you that Connect is really trying to go beyond the basic format. I think jazzing up graphics and video walls will fool some viewers into thinking a show is new, but viewers are not dumb… they will quickly realize the content and basic delivery is the same. I think Connect has a lot in common with some of the CNN shows, specifically Andersoon Cooper 360. We often see Mark Kelly out on location, doing stories, and talking to people in the places where they live…not just in studio. I think that makes a difference… in comparison, desk anchors can at times seem very disconnected to the stories they are talking about. Also, the idea that the show talks directly to it’ viewers, and is even willing to throw out its line-up and run a 20 minute interview shows it is willing to work in a place outside its comfort zone. In a media world where reality tv shows reign supreme, I think it is safe to assume that viewers want to see the process and feel more involved in knowing and seeing how a show comes together.

  2. Thanks for your comment SK–I think you’ve really pointed out an important connection between people’s desire for authentic and real interaction and why transparency in production works–although I’d argue reality TV is far from reality, but that ‘s a topic for another thesis 🙂 I think sometimes journalists are worried that paying too much attention to errors draws attention to them and erodes credibility. They aren’t trying to cover up mistakes, but certainly minimize discussion about them.

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