Despite being the best rated original program on CBC’s New Network, engaging the audience in a way few, if any, other daily news shows can, Connect with Mark Kelley is being cancelled.
Government funding cuts–and management decisions on how to spend what money is leftover–have put it on the chopping block.
I’ve probably given a lot more thought to Connect than most people because it was one of the sites of research for my thesis — I’ve also written about it before on this blog.
That’s why I felt compelled to write something about its cancellation – you can read the full article here on J-source. And here is a link to the full transcript of my interview with the executive director of CBC News Network, Todd Spencer.
While researching and writing that article for J-Source, one of the topics that emerged was whether Connect might be overstaffed–making it a target. I spent a significant amount of time watching production at Connect and never had that sense. And I feel my own experience makes me a good judge of that.
At one point in my newsroom career I was the only producer working on two hours of live programming each weekday: A half-hour noon newscast followed by a half-hour viewer talk back show, and later in the day an hour-long show that was more lifestyle/talk combined with news hits.
I was in charge of lining it all up, making final editorial decisions including writing and vetting scripts, selecting viewer comments to be aired, booking on average three or four guests a day, and taking the shows to air in the control room.
Eventually, when I almost blew a gasket because of the amount of work I was doing, I was given an Associate Producer. Despite the extra body, we were always short on time and resources and built a list of contacts we would regularly call on to be guests depending on the topic.
There was the parenting expert, education expert, City Councillors we knew were hungry for airtime, the money expert, the real estate expert — the list goes on.
Although some of those guests were fabulous, the real necessity was to fill airtime, and the chair(s) that would otherwise remain empty on the set. If we couldn’t get one of our stand-bys we’d throw out a wide net desperate for a warm body.
It was not journalism at its best–but it was a job. And that, sadly, is the reality for many people who work in broadcast news. It’s about filling formatted time-slots, not spending time on critical thinking about who could bring a different angle to the story, or having the time to unearth voices that might be entirely ignored.
That’s why I’m so disappointed in the loss of Connect.
Despite the fact I watch, listen, and read more news in a day than most might absorb in a matter of weeks, I could tune in and get the point-of-view of someone I’d never seen before, or hear an angle on a story I may not have considered.
That was possible because of the way the show was staffed–and Mark Kelley’s determination to do things a bit differently than everyone else–ignore the experts and go for the experience. Talk to people who really understood the impact of a certain type of event because they had lived through it, or lived through something comparable.
If you spend any time on this blog, you will see that I am a huge proponent of public broadcasting. Having a news service that is not tied intrinsically to advertising dollars or the ideals of an ever-shrinking base of conglomerates helps ensure healthy public discourse about issues that matter to us all.
Could CBC spend its money differently and keep Connect on the air? I don’t have enough information to make that call–but I do know that Connect with Mark Kelley encompasses the ideals of public television: Innovation, diversification, and transparency–built on a foundation of solid journalism.
It’s hard to see it fade to black.