Tim Knight on The National
Well, okay, Tim Knight wasn’t on The National. At least not lately.
But Knight—who wrote, reported for, and produced the show in the ’70s—has a lot to say about its current state, and he wrote about it for J-Source. In summary, he thinks it stinks.
Knight zeroes in on July 7 of this year, the day that Canada pulled its troops out of Afghanistan. That story was buried after a lengthy piece on William and Kate’s visit to Canada and numerous international news items. Even then, the coverage of Afghanistan wasn’t from Afghanistan. The National ran a voice over from Canada on top of free pool video.
Knight also watched the show seven nights in a row (and re-screened in the morning) and took extensive notes. From those, he drew the describes the elements of The National, as it is today, as follows:
• A patronizing chief-anchor-for-life who can read a teleprompter without stumbling yet almost never actually seems to feel the scenes he describes. Unless it’s politics, his specialty, he rather obviously doesn’t care what’s in the stories, doesn’t see the scenes, doesn’t feel the emotions. Has no genuine human response. As a result, of course, neither does the viewer.
• Fill-in anchors, most of whom communicate no better than the ageing king, specialize in perkiness and fake smiles, talk down to us like elementary school teachers.
• Writing that mostly lacks insight, knowledge, wit, clarity and style. Writing filled with clichés, codes, bromides and jargon. Writing that too often tells the entire story in the anchor’s introduction, then has the reporter repeat the identical information in the body of the story.
• Reporters who still follow old newspaper style, starting the story at the end, the climax, then working back to the context. Reporters who seem to have no idea that good storytelling is almost always a chronological journey (context, dramatic development, moving inexorably to climax. In that order.) Why? Because in real life, cause usually precedes effect. And, anyway, life is chronological. Reporters who announce in a most unnatural manner and confuse speed and volume with energy and authority. Reporters who believe asking people-in-the-street silly questions about matters they can’t possibly understand is keeping in touch with the masses.
• And, of course, the aforementioned concentration on often-meaningless “human” stories the news doctors promise will make Canadians watch, thus increasing ratings and bringing glory to CBC executives.
• And much, much more.
Pretty harsh criticism of the show. But Knight doesn’t lay blame on the people making it, necessarily; he points out that the CBC still employs some of the best journalists in the country. So who’s responsible? “Simply put, the senior executives responsible for The National have gone rotten, abandoned the organization’s mandate and, in their frantic race for ratings, lost their journalistic focus and with it their journalistic integrity,” Knight writes.
Surely, the financial pressures on the CBC have it looking for ways to maximize its flagship news program’s viewership, but could they do better? What do you think?