Remarks for Jennifer McGuire and Michel Cormier at the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (CHPC)

May 19, 2016, Ottawa

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Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief, CBC News, and Michel Cormier, General Manager, News and Current Affairs, French Services, appeared before the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (CHPC) on May 19, 2016.

Madame Chair and Members of the Committee:

Good morning. Thank your for this opportunity to meet with you this morning. This is an important study you have undertaken. Canadians have told us just how vital local services are to them.

As we are somewhat unique in the ecosystem, we thought we would begin with what’s going on in CBC local stations across the country, right now…

In the Newfoundland and Atlantic time zones, the day is well underway. About 80 of our news gatherers are chasing stories. They will file them for mobile, desktop, radio, and television. Soon, our noontime radio programs will connect neighbours with issues in their community. Other teams are preparing our afternoon radio shows and 6pm news programs, in every province.

In our digital world, the deadlines are continuous. On our site and on social channels, stories are being posted, published, tweeted, broadcast, telecast, and updated throughout all waking hours. When breaking news deserves immediate attention, it goes first as a "push alert".

Here in the Eastern Time zone, daily story meetings are getting underway.

Every day is different. Yet in another way, every day is the same — there is always more news than reporters to cover it (or uncover it).

Local editorial choices are a balance of breaking news and leadership in stories no one else is doing. These take two forms:

  • What we call "enterprise" stories, springing from the native curiosity of our reporters and editors, and,
  • Investigative stories, probing for facts and patterns, asking questions previously unasked, and, if need be, holding the principals involved to account. I’m proud to say we have more than 70 CBC journalists dedicated to investigative reporting today, based in cities across the country.

To the west of here, in central time, our Winnipeg morning show has just wrapped up. It's the most-listened-to morning radio program in its market. Canadians everywhere wake up to CBC Radio. We are number one in 13 of the 23 markets where ratings are taken. We are in the top three in almost every rated community in the country.
Over the next hours, about 150 more CBC news gatherers will be at work across the four western provinces. And in the north, our day takes on many more dimensions. We broadcast in eight aboriginal languages, from stations across 3,500 km of Canada, from Whitehouse eastward, to Iqaluit and Kuujjuaq.

I’ve used a lot of numbers. Let me do the math for you.

  • Altogether we have some 350 news gatherers in our local stations, alongside roughly 650 writers, editors, producers and hosts.
  • All of them work in an integrated way to present our radio and television programs plus our continuous publishing of digital content on all our platforms and others.
  • Our local programming across the country exceeds 8,000 broadcast minutes a day, Monday-Friday, plus digital, and with additional content all weekend long — on all platforms.
  • We originate from 33 stations, including one all-digital station and three in the North.
  • To do this we have about 1,150 people working today in local services. It's a big country

And yes, this is fewer than before. The last reduction came from very difficult but considered steps we took to ensure local services for the long term. We reimagined everything. It led to the largest-ever transformation in local broadcasting within CBC/Radio-Canada.

Today our local services are central to our long-term corporate plan -- Strategy 2020. Local is at the forefront of the digital shift for the whole company and key for us to be able to deliver more local services at less cost: on mobile, desktop, radio and television.

Many of our reporters and editors will end today after doing a story that doesn’t even exist right now. We resource our stations and train our people for many eventualities, among them, the ability to stream or broadcast from anywhere, with a moment’s notice, from almost anywhere in the country, through satellite technology or smartphone….

We have a brief video that starts that way, about two weeks ago…

[VIDEO: CBC LOCAL 2:20]

You saw our coverage from Fort McMurray, in the midst of the fury off its fires. CBC provided the up-to-the minute coverage that residents needed — in both official languages — including:

  • Survival information through the early hours and continuing through the evacuation.
  • Details on where to get help.
  • Ways to lend a hand or contribute to the charitable agencies.

Local programming was supported by the network and vice-versa.

We extended our local broadcast hours to be there when people needed us most. Our website, mobile, and social media posts were always within reach with timely information residents could rely on.

CBC was there giving essential information… companionship… helping the community navigate its choices, challenges, and causes for relief or celebration, in service of the local community and sharing those stories across the country.

That’s what we are here to do, every day.

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to our discussion in a few minutes. But first, I’m pleased to introduce my colleague in French services, Michel Cormier, General Manager of News and Current Affairs for Radio-Canada.

As with the entire French Services news department, Radio-Canada’s local and regional news teams are in the process of accelerating their digital and mobile offering. Today, our audiences want to get our content on whatever screen and platform they choose, at any time. This means we can no longer simply offer them programs at predetermined times. And it’s why, in regional centres, we provide more than just supper-hour newscasts or radio newscasts at specific times of day.

This approach aims to establish a more direct connection with our local audiences, to keep pace with their changing media habits. It’s at the core of CBC/Radio-Canada’s 2020 plan. The principle behind this new relationship with local audiences is simple and can be summed up by the following motto: “more local, more often, on more screens.”

Specifically, Radio-Canada Regional Services has trained 600 people across the country on the new digital tools required for this transition. When teams go out in the field, they still produce content for TV and radio, of course; but their first and main priority now is digital and mobile. The promise that we’re making to local audiences is to serve them 18 hours a day, seven days a week.

This increased presence has allowed Radio-Canada’s local and regional stations to have many more connection points throughout the day with the communities they serve. Our reporters constantly update developing stories thanks to seven new regional websites: two in Ontario, two in eastern Quebec and three in Atlantic Canada, bringing the total to 21 nationwide. They provide a steady presence on Facebook. Our news anchors, meanwhile, are active all day long on the various digital platforms and make targeted appearances on TV and radio to keep audiences informed of the day’s events. These efforts are already starting to pay off: visits to our regional web pages have jumped 21% in the first three months of 2016.

Radio-Canada is committed to getting closer to its local and regional audiences. I’m going to show you a short video that illustrates the shift in our local coverage – a shift that allows us to be more responsive to the news of the day and to follow developing stories across all of our platforms.

[VIDEO: ONTARIO BRIDGE]

It’s important to note that the role and importance of Radio-Canada stations vary from one region to the next. Outside Quebec, French-speaking communities are in a minority-language setting. Radio-Canada is often the main, if not sole, source of news in French. In Quebec’s regional centres, Radio-Canada operates in an environment where there are more French-language media outlets, and contributes to the variety and quality of regional news coverage. In the Quebec City, Ottawa and Montreal media markets, Radio-Canada faces fierce competition and needs to stand out from the crowd.

Despite these differences, Radio-Canada must fulfill the same public service mandate, regardless of where it broadcasts. And that mandate is to provide Canadians with the information they need to make informed choices. This mission also means seeing how major national issues play out in local communities – whether it’s the survival of French, the bill on medically assisted dying, or the resettling of Syrian refugees.

Each of these experiences add to the national conversation about the issues of the day, allowing us to go beyond traditional regional reflection on the national network and to better reveal the country to our audiences. With this goal in mind, we will invest more in building a network of national correspondents based in regional centres. We also plan to send our anchors and current affairs shows, such as Enquête or La facture, outside Montreal and Quebec more often.

This comprehensive news offering – one that includes a closer, more ongoing connection with our local and regional audiences – seeks to keep residents informed of the latest breaking news, while also helping them make sense of the issues shaping life in their communities.

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