Thursday, July 13, 2006

COUNTING THE DEAD OVER AT CITYTV

Well, I'll get to what all this merger business means for CTV, for Canada, and all that later. Right now, though, I am counting the dead bodies.

Some people are actually suggesting this deal is good for Canada, this takeover of Citytv, because it helps keep the Americans out. Well, so what. On one hand, they keep the Americans out, but these 281 laid-off Citytv employees are going to have to go to the States for employment. I don't see how you can call a deal that sends masses of journalists packing for jobs in the States, while wiping out evening and late night newscasts in four major markets and a morning show in a fifth, good for Canada.

I don't have much sympathy for the arguments of these people ranting against Americans owning Canadian TV stations. For one thing, they weren't going to buy Citytv or come here anyway. But even if they did, they might have invested in more Canadian productions and allowed Canadians to keep some of their jobs. Maybe it would have forced some of these local broadcasters to compete for talent a little bit, instead of dumping 281 people onto the streets all over Canada. Anyway, who cares, It's a stupid argument, anyway, saying this consolidation is a good deal for Canada because it keeps the Americans out, because the fact is the Americans aren't coming. Too many people would have had a cow over it. Period. End of statement.

Anyway, here's what went down with this bloodbath. From the sounds of it it was the old Craig Media operations out West and the former "new VR"-type stations that took the big slaughter. The A-Channel stations in Barrie, Ottawa, London et. al. streamlined their operations and got rid of a lot of behind-the-scenes people. At least one prominent anchor got the boot, James Hendricks in Ottawa. Gone. But at least their main newscasts at 6PM and 11PM are still afloat. So they can celebrate- I guess.

The biggest carnage was reserved for the Citytv stations out West. In Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and Winnipeg, the 6PM and 11PM Citynews 'casts are GONE. Cancelled. Instead, they will be replaced by half-hour magazine-type shows. It seems like these stations are bent on acting like Toronto's ill-fated Toronto One, which tried a similar stunt and totally failed. Prominent anchors, like Jennifer Martin in Edmonton, and plenty of sports guys are GONE. What's left of the reporting staff is being deployed on the morning Breakfast Television shows. So if you're a witty morning person, chances are you saved your job. If you're a serious newsperson, you got the can. Way to go, Canada.

Except in Victoria. In Victoria it was the other way around. There, the morning show got the boot, and the evening newscasts were saved. (This is also their second big layoff in about a year or so, because they canned a bunch of people a while back). Then again, that station was also one of the A-Channel stations and all the A-Channels got their local newscasts saved. They took some cuts, but Citytv got the knife, as they say, "Everywhere." The biggest layoffs happened at all these Citytv stations. Viewers tuned in yesterday to see no evening newscasts on Citytv in all of these markets; instead, they saw reporters interview laid-off Citytv workers on the other channels. Coincidentally, these Citytv stations are all the ones that CTV is going to keep around as part of the takeover: they're planning on dumping these A-Channel stations to the highest bidder to satisfy the CRTC rules, which prevent broadcasting companies from owning more than two stations per market. Owning A-Channel would put them over the top in every one of these markets, so these stations have to go. They also say they're going to unload Access Alberta, for the same reason.

The only reason Citytv in Toronto got spared the knife was because that news operation has pretty decent ratings, and they have an all-news channel on cable, CablePulse 24, that is very successful. But these Citytv operations out West were notorious for being lousy news operations. The Craig stations got dismal ratings when they were known as A-Channels and MTN, and nothing changed with the new ownership. The Vancouver operation was the former CKVU, the old Global affiliate before that network switched to BCTV, and that was another news operation that never had good ratings. So they all got the axe.

The claim is that these newscasts got axed because of bad ratings, and that the CTV takeover was all a coincidence. They kept on saying these cuts had been in the works since February. To be honest with you, I think these cuts were made in preparation for a sale or takeover, not because of it. I think CHUM knew it was planning to shop these stations around. They weren't hitting their profit targets, and had to get rid of the money-losing ends of the operation so they could attract a buyer, so they made plans for all these cuts. It just so happened that the deal came down on the day of the cuts. Bloodbath day.

So the moral of this story seems to be: don't work in western Canada. Whether it's Citytv or the CBC, or the Regina Leader-Post and Saskatoon Star-Phoenix after the Conrad Black takeover, your newsroom is bound to have bad things happen to it if it's located in the West.

Better yet, get out of news altogether. Go into entertainment, or standup comedy. Then maybe you'd survive a bloodbath like the one that hit Citytv.

UPDATE: This was a slaughter; in addition to the people I mentioned, found out another big name. Ted Henley is gone in Calgary- his bio is off the Citytv site. And among the casualties in Vancouver: Dave Lefebvre, Roger Petersen, Julie Nolin, Mike Bow etc etc. The news business in Canada sucks.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Ahem. Seems Mike Bow kept his job after all. But unfortunately everyone else I mentioned are definitely gone, and from what I gather so are these on-air people: Marke Driesschen, Leigh Morrow, Cindy Leong, Dag Sharman, Darrell Patton, Elaine Yong, Jill Bennett, Joe Leary, etc.etc. Also read that Moira McLean, political reporter, got the boot in Victoria. Prominents saving their jobs were folks like Dave Gerry and Simi Sara- if you check out the Citytv Vancouver bio website it's pretty barren if you ask me.

Read on several sites and these boards that the bloodbath was so bad that they had security guards escort these folks out of the building, and they didn't even allow them to get their personal effects. The infamous 2001 CNN bloodbath was the same story, security guards etcetera. Oh, the humanity.

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