Dan Misener likes the radio

Among other things, Dan is a public radio producer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Is "alternative programming" a good idea?

I just finished listening to CBC Unplugged from Studio Zero. And I got to thinking about CBC workers generating "alternative programming" during the lockout. What does that really mean? And is it necessarily a good idea? As far as I understand, the lockout has prompted two different programming strategies. There's the "business as usual" camp, which thinks CBC reporters and newsreaders should continue doing what they do best: reporting and reading the news, covering the same stories they ordinarily would were they inside the building. I would put Toronto's (as yet unheard) World at Six replacement podcast and Calgary's Eyepatch Radio in this category. There's also the "lockout propaganda" school of programming -- reporting on the lockout itself. This seems to be what Vancouver's CBC Unplugged is -- "music, comedy, commentary, and the latest news in the labour dispute." I would also include the various podcasts produced by CMG locals in this category. What kind of message does this alternative programming send to the public? Advocates say it says, "We still care about public broadcasting. We care about telling Canadian stories. We want to work... we just can't." On the other hand, critics say it undermines the Guild's efforts, sending the message, "Hey look at us! We can still generate programming, even without any CBC resources!" Some say that picketing -- not working -- is a much better alternative, and sends a more powerful message. As Curious Monkey says, "Why not just walk back into the building and do it right?" By generating alternative programming, are we shooting ourselves in the foot? I'm not sure yet. Personally, I don't think the "business as usual" programming is the answer. And frankly, I worry that few outside of the CMG care about "lockout propaganda" programming. Thoughts?


  • At 8/23/2005 09:08:00 AM, Blogger Laurence said…

    Walking around the building just 'reaches' those people in line-of-sight.
    ANYTHING on the Net reaches the entire world. And that includes this blog.
    So our focus should be 'what is our message' i.e. programming.
    Hmmmm. I think we know a bit about that. Let's think about this. We don't need to 'go into the building to do it right'. We've got all the gear out here too.
    It's the 'content' that'll do the job.

  • At 8/23/2005 09:33:00 AM, Blogger Laurence said…

    In fact, thinking about it more, why not set up a competing webpage to the CBC one. Except ours will have current written articles, podcasts and video available. An Anti-CBC. We have the expertise..and the time to do it.
    If CBC wants to use the material too...then sure. We're locked out...we want back in.. let them take us back in. They just have to pay. Just the same as they are paying the BBC. Just the same as any 'content provider'.
    We have all the materials and technology available to do this. Why not?

  • At 8/23/2005 09:40:00 AM, Anonymous Dblackadder said…

    How alternative is it, really?

    Today's mailing from LabourStart included the news that from now until the lockout ends, Radio LabourStart will be carrying the 'CBC Unplugged' material produced by the locked-out staff.

    RLS is an internet radio station run by LabourStart, the international trade union news and campaigning website based in London (UK).


    The 21st century equivalent to the 'strike paper' journalists traditionally produce.

  • At 8/23/2005 09:42:00 AM, Blogger Dan Misener said…


    Re: an anti-CBC webpage.

    If we produce "business as usual" content that rivals the CBC's content, and we do it without the resources of the CBC, doesn't that beg the question: "Why are our tax dollars paying for resources the CBC doesn't require to do their jobs?"

    We may know differently, but will our listeners?

  • At 8/23/2005 09:46:00 AM, Anonymous Peter Rukavina said…

    You write that the alternative programming can be criticized because it sends a "Hey look at us! We can still generate programming, even without any CBC resources!" message.

    From a technical perspective this is almost completely true: smart, trained people working together can create a reasonable facsimile of the CBC from off the shelf parts and commodity bandwidth. They'll even have a largish audience, albeit one skewed rich and wired.

    But they won't be getting paid. And eventually their children will run out of shoes and their cupboards will be bare.

    And isn't that the point?

    The CBC is, at its core, a mechanism for channeling public funds to smart, trained people. As the importance of the CBC's technical infrastructure lessens over time, it's this part of the corporation's role that will predominate.

    The question, then, is whether the smart, trained people allow the CBC to emulate the "many pieces, loosely joined" nature of the emerging technical infrastructure in their approach to human resources.

  • At 8/23/2005 10:06:00 AM, Blogger Dan Misener said…



    Several recent discussions with colleagues have centered around the questions, "Does a national public broadcast network still make sense?" and in a larger sense, "Does the idea of a broadcast network still make sense?"

    At the core of this, I think, is supply and demand. There will always be an appetite for content. There will always be people who can generate content. The logistics, however, are changing -- how content is produced, distributed, consumed, and paid for. To me, that's part of what's exciting (and scary) about working in the media now.

    I think the question you pose is an important one. As the function of broadcast networks change (and arguably become archaic), how do you manage the logistics of media supply and demand? How do you channel public funds to smart, trained people? And how do you placate public media workers caught in the middle of a paradigm shift?

  • At 8/23/2005 10:07:00 AM, Blogger Dan Misener said…

    This debate is also playing out on the CMG Toronto messageboards: http://cmgtoronto.ca/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=23

  • At 8/23/2005 12:52:00 PM, Anonymous Lorne Tyndale said…

    Its been true for years that it is possible to technically produce radio with minimal resources. I've been involved with community radio for over 12 years. Community radio stations - many in Canada which have an annual budget of less then $150,000 (and a few that I know of with less then even $20,000/year) have been producing radio for a long time on a shoestring budget. And yes, some of the programming on community stations is not very good, but there is some which is a high quality. The difference between "good" and "bad" radio? In my opinion it isn't the equipment being used. It isn't whether you have the latest computer software and minidisc (or other portable recorder - although with current computer software it is a lot easier to produce quality sounding audio then it was even 8-10 years ago when a primary method of "shoestring budget" audio production and editing was still slice and splice).

    The reality of good versus bad radio is the person/people behind the mic. The person doing the research. The person putting the story together. The quality of the story. Is the story compelling and going to hold the listener's attention? Or is it just fluff meant to fill airtime? Is the news reporter going to ask the questions which need to be asked? Or just parrot the "official" press release?

    And for me, that's the strength of the CBC, and always has been. People who know how to put a good story on air. People who know how to take a potentially boaring story and turn it into something that people want to listen to. People who can provide decent news coverage without necessairly falling into the trap of just repeating the "official word" from whatever the source. And the technical staff to be able to make sure it all gets put together and out on the air. In my opinion that's something worth paying for.

    As a result, I'm not sure which podcasting strategy is the best. I can definitely see the value in podcasts which focus on the lockout itself. I'm not convinced of the value of a "world at 6" replacement newscast though. Only time will tell.

  • At 8/23/2005 01:11:00 PM, Blogger Ouimet said…

    'And frankly, I worry that few outside of the CMG care about "lockout propaganda" programming.'

    I think those worries are justified.

  • At 8/23/2005 02:09:00 PM, Anonymous GEbw said…

    I also agree with Peter. As someone who worked on the Vancouver Studio Zero show, we were quite aware of the concerns of undermining our efforts by doing a broadcast outside the building.

    But we were not doing a regular show. The content and intent was completely different (save for musical entertainment to keep it interesting).

    This was an hour-long plea for people to get active and get MAD - to use the power of the internet to send a loud voice, encouraging others to DO something about this - to all who believe in what we are doing to help. It might be a small audience, but it just grows larger with time.

    Personally, I'm not sure about delivering an 'alternate' news service - that seems to be more in line with what we normally do. And there already are other private stations delivering that. We have to do something different. But that's another discussion for later.

  • At 8/23/2005 02:46:00 PM, Anonymous jenkew said…

    I would love to cover the news.
    But no, I don't have the equipment I need to do it right.

    Yes, my old mini-disc player and the sound editing systems in my friends' basements are potential tools.

    But I do not have fast access to the newsroom fax, my Rolodex, my contacts, my voice mail, my cell phone, or the panopoly of daily and weekly newspapers. I also am not sure who I am covering the news for (i.e. what flash would be on my mike in a scrum). Nor am I receiving news releases from local police, fire or ambulance crews. This makes it a bit challenging to cover the news in a timely way.

    It's not impossible. I mean, I could spend a lot of time at the public library reading the weekly papers, and generating ideas. I could try to jury-rig my home telephone to do good sound-quality phone interviews. I *could* try to put together a credible (if not entirely timely) newscast. But the fact remains: I am not at my desk, and I cannot and will not pretend I am.

    I guess I'm also not 100% entirely convinced I would be doing my listeners a real service by trying to do a job from which I've been locked out.

    I really miss my job.

  • At 8/23/2005 04:11:00 PM, Blogger John said…

    I'm not so sure creating a CBC alternative (especially for news) is going to serve our interests. Right now we are one of the top news stories around the country, so diverting attention away from ourselves may be a poor strategy for ending this thing quickly, and to our advantage.

    I think the more constructive noise we generate around the lockout issue the better. This can be entertaining, and provide our audience with a mild CBC fix, but instead of giving them a supplement, it should serve only to whet their appetite for their usual programming.

  • At 8/24/2005 01:06:00 AM, Anonymous Jo Qallunat said…

    I love the IDEA of alternate programming. I think anything that demonstrates the creativity and FLEXIBILITY of CBC's permenant staff is good -- for our case to the public and management and for our own sanity.

    BUT remember: there are some places in Canada where CBC Radio and regionally produced TV shows are the only way most people can going to get local, national or international news on a daily basis.

    Many communities in the region where I work have only had access to high speed internet for a matter of weeks. In those communities that do have it...only a small percentage can afford it. And another chunk of the population cannot read or understand English.

    They depend on CBC in it's more conventional formats to stay in touch with the rest of the country and the world. And they value that connection (Inuit were, I've been told, the biggest per capita donors to the famine relief in Ethiopia in the 1980's. Where do you think they heard about it?)


    As long as I have no way of broadcasting the local and regional stories I produce, the CBC is not meeting that mandate.

    I took my rolodex home with me Sunday night. I have rigged my phone to do interviews. Finding out what is going on the region wouldn't be a big deal because police and government aren't exactly speedy with the press releases in this region on a good day. Until my Inuit colleagues and I can get back into the station and get access to the good old-fashioned airwaves the people I'm primarily mandated to serve will not be getting news.

    Unfortunately, as great as it my be, high tech podcasting yaddah yaddah isn't going to help me reach my audience.

    CBC listeners here feel as betrayed as CBC staff do.

    And we're paying seven bucks for a 2L jug of milk here people!

  • At 8/24/2005 02:18:00 AM, Anonymous shelly said…

    "Is 'alternative programming' a good idea?"

    In my opinion? The answer is a resounding "yes"! I'll get to why I think so in a moment.

    First, a little background on myself: I'm from Maine. I can get CBC TV from New Brunswick with a pair of rabbit ears; and I can get their feed of Radio One loud and clear on my radio. Usually, I'd go to sleep to CBC Overnight and wake up to anything from Fredericton's version of 'Information Morning' (NB's morning show; last I checked, Moncton and Saint John still produced their own versions of the show), to 'The Current', to 'Sounds Like Canada'. Saturdays I rouse to either 'The House' or 'Go'. Sundays I listen to 'Maritime Morning', 'Maritime Magazine', and the beginning of 'The Sunday Edition'.

    Anyway. A few days ago, the 'Information Morning' hosts posted a Podcast (the first one from any lock-out CBC-ers, methinks) on the CMG Fredericton blog. I welcomed hearing them with open arms. In the Podcast, they shared their thoughts and informed listeners on what they would be reporting on (the Agent Orange snafu at CFB Gagetown, for one) or supporting (Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival breakfast, which raises money for area schools' music programs--something they've done every year for who-knows-how-long) if they were allowed to work as usual.

    I thought it was great actually hearing their POV on what was going on; and doing a Podcast gave them a way to get their voices heard--not just by their faithful listeners, but, potentially, by people from around the world. IMO, that does a hell of a lot more than picketing ever will.

    Not to mention, if anything else, it'll give the locked-out reporters and producers something to do besides walk the picket lines.

    I intend to continue listening to the podcasts. :)

  • At 8/24/2005 10:01:00 AM, Blogger Dan Misener said…

    It's great to hear about the success of the Vancouver podcast -- based on Tod's numbers, it looks like lots of people are downloading.

    My main concern still lies with the how these efforts are perceived by the audience. One anonymous comment on iloveradio.org:

    "Hey neato! The podcast was kinda fun to listen to.

    Uhmmm... so why do Canadian taxpayers pay a billion dollars a year for this company...? What with the internet, indie artists, podcasts, what DO we need this company for anyway?"

  • At 8/24/2005 10:16:00 AM, Blogger Laurence said…

    Oh Dan, You're so YOUNG and Urban-Centric. Why does CBC spend most it's budget on those transmitters in weird out-of-the way places?
    For all those old fogies who live in the REST of Canada..and who STILL can't get Internet (well, maybe dialup. Remember dialup?), let alone figure out how podacsting works.
    We're supposed to be there for them too. They're the folks that are paying the bulk of our salaries.

  • At 8/24/2005 11:00:00 AM, Blogger Dan Misener said…


    Just to clarify -- the preceding comment was written by an anonymous commenter on Tod's blog. Those aren't my thoughts, they're the kinds of thoughts I'm worried that our listeners have. The kinds of thoughts I'm worried that CMG alternative programming can generate.

    I couldn't agree with you more about serving the regions. For some of my thoughts on this, check out http://danmisener.blogspot.com/2004/11/can-satellite-cbc-radio-still-be-cbc.html

    Oh, and are you the Laurence I think you are?

  • At 8/24/2005 11:19:00 PM, Anonymous za said…

    I am also conflicted about the "message" being sent my the unplugged broadcasts. I wonder just how realistic it is to keep them up for weeks and weeks. Does the public want to know the weather from the four corners of building etc? Doubtful.

    Let's face it. The broadcasts are for your sake. And that's okay.

    The motivation and need to do this "alternative work" is sincere.

    You are reporters... whether in current affairs.. news.. or features.. you've built a life telling other people's hardships and triumphs. Reporting on something allows some distance.

    The picket is mind-numbing and prospect of no work for a very long time terrifying. Reporting on it allows some distance in a way. And it's cathartic.

    How many of you were avid journal writers as youth? Journal.. journalist. It's what you do. It's how you deal with our world... write/talk/show people about it.

    And if cbc people on the picket need to report on their experience using their creative abilities and writing skills... GO FOR IT.. on whatever airwaves you find.

    It could be a long one. Use whatever gets you through.

  • At 8/27/2005 09:47:00 AM, Blogger Laurence said…

    You mean you can't tell from the 'Belligerent Celtic' tone???????
    Even my writing has SOME small accent.........


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