Had a great wedding weekend in Kitchener as my daughter Sarah tied the knot with the love of her life, Pete. It was a great family event, and for it, I decided I would drive from PEI to Kitchener. After all, I had the time and was able to take everyone’s gowns and suits in suit bags in the car, while the PEI gang flew up a few days after I left. The wedding was Saturday, everyone dispersed on Sunday and I made a one day, 1767 km, 15 hour and 45 minute drive from Kitchener to Charlottetown on Monday. Yes, I was tired the next day!
As I drove through Toronto on my way home, I tuned in the local news at 6am on the Roger’s owned 680 News. A station I had listened to hundreds, if not thousands of times, during my time in that city. The day before, the federal Conservative Party had just elected Andrew Scheer as their new leader. I think Canadians would have been less surprised if a pterodactyl had won the leadership. So, clearly, an unknown rises up to win, and one day, he just might be the Prime Minister of this country.
As I also discovered, a 23 year old women tragically fell to her death at a conservation area just outside Toronto (in Milton Ontario), the second such occurrence in the past two years, and latest in a long line of incidents at this area. Both important news stories, both carrying a lot of public interest.
A wedding weekend being what it is, I did not know about either of these stories as I tuned in 680 News that morning. And I’m lucky I even heard them at all. The lead story on 680 that morning was the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs that night. Despite owning a completely separate and dedicated sports radio station, The Fan 590, where those who believe an upcoming hockey game carries more weight that the news of the day would listen anyway, 680 News led with this story, complete with a ‘sound bite’ from PK Subban. Next up? The second story? The Windsor Spitfires won the Memorial Cup with a 4-3 win over Erie. Now I’m beginning to think I’ve got the wrong station tuned in. Seems Leaf prospect Jeremy Bracco had a big game with a goal and two assists. So that’s the hook that makes this worthy of being a second story on your morning news? Before the new Conservative leader? Before the tragic fall?
I mean, in less than 10 minutes, you have 680’s traditional sportscast slotted and they would repeat these two stories over again. The third story was the new Conservative leader and the fourth story was the fatality at the conservation area.
So, why lead with an event that hadn’t even happened yet, and one that sports fans knew was coming up anyway? Why go with the Memorial Cup game second? Simple really. Rogers has the TV rights to both events, and you would see the Stanley Cup that night on CBC and Rogers Sportsnet, and the Memorial Cup was also on Rogers Sportsnet. What these two lead stories really represented was promotion for the Rogers brand. Corporate. Self. Promotion. Done in the form of ‘news’. Done without regard to the integrity of the brand of what is supposed to be a “news leader” in Toronto. Does Rogers have the right to force their stations to do this? Well, or course they do, they can do what they want. In the past, 680 News has also led with the Blue Jays, while they were in a pennant race, and the Leafs, while they were in a playoff hunt, and the Raptors while they were heading to the playoffs. And while I don’t believe these types of ‘promotional stories'(Rogers owns the Jays and are 50% owners of the Leafs and Raptors) should be lead story material, I can stretch my news sensibilities enough to accept them in a news format, because they are local teams and what local people are talking about. But I’m pretty sure those same local people weren’t talking about the ‘upcoming’ Stanley Cup games, or the Windsor win in the Memorial Cup on Monday morning. If they were, they were tuned into one of Toronto’s two, all sports radio stations, or worse for Rogers and all other media owners, they were not listening to the radio or watching TV at all, and had already gathered all the information they needed on social media.
Now least you think I’m a shill for Bellmedia, and picking on Rogers, that’s not the case. I have little good to say about Bellmedia,(in fact, don’t get me started!) but in fairness, I tuned in Newstalk 1010, a Bellmedia owned radio station to hear the news at 6.30am the same morning. I was curious to see where in the news line up the ‘upcoming’ Stanley Cup final game would be, and where the Memorial Cup story would be slotted. Answer, not slotted anywhere. Lead story? New Conservative leader. Second Story? The fatal fall at the conservation area. Third story? Issues with Toronto bike lanes. I’ve always had the belief that local news, no matter where it’s being presented in the country, on radio or TV, should consist of what local people are talking about. Those news organizations with their finger on the pulse of their cities have to be allowed to accomplish this without corporate interference. Sadly though, now that we’ve shifted into large conglomerate multi-station ownership and multi-platform ownership, the corporate agenda dictates their interests are the top priority, and those priorities can take the form of ‘news’ at any time, even when it’s really not. Even when a potential new Prime Minster bursts onto the scene, or, when a family tragedy happens again right in your own backyard.
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