Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's CTV, not local news, that is facing threat

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Put the starving kid on the poster.

It's a tried and true formula. Every group that has ever made a public appeal for money knows that you use emotion, not reason.

No matter how complex your organization, no matter where you spend the money, you trot out an image that hits people in the gut.

Baby seals, hunted whales, kids in wheelchairs.

It happens at all levels. In the past, you could bet that when the RCMP faced a budget squeeze from the federal government a story would surface about how the iconic Musical Ride was threatened. All those nice horses. How could you cut one of the very symbols of Canada?

Now private broadcasters in Canada are doing the same thing, notably CTV with a campaign to save local TV with an emphasis on local news.

CTV and other private broadcasters want new revenues by getting cable companies to pay for their signals. They have a solid argument. Advertising alone no longer supports TV stations. Outlets in smaller centres are closing. Why should HGTV get cable fees and local TV stations not get paid? Cable companies object to this, as you would expect, and there is quite a fight going on over the issue.

But let's get this straight -- local news and news coverage is not threatened.

In a city as large as Winnipeg, there are many media outlets, and new ones emerging, to report on what is happening locally.

There is already a local news provider on TV, radio and the web that we all pay a fee for -- the CBC.

CTV's desire for cable fees is as much about the network wanting to broadcast Desperate Housewives on Sunday night as it is about anything else the company does.

But a blockbuster American TV show does not have the emotional appeal of news from your backyard.

All of us who are in the business of providing local news are facing challenges from the current recession, and from massive changes in the way people use media.

We live in a world changing so fast that the use of email marks you as someone who is not up to speed with the latest ways of communicating. Old business models are damaged, and we have to find new sources of revenue to support the news and information gathering that we do.

My message to private TV is: welcome to the club.

Newspapers have been adapting to new forms of media since the invention of radio. We used to have this nice business where school kids delivered the paper to doorsteps every afternoon and people read us when they got home from work. Then local TV newscasts changed that. Local radio news itself was decimated years ago. Newspapers used to be the only place you could place a cheap ad to sell your boat and reach a wide audience. Free online classified services changed that.

We adapted, and we will adapt again.

It would be nice if someone other than newspaper subscribers and single copy purchasers would pay us a fee for our local news -- because content from the Free Press has certainly formed the basis for news "coverage" in other media in this city for decades.

But we know that is not going to happen.

I wish CTV and other private broadcasters well as they make their arguments for getting a new source of revenue. They have every right to do so and to ask the public to support their cause.

But I'll focus on the rational reasons, and ignore the emotional tugging.


Bob Cox is the publisher of the

Winnipeg Free Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 29, 2009 A13

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About Bob Cox

Bob Cox was named publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press in November 2007. He joined the newspaper as editor in May 2005.

"Rejoined" is a better word for it, because Bob first worked at the newspaper as a reporter in January 1984. He covered crime and courts for three years before getting restless and moving on to other journalism jobs.

Since then, his career has spanned four provinces and five cities. Highlights include working in Ottawa for the Canadian Press covering Prime Minister Jean Chrétien during his first term in office, and five years at the Globe and Mail in Toronto, first as national editor and later as night editor.

Bob grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario, but has spent most of his adult life in Western Canada in Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton.


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