CBC Hamilton Needs Clearer Vision

By Graham Crawford
Published October 19, 2012

Well, I listened intently to Matt Jelly and Gunner Smith's CFMU interview with Roger Gillespie, Executive Producer of CBC Hamilton. Houston, we have a problem. If national innovation was the goal, actions simply do not reflect that desired outcome.

The defensive statements were many. "The model is not set." "It's constantly changing." "Innovation is in the DNA code of this project." "We're small and can't work any more hours in the day than we do." "There's no such thing as us at the CBC." "The audience doesn't want to hear about every time the mayor closes his file and leaves the Council Chamber." "There is no template. I can't say this often enough. There's a lot of invention going on and invention is not easy."

OK, I get it. CBC Hamilton is understaffed, overworked, and has no real idea what they're supposed to be doing or what they're going to do about it. Not good enough. In fact, not nearly good enough.

I want to hear about what's going to happen, not hear about why it's not happening now. I want to see change, not simply be told that because change is constant we can't nail anything down and that being organic is our preferred rationale for lack of progress.

I want to experience things through CBC Hamilton that I'm not getting, or not getting enough of, elsewhere and in new and innovative ways. I want CBC Hamilton to push technology applications, not avoid them.

So far, one unique technological aspect of CBC Hamilton on which we can all agree is the homepage news map, and I think we can all agree it's a failure. It's an ill-advised feature that doesn't warrant tweaking.

Instead, it needs to be scrapped, regardless of what it cost to design and to implement. It won't work any better for CBC in another under-serviced community in Canada than it does in Hamilton. Admit it, CBC. Cut your losses. Move on.

Roger talked about a video interview he did months ago with Bob Bratina and that it "didn't move the dial" (I guess I was one of the apparently few people who saw it). It was the last one CBC Hamilton did for months. It wasn't until last week that another one was posted, this time with Rob MacIsaac that, according to Gillespie, also "didn't move the dial" either.

Should we conclude then that these videos aren't worth doing? Should we conclude that when you're in innovation/experimentation mode that using the old-fashioned technique of building an audience is outdated? Should we conclude that audio and video will never contribute to a unique CBC Hamilton audience?

CBC gets government funding in part so that ratings don't have to be the number one priority. I support this. Always have.

I get that we don't want an audience of the same 200 forever, but surely differentiation of content and increased levels of understanding in the community are worthy goals for our public broadcaster to hold.

I know CBC Hamilton is understaffed, but innovation is what happens precisely when you don't have enough resources. That's how my own company started. Staffing up will not resolve the fundamental issue of poorly articulated vision at CBC Hamilton.

There are already good examples of people in Hamilton doing very good things with almost no resources, and certainly without any staff. Innovation seems to be in evidence all over the place. I'm happy to cut Gillespie some slack, but not if more resources is his idea of a solution. More staff to do what, exactly?

Another six months of this experimentation, innovation, organic development, focus on dial-moving, and un-templated effort clearly will not serve to refine the model. And that's not good for Hamilton, the CBC, nor any future community where this form of CBC presence will be implemented.

This problem needs attention from the top-of-the-house CBC executives responsible for this national experiment. Based on what I've seen and heard so far, it's not going to be fixed locally. This national Beta needs to become a national Alpha in a planned way and soon.

Let's get on with it CBC. We're tired of waiting. At least I am.

Graham Crawford was raised in Hamilton, moving to Toronto in 1980 where he spent 25 years as the owner of a successful management consulting firm that he sold in 2000. He retired and moved back to Hamilton in 2005 and became involved in heritage and neighbourhood issues. He opened Hamilton HIStory + HERitage on James North in 2007, a multi-media exhibition space (aka a storefront museum) celebrating the lives of the men and women who have helped to shape the City of Hamilton.


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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 12:34:58

This problem needs attention from the top-of-the-house CBC executives responsible for this national experiment.

Actually, I suspect it's these 'top 'o the house' executives who are insisting on 'dial-moving' as the measure of success. I agree that there needs to be more focus, innovation, and good old-fashioned investigative journalism at the local level, but my sense is that the real lack of vision is much further up.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 13:06:44

To be charitable, it's been five months since the full team (two producers, two reporters, videographer) was put in place.

Having listened to the broadcast and the web replay (metrics, yo) I was struck by the distinction between the blank cheque enthusiasm CBC HQ has reportedly evinced for this digital foray, RG's blue sky digital-is-synonymous-with-evolution spiel and the pervasive worship of traffic.

~3 min

Gillespie: “I see the metrics every morning and I know what worked and what didn’t work. Worked and didn’t work in the sense of audience went to and what the audience did not go to… one of the fascinating things about working on this platform is that my gut instinct as a traditional journalist – I am trained in traditional journalism – is sometimes wrong. Things that traditional journalists think will resonate with the audience don’t…. I think that there’s a real gulf between big traditional media and the audience…. People don’t see themselves in the media often enough… So I’m very sensitive to that….”

~10 min

Gillespie: “I don’t think the message is, people aren’t interested in it, I think the message is, you didn’t get it right. So that’s fine. I don’t throw out the whole concept, I go back to the drawing board…”

~17 min

Gillespie: “They, the big they [CBC], are just trying to figure out metrics now, because there’s no such thing as us. We don’t exist. Every other market, there is cross-promotional work. They have a radio station or a television station. In many cases, they have both. We have nothing except what we do down on James Street. The challenge we face… is how do we get our message out?”


Smith: Do you decide your stories on what other mediums are doing or not doing?

Gillespie: No.

Smith: No. It’s just, this is your formula and this is how you’re going to approach it.

Gillespie: Well, formula’s the wrong word. It’s more like what’s in my gut.

Smith: So you’re going by gut when you’re finding what stories…

Gillespie: But I see where my gut is right and wrong. When I came here I knew that the community was undervalued by journalists. That journalists make the mistake of having a very niche view of what journalism is. That community was somehow soft news or unimportant news. But the truth is that what traditional news – and I’m a news journalist – what they generally think of as important is not the same level of importance as the same level of importance of people I work with on the street, of people I have coffee with, it’s not the centre of their world. And unless journalists can understand that they need to have a broader perspective on what is important to people, how would you ever expect an audience if you can’t… you know, it’s like I said earlier: I don’t see myself reflected in it. People don’t see themselves reflected in it…. So, the view from the people who say, you should be at City Hall all the time, We could be at City Hall for the 200 people who read about every small thing that happens at City Hall, but that’s not where the audience in Hamilton is at…"

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 13:52:42 in reply to Comment 81982

I attended the panel discussion on the future of the CBC at MIP a couple of weeks ago, and was very disturbed by something Paul Berton said. He gave the CBC back-handed praise for crediting their audience with intelligence, but then claimed that all the smart talk makes the average person feel the CBC is "arrogant".

Leaving aside the disturbing revelation that the editor of our most influential media outlet thinks that not talking down to your audience is arrogant, I was struck again by this as I listened to RG's dilemma.

Here is a guy who is likely cognizant of the kind of criticism expressed by Berton (and probably under pressure from higher-ups to increase readership as well), and is trying to address it by providing content that is more 'popular', only to alienate the core audience they've cultivated over the years by providing quality journalism. He can't win.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-10-19 14:02:38

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 14:26:03 in reply to Comment 81985

Succinctly captured in the CBC's new five-year strategy and its guaranteed-to-disappoint slogan, "Everyone, Every way".

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 14:42:35 in reply to Comment 81988

Oh God, are you serious? That is the worst. Smacks of desperation.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 15:27:26 in reply to Comment 81991

"Everything At The Wall, At Once" evidently tested poorly.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted October 19, 2012 at 14:07:17 in reply to Comment 81985


I think Roger (CBC Hamilton) can win, but they can't have it all. Like anyone who does anything these days, they must have a clearly defined audience, and it can't just be the general public. Even companies that sell dog food don't just sell to the generic audience of pet owners.

For the life of me, I can't tell who CBC Hamilton's intended audience is. What I hope is not the case is that the CBC is throwing out a brand that's worth something; a brand that's already differentiated; a brand that does not now, and never has, connoted lowest common denominator.

If CBC HQ is thinking that online is only of interest to people who have a short attention span and don't care about depth or detail, then I guess you structure your offering accordingly. But why throw out the brand essence and join the crowd instead of playing to your proven strengths. This is starting to look like a case of brand confusion simply because it's a new medium. Anyone who knows anything about branding knows that brand extensions are what smart organizations do, especially if they have limited resources. They build on what they've already got. Creating a new brand is very expensive. Extending an existing one is not only smarter, it's a lot more economical.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 14:32:29 in reply to Comment 81987

For the life of me, I can't tell who CBC Hamilton's intended audience is.

Aye, there's the rub. Problem is, on the local level, the audience for more in-depth reportage and higher-brow cultural offerings tends not to be evenly distributed geographically, which opens them up to the criticism that they are not serving all the communities across Hamilton.

They're already being accused of being James N-centric, but let's face it; the kind of people plugged into the cultural and economic evolution of our city (still symbolically centred around James N at least for the time being), are also more likely to be representative of the CBC's historic audience. Providing more of the kind of content that audience demands runs the risk of confirming the perceptions of the CBC as being too focused on the urban/elitist/James N hipster/lefty tree-hugger/whatever demographic.

Their 'brand' may serve them well on the national level, but it's alot harder to stick to it and still be relevant to a large cross section of the community at the local level. 'Can't win' may be a bit defeatist I admit, but I sure wouldn't want to be in his shoes.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-10-19 14:38:37

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By K.I.S.S. (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 14:39:35 in reply to Comment 81989

I don't think we should over complicate this. As mentioned earlier, create a reason for people to habitually check into CBC Hamilton and a podcast that could be simulcast on another community station is a very easy way to achieve this. Plus, through the variety of guests and topics, you are going to hit a diversity of people and demographics.

Frankly, if that's the only change they make, their brand would expand significantly in Hamilton as they would not just be reprinting or re tweeting other stories but using existing community people and knowledge to create new stories through every broadcast/podcast.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 13:45:19

Roger talked about a video interview he did months ago with Bob Bratina and that it "didn't move the dial" (I guess I was one of the apparently few people who saw it). It was the last one CBC Hamilton did for months. It wasn't until last week that another one was posted, this time with Rob MacIsaac that, according to Gillespie, also "didn't move the dial" either.

Now, I'm in a bit of an echo chamber when it comes to Hamilton news/politics (here, reddit, my twitter feed, and the Hamilton Dissidents page), but I saw the Bob Bratina video all over the place. I'm surprised that it "didn't move the dial."

The Rob MacIssac one, though, I didn't hear about until right now.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 19, 2012 at 13:48:25

Imho, the problem is a fundamnetal lack of understanding of how people use web-based content. The terrible usability of the newsmap revealed that... interaction without any kind of "back" button is an obvious sign that their designers never had usability at heart. I mean, how can you have a news website where the latest headlines crushed into a left sidebar below the fold?

The newsmap would be a great feature for a market where there was content coming in from every corner of the city, and especially a heavily de-centralized market. If you were setting up a site for the K-W tri-city? Newsmap might work there.... but not Hamilton, and especially with only 2.5 reporters and a grab-bag of non-news twitter sources.

You look all over and you'll see that video, audio, and written content do best when they're segregated. Folks who want audio want it all audio, folks who want written want it all written, and folks who want video want all video. Posting video or audio content once in a blue moon will obviously not move the dial since you lost those people weeks ago.

Users want content they can build habits around. They want a daily podcast, or daily updates they can read over their morning coffee. This "try everything once" approach means there's no way to build these habits around their site.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 19, 2012 at 16:08:58 in reply to Comment 81984

In my dreams, CBC hamilton would have launched as streaming radio with tie-ins to have the best of their programs simulcast on college radio and all content available as podcasts almost immediately. As a bonus they could have expanded their streaming technology to allow pause and resume of live feeds (like a home PVR).

I totally agree with you on content types. You gotta be all in one (or all) -you can't mishmash.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 19, 2012 at 17:40:44 in reply to Comment 81995

They can be in multiple content types, but they have to offer each one as a complete service on its own. Something that would stand alone apart from the others. Even a weekly podcast would be something worthy of standing on its own separate from the webpage, for example, and would a reasonable goal for something to offer alongside the website with their present staffing. But just randomly posting video and audio content on the web occasionally? Your page has readers, not viewers and listeners.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-10-19 17:41:19

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By rednic (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 22:30:29

It's interesting this discussion is occurring today when 'Hamilton' (or perhaps a Hamiltonian) is actually in the national spotlight.

Heres the article on the CBC regarding Linc

Heres the Globe and Mails take on the same story

One of these articles is basically Oh! the Linc died. The other is an in depth article regarding the life and times of someone who was truly impressive and a Hamiltonian to boot

While I'm sure much of the globes article was prewritten, It far out weighs the CBC article in quality and quantity. The Hamilton branch of the CBC seems to be more concerned about itself than Hamilton.

If you removed all of the police press releases (they don't write these the police do) from CBC Hamilton and you would be left with pretty much nothing.

In my eyes the only good part about the whole thing is Paul Wilson, who I think is only native Hamiltonian on staff.

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By NoMedium (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2012 at 10:37:30

Yep it wasn't too long after CBC Hammer started that it basically reported nothing but what was on the police scanner. With the exception of reporting on a weekend event or two, they haven't done anything to "raise the hammer." In fact I'd be willing to bet if you read only CBC Hamilton you become completely negative....and maybe want to move to Toronto.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2012 at 11:11:50

CBC Hamilton may only have 2.5 reporters, but it also has 2 producers who are surely possessed of some writing ability beyond tweeting links. And quite possibly access to CBC researchers and reportage.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2012 at 09:49:40 in reply to Comment 82013

I don't think they actually tweet the links themselves, they probably have some script that does that when they throw a new article on the site.

Am I wrong to think the "Mountain News" and its various equivalents seem to have more content (and more interesting content) than CBC Hamilton?

And yes, I check CBC Hamilton everyday, and hope that they improve their product soon.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2012 at 10:28:11 in reply to Comment 82039

I don't think they actually tweet the links themselves, they probably have some script that does that when they throw a new article on the site.

That's probably true, given the bloodless bot-speak and Borg-like RT activity of @RogerGillespie and @CBCHamilton. ‏@ConradCollaco, being a non-executive producer, is more real and hands-on (even if his signature "you've been quoted in my story" routine is robotic).

What I don't quite get is why the institutional account (@CBCHamilton) seems to carry RG's personal voice, such as it is, while @RogerGillespie is just a cascade of impersonal site links. Seems backwards, but maybe that's the point. (Paradigm shift!)

And no, you're not wrong to think that the community weeklies are running circles around CBC Hamilton. They're offering more substance and they're actually making good on the promise of "news on the street where you live".

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By Graefe (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2012 at 11:02:18

To me, what I would have liked to hear from Roger, was his idea of what "success" would look like. We could then judge how effective CBC Hamilton has been so far in terms of deploying limited resources to those ends.

I think they have done some things well: good coverage of farming/food issues, good coverage of social trends.

I think we also need to remember that most Hamiltonians still get their Hamilton news via the Spec and CHCH - how you reach a broad audience from a digital service is not clear to me, and so it is not surprising that Roger may try things that don't make sense if all you are doing is trying to reach the on-line community.

I haven't been knocked out of my chair by CBC hamilton, and I think it is worth having a public conversation about it, but I do think there needs to be a distinction between criticizing what Roger is doing, and criticizing a funding and mandate context which limits what any head of CBC Hamilton could go.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2012 at 12:47:26 in reply to Comment 82042

If the the CFMU interview is anything to go on, mandate was never a constrictive limit. His description of the mothership's expectations seemed pretty blank-cheque.

On a more mundane level, the CBC's aims were described on RTH almost a year ago:

CBC spokesperson Chris Ball explains that the new service will be "more than a website. It will provide weather, local business information/listings and news (and more). At street level, you'll be able to know what's happening not just in your city, but in your neighbourhood, on your street."

News reporting will "cover a wide spectrum" of topics of local interest.

The site will have a dedicated Hamilton staff who will publish stories daily, seven days a week. Some stories will include audio/video segments, but the service will not run as a live-streamed 'broadcast'.

According to Ball, the CBC is looking to hire staff "with a connection to the city/region" and "there will also be ample opportunity for Hamiltonians to contribute. We want to collaborate with the community, asking them to contribute to our coverage through news tips, photos, video, commentary and conversation" around the issues.


Funding is another matter, obviously, but there are any number of local examples of informative, timely, hyperlocal digital reportage that is produced for next to nothing, if not nothing.

CBC Hamilton is a small startup. RG acknowledges this, along with the advantage of small startups: agility, freedom to innovate, speed of implementation. the CBC Hamilton team have that and around a half-century of experience in the life of the city. In light of these advantages, I find it kind of perplexing that they haven't made further inroads.

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By Data Putsch (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2012 at 13:57:49

CBC K-W appears to continue the producer-rich trend....

Host (Radio & Digital Media)- WAT00011
Producer (assigned as Senior Producer) - WAT00004
Producer (Online Curator) - WAT00005

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