Morning news revival

Forget the ol’ industry doom and gloom, say panelists at the RTNDA conference in Halifax: Morning news is on a roll. David Thurton tells us why news shows at the start of the day are  rising like the sun.

Morning NewsGood news. Morning news shows are on the rise. That’s according to the Morning News Revival panel at the newly re-named Radio-Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) national conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, this past weekend.
“Can I get an amen,” said the panel’s moderator, Joanne Woo of ‘A’ News Ottawa. (At mic, in photo, right, taken by Jim Van Horne, RTDNA Central Radio President.)
One year ago a panel like this might have been mourning the death of local news. Instead, seven panelists were rejoicing the resurrection of local news in the name of several morning shows that are set to start in  Toronto, Hamilton and in other local markets across the country.
“There’s going to be a ton of jobs. Right now I am trying to find an anchor,” said Tim Spelliscy, Regional Director of Global News Alberta.
“It wasn’t a matter of why should we, but why shouldn’t we [a weekend morning show],” added CP24 senior producer Linda Weber, “We’re on air Saturday anyway. Why not?”
Good question. While it’s true that more and more Canadians are getting their news online and from their smartphones, executives and broadcasters all agree: morning newscasts still make sense. Maybe now more than ever. The trick is to keep it growing.
“What we find is that young people get jobs, get married, and they listen to the radio,” said news director Scott Metcalfe of 680 News. This is the exact market that he, and others, such as CHCH news director Mike Katrycz, want to connect with — young people who see the radio as part of their everyday work routine. “We know at 4 am we might get people going to work,” said Katrycz, “Or they might be coming home.” Either way, that’s when they stop and tune into the world around them.
But it’s not all sunny skies and early am smiles. If morning news is going to succeed, said panelists, these shows must strike the right balance between news, entertainment, personality — and even advertising.
“Morning news is about people. People are very loyal to the [hosts] they’re watching when they are in their pajamas and when they are getting ready for work”, said Lis Travers, Executive Producer at Canada AM.

Richard Gray, head of ‘A’ Ottawa, agrees. News is critical in the early hours, he said, but morning news still needs to be fun. Otherwise morning shows will continue getting competition from unlikely sources.
“The kids are making the morning television choices when the family gets up,” said Gray. “If you are thinking about strictly putting on a newscast when you get up in the morning you may not be getting people who have young children at home. But if your show is a little lighter, a little more fun, if its got some components that will engage the kids in the house, you may get a few flip overs from Treehouse (TV).”
Panelists also raised ethical questions that come from the need for morning news to generate advertising revenue and the need to stay true to content.
“It’s the struggle between church and state,” said CP24’s Weber, “And for people coming from a traditional news background, we bristle at product placement and advertising.”
Gray agreed, adding that news segments at ‘A’ Ottawa remained sacred places that advertisers could not enter. Even so, “there’s a lot of sponsorship opportunities that you can get out of a show without really having to sell your soul,” he said.
For instance, his Ottawa show had welcomed Tim Hortons as its sponsor from day one by placing their coffee mugs on set. “And guess what?” he adds, “That has generated well over a million dollars in revenue over the last 10 years. And that covers a big part of our staffing costs.”
Travers confessed that product placement makes her feel uncomfortable. Companies that sponsor segments are fine, but she doesn’t feel comfortable with sneaking sponsors’ products on to Canada AM.
However, Travers also knows advertisers are less and less satisfied to settle for a 30-second commercial. Many want spots on the show and editorial departments face pressure from their sales department to do so.

Back at CHCH Hamilton, Katrycz, said that he isn’t just concerned about product placement but also personality placement. Newsrooms must also critically examine how anchors and hosts are used to support local charities that are run by huge corporations such as Tim Hortons and McDonald’s.

Gray of /A News Ottawa, said that news directors will continue to have to make these ethical decisions: “As long as we continue to make the content decisions. And as long as the client understands that if there is a difficult story to tell, we’re going to tell it. And if that ends the client relationships, so be it. But most of the time that doesn’t happen.”

David Thurton is going into his fourth-year as a journalism student at Ryerson University. His focus is broadcast journalism. He’s a student member of the RTDNA. The RTDNA has just awarded him the 660 News Diversity scholarship for a radio documentary he produced on multiculturalism in Toronto. He also has a personal blog