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Changes to The National as CBC unveils new look

Last Updated: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | 8:35 PM ET

The CBC is launching a new 10-minute late-night local newscast and a 10-minute online version of The National as part of a sweeping set of changes to take effect next Monday.

The CBC-TV version of The National, the public broadcaster's flagship evening newscast, is getting a new look and a new format, the CBC announced Wednesday, though it remains a one-hour show.

And CBC Newsworld, the 24-hour news channel, will be renamed CBC News Network (CBC NN), and see programming changes throughout the day.

The thrust of these changes, which will be rolled out Monday, is to prepare the CBC for a news environment in which consumers want news from a variety of sources, including the internet and mobile phones, according to Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president of CBC English services.

"We've seen the emergence of new news platforms such as mobile and online, while witnessing the decline of newspapers and pressures on news networks," Stursberg said at a press event to launch the new look on Wednesday.

There is also greater emphasis on coverage around the clock.

CBC NN will be geared more to breaking news and The National will continue to end the day with a more nuanced reflection on events, he said.

The online version of The National will be a 10-minute newscast, anchored by Peter Mansbridge and available online from 6 p.m. local time. But viewers will be able to put together their own lineups — selecting the news items they want to see and the order they prefer to see them in to create a customized newscast.

A four-minute version of the newscast will be available by Blackberry or iPhone.

"Of all the changes, this is one of the most significant," Mansbridge said in an interview Wednesday. "What Canadians are telling us is, 'Let me decide what's important.'"

The hour-long version of The National remains in its usual timeslot, at 10 p.m. on CBC-TV, and moves to 6 p.m. on Saturday so it won't interfere with NHL coverage.

But it is to have a faster pace and a new format that includes more business coverage, a consumer segment produced in collaboration with Marketplace and an investigative unit that works with The Fifth Estate.

Wendy Mesley is to appear regularly with a portion of the news show geared toward generating debate on the day's news stories. She will pose a provocative question, give a backgrounder on the issues involved and interact with the public online.

"We're constantly changing," Mansbridge said, adding it is necessary to "understand our audience and the challenges we face in a constantly changing technological world.

"The challenge is how best to use the technology. Just because we change the music and the set, doesn't mean we'll change the way we do the journalism. We won't," he said.

Regular foreign reports

The National will have regular reports from correspondents such as Adrienne Arsenault in London, Neil Macdonald in Washington, Terry Milewski in Ottawa, Reg Sherren in Winnipeg and Mellissa Fung in Toronto, who are dedicated to producing for the late-night newscast, said Mansbridge.

It will be followed by a 10-minute local newscast, produced in each regional centre and airing 10.55 p.m. The CBC introduced 90 minutes of local and national news in the early evening in August, and resources have been reallocated to regional newsrooms to improve coverage, Stursberg said.

CBC News Network also has a new look and changes to its daytime news schedule. Included in the new look is the use of banners that can show local weather or a sneak peek of upcoming stories.

Three high-profile new programs are to be launched:

  • The Lang & O'Leary Exchange, a business program running Monday to Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., hosted by Amanda Lang and Kevin O'Leary.
  • Power & Politics, a political program running Monday to Friday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., hosted by Evan Solomon.
  • Connect with Mark Kelley, where Kelley is to be joined by Reshmi Nair to host a news talk show Monday to Friday, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

The news renewal process has been going on for two years and responds to research into what Canadians think of CBC and its news coverage, said Jennifer McGuire, general manager and editor in chief of CBC News.

Among the concerns these changes are meant to address is a request by viewers and listeners for more transparency in the news-gathering process.

This will result in a new approach to news reporting, McGuire said.

"We will be telling Canadians how we know what we know and what we don't know about any story," she said.

"For example, when we put up the Robert Fowler story on The National, we included a line about CBC's journalistic position on dealing with kidnapping."

Fowler is the Canadian diplomat who spent four months as a hostage of al-Qaeda, and CBC rules on reporting hostage situations are sensitive because of the kidnapping earlier this year of CBC correspondent Fung.

More than 1,000 people within the CBC News organization have been reassigned across the country to accommodate the changes, which affect radio, television and online news.

The changes are being made in a climate of straitened circumstances after CBC English Services cut $7 million from its news budget this year, but McGuire said CBC has reorganized its newsgathering process to be more efficient.

The changes to the programs and the change in Newsworld's name have been tested on audiences across the country, she said.

And McGuire said Monday's new look is just the beginning — more changes can be expected as the CBC sees how audiences respond, she said.

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