THE NATIONAL AND THE JOURNAL

Canadian News Broadcasts

While The National News and The National had been used for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) English-language national newscasts since the 1950s, in 1982 CBC management made a bold decision in deciding to create a new, hour-long 10:00 P.M. national news and current affairs bloc. A new program, The Journal, provided a nightly current affairs component to the regular news report. By the 1980s well over 80% of Canadian television households were cabled, and through their cable systems Canadian viewers had direct access to simultaneous transmission of the prime time schedules of the U.S. networks. The CBC's decision to move The National newscast from 11:00 P.M. to 10:00 P.M. along with the creation of The Journal was controversial in that it was seen as both an unnecessary disruption of decades old Canadian viewing habits, and a risky counter-programming strategy in the face of the success of U.S. prime time dramatic series in the Anglo-Canadian market.

Nevertheless, the new bloc was introduced in January 1982 with veteran CBC journalist Knowlton Nash as newsreader for the 22-minute The National followed by The Journal, co-hosted by Barbara Frum and Mary Lou Finlay. Within a very short time, however, the new bloc received positive critical attention and the counter-programming strategy seemed successful. There was a substantial improvement in ratings over the old 11:00 P.M. newscast. While The National continued to be produced by the same staff within CBC news, The Journal was developed by a new unit with CBC Current Affairs, under the direction of Executive Producer Mark Starowicz. Formally, The Journal innovated within Canadian current affairs television in its mixing of short and long-form documentaries and double-ender interviews with politicians, experts, and commentators. It quickly became the key outlet for political and social debate in Anglo-Canadian media. The specific format varied from night to night, sometimes focusing on several stories and issues, sometimes providing in-depth coverage of single issues, or serving as the site of national policy debates between the major federal political parties.


The National
Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Canada

While the 10:00 P.M. news and current affairs bloc remained successful throughout the 1980s, there were recurrent tensions within the organization over questions of news judgment and resource allocation between the two separate production teams responsible for the programs. In 1992, Ivan Fecan, then CBC programming executive introduced a new prime time schedule to the CBC, recreating The National and The Journal as the Prime-Time News. He also moved the news and current affairs hour to 9:00 P.M. as part of a re-programming of CBC prime time into a 7:00-9:00 P.M. "family" bloc and 10:00-12:00 P.M. "adult" bloc. The production of the new Prime-Time News was reorganized into a single production unit, both to overcome previous organization antagonisms, and to address budget constraints in a period of increasing austerity at the CBC. The move to 9:00 P.M. proved much less successful in ratings results and the initial reformatting of news and current affairs within one program proved more difficult than was foreseen. By 1995 the scheduling of CBC prime time into "family" and "adult" blocs was abandoned and the news and current affairs hour was returned to the 10:00-11:00 slot and renamed The National, including the current-affairs coverage under the title of The National Magazine. The return to 10:00 P.M. once again proved successful as a counter-programming strategy for prime time competition from U.S. networks.

-Martin Allor

FURTHER READING

Lockhead, Richard, editor. Beyond the Printed Word: The Evolution of Canada's Broadcast Heritage. Kingston, Ontario, Canada: Quarry, 1991.

Nash, Knowlton. Microphone Wars: A History of Triumph and Betrayal. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: McClelland and Stuart, 1994.

 

See also Canadian Programming in English; Fecan, Ivan; Frum, Barbara; Nash, Knowlton; Starowicz, Mark