Saturday, June 12, 2010

Some thoughts on “Fox News North”

I did an interview last night with Rob Breakenridge of Calgary’s AM770 on Quebecor/Sun Media’s new “Fox News North” television network, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the subject here as well.

You know, if having a national news network run by Stephen Harper’s former communications director means I never have to ever listen to another Conservative drag out the tired canard of the so-called “Liberal media” then I think this whole Fox News North thing might just be worth it. Frankly, I thought they’d give up that sad persecution complex when they sent Mike Duffy to patronage heaven to become the most partisan shill the Senate has seen in years, but I underestimated their lack of bashfulness at making ridiculous arguments that fly in the face of all logic (my mistake, really).

But seriously, say what you will about Quebecor and Sun Media, but they’re businesspeople and they're not dumb. Launching a new news network requires a significant investment in infrastructure, resources and talent and I’m sure they’ve done their homework. They must have done the research and come to the conclusion there’s a sound business case here.

I’ll admit, I’m sceptical though. This would be the third national news network for Canada (sorry ROBTV, you don’t count) after CBC Newsworld and CTV Newsnet. I think all those networks have changed their names, but I don’t really watch them often enough to keep up. The CBC couldn’t afford chairs for awhile, I do remember that. Peter Mansbridge isn’t getting any younger, guys.

We’re not the United States though, which is able to (barely, I think) support CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. Canada has a fraction of the population and the advertising revenue to support three networks and there are only so many Alpacas to be farmed, and only so many times Patrick can take out life insurance.

I also don’t believe we’re as conservative a country as the U.S., so I wonder how much of an audience this network will hold once the novelty wears off. And, frankly, setting out to design a network with a particular bias seems silly to me. I have to wonder, just how interesting would it be?

If you like having your worldview constantly reinforced, if you never want your opinions or assumptions to be challenged, then conservatives may enjoy such a network. Fox South certainly has an audience; it’s an undeniable business success. But for me, I certainly can’t speak for all Liberals, but I’d find it boring never being challenged in my beliefs. I like a little intellectual stimulation; it’s good for the soul, and for my beliefs. And I don’t think echo chambers make for particularly compelling television either.

I also reject the premise this network seems founded on, that a liberal media bias permeates the rest of the press. I’ve been a journalist for over 10 years now (not covering politics obviously, but the IT industry) and I can say with some authority the only thing most journalists are biased towards is a good story. Bad for Liberals, Conservatives, Natural Law, they don’t care if it will get the ratings.

I get pissed off at the media all the time for alleged conservative bias. Often the same media my conservative friends complain about being liberally biased. Which either means those media outlets are just giving it to all as deserved and we're both wrong, or they're just really, really crappy and we're both right.

But as a journalist, I’m perhaps not as hostile to this new network as some of my progressive brethren may be. The media is hurting in this country; the profession of journalism is hurting. So if Quebecor wants to invest millions of dollars to hire journalists and build a new media organization, I view that as a positive. Jobs for journalist = good.

I think designing it with a bias is silly, but whatever happens on the op/ed side of the network, if they keep hiring respected professionals like David Akin on the journalism side of the house – and give them the freedom to do what they do well -- then I’m confident some real journalism will be happening there, and we do need more real journalism in Canada. I think that opinion/news wall will be the thing to watch going forward though.

So I say welcome our new Conservative television overlords. And at the end of the day, in the best of conservative theory and dogma, the market will decide the value of Fox News North. Either it will prove a viable business model, or it won’t, so I say let the market decide. And unlike Conrad Black, I don’t think Pierre Karl Péladeau is a fan of losing money for ideological reasons. If there’s no market, this new network will become Keith Olbermanized pretty quickly.

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bigcitylib said...

I hear they're going to base this on Sun TV, if you remember that.

Anyway, maybe they find a niche market, but I think it will be very hard for them if they can't wrangle a place on basic cable.

Kyle H. said...

You forgot about Global and Canwest, Jeff - they'd be the third network, making Fox North fourth. Ironically the same position Fox South was in when they were coming on.

Otherwise, I agree.

Jeff said...

Volkov, my understanding is they're applying for a new news channel, so this would be competing with the all news channels of CBC and CTV, so it's in a different category than Canwest/Global, which only has a few hours of news programming daily.

BCL, I'm sure they may argue for mandatory carriage. I can't see the CRTC granting it though, the market is saturated. They'll likely be licensed similarly to Fox News or the new Al Jazera Canada, as a digital channel that we can chose to pay extra for.

Now, what will be interesting to watch to see is, if that is the CRTC's call, if they push for Kory's friends at the cabinet table to overule the CRTC like they did on Globalive.

bigcitylib said...

Jeff, can't see that happening though. I mean, this would all be under a huge glare of publicity.

wilson said...

'this would all be under a huge glare of publicity'

And if the new network gives the NDP and Greens the coverage CTV CBC have always denied them,
it will be good publicity!

I would enjoy watching Pat Martin and Thomas Mulcair ranting about capitalism, and Lizzy insisting we all should have windmills in our back yard!

Maybe this new network would host more than 2 leaders debates!
What would Duceppe have to offer a regional debate on Western Canada?
Would he even show up?

Canada is a young country, but
Mansbridge and Robertson have lulled Canadians to sleep,
time to wake up some debate and quit the 24/7 on the goings on inside the LPC.
Only 25% of the population cares what 'Liberal sources' say.... let's hear from the other 75%

Rotterdam said...

A liberal not afraid of media competition. A rare breed. Kudos.

lyrical said...

It'll be interesting to see how the cable and satellite companies distribute this channel. The AJE rollout hasn't exactly been smooth in Canada.

Fox News is not really a news channel; it's an ideological one. Short memory.

Steve V said...

Not sure I buy the make work argument for a dying profession. In reality, if these type of networks are the way we're going, journalism already died.

Anonymous said...

You know, if having a national news network run by Stephen Harper’s former communications director means I never have to ever listen to another Conservative drag out the tired canard of the so-called “Liberal media” then I think this whole Fox News North thing might just be worth it.

Because of course, nobody in the US complains about the "liberal media" now that Fox News is around. *rolls eyes*