14 May 2014

Getting On Point back from No Point #nlpoli

For years, the only public affairs show on television or radio in Newfoundland and Labrador was Issues and Answers.  NTV’s Sunday morning staple has long been ponderous and boring and it remains so. 

CBC’s On Point promised to add some life to the political world.  But while it was interesting early on and it’s had some big moments since then, the show quickly became yet another venue for government talking points or – even worse – the same tired talking heads.

The talking heads on any given panel seldom say anything insight or useful.  And, if you look at the people on the panel, they never seem to make sense.

Politics isn’t this boring

It’s not that they spout gibberish:  it’s that they are never of the same type and hence the commentary is jumbled.  With the exception of the panels made up of politicians currently sitting in the House of Assembly,  any given group of three could comprise two political types and a reporter.  Sometimes the political types are active in the party at the moment.  Other times, they aren’t. 

The problem with this is that viewers get a mixture of partisan points from a couple and more objective commentary from the third.  You can never tell the difference and viewers can be easily confused into thinking that some blatantly foolish load of partisan twaddle is serious comment or that a newspaper editor’s insightful criticism is nothing but a partisan jab.

And let’s face it,  far too many media illiterates believe Russell Wangersky just criticises the government because he is a partisan troll of one shade or another.  No media outlet should be encouraging that kind of stupidity, which is basically what On Point winds up doing inadvertently by putting Wangersky on a panel with Shawn Skinner and Lana Payne or  - as in last week’s show – sticking the Wang-man in between Steve Dinn (the Conservative) and John Hogan  (the Liberal).

Sometimes, as with the talk earlier this year about the Conservative leadership,  the mixing of people of different types leaves the audience with crucial questions unasked, let alone unanswered.  It’s a bad idea and CBC needs to dump this sort of panel structure as quickly as possible.

If On Point is going to use panels, then the show needs to sort out a policy of putting like with like.  If that means bringing someone out of the CBC newsroom to sit with Wangersky, then that’s what it takes.  Maybe the Ceeb can bring Sue Bailey into the mix if they can’t bring Fred Hutton over from VOCM or Mike Connors from NTV.  She’d add a new perspective. Even sitting a non-journalist commenter with the journalists makes more sense than what Ceeb is doing currently.

The On Point panels could also use some new voices. They are out there.  Even Trevor Taylor and Roger Grimes would offer more insight than some of the panels audiences have seen lately.

Time Shift Theatre

Then there’s the issue of time.  Well, that’s really two issues.  The first time-related problem is that the show airs on Saturday nights, when it isn’t shagged up by hockey.  To give the show a fighting chance of finding an audience,  CBC producers need to fit into the weekly slot somewhere or give it a better weekend time.

Putting On Point as part of the Here and Now line-up would be a better choice.  That’s their flagship news program and bringing it under H and N would give On Point more of the newsroom’s production resources.  They might be able to expand the panel every now and then with a panellist from Ottawa or Toronto if the show deals with an interprovincial subject.  Those long-distance interviews are costly but it might be easier to work them into the Here and Now budget than for the little weekend show.

That shift to a weeknight slot would also help fix the second problem, namely the short time the show is actually on the air.  Most Saturdays, it is less than 20 minutes.  That doesn’t give much time for the host to explore an issue or to do a decent job of trying an in depth interview coupled with a panel slot.

Politics is a Big Subject

A third idea to revitalize On Point is to have the show expand its list of potential interview subjects.  So far, it’s been a steady diet of political panels and more political panels interspersed with interviews with party leaders.  There are lots of public policy issues and  lots of people involved in public policy.  Add in federal politics and you’ve got a rich mix.

How come that mix hasn’t been reflected in On Point’s shows?

That’s as good a point as any to leave you mulling over a current affairs show the province needs but one that hasn’t lived up to its potential.

There’s room in the marketplace.  Right now, NTV and VOCM don’t have anything to touch it.

But they might.

And in light of all the cuts at the CBC lately, the crowd at the Ceeb need to start thinking about how to do more with what the relatively big pile of resources they’ve got.