Staff 'blindsided' by CBC North move to centralize morning newscasts

Editor's note: On Wednesday, CBC North managing director Janice Stein announced that the proposed changes to the newscasts would be reversed.

Read our original story below.

CBC North is centralizing its morning newscasts, eliminating the English-language morning news reading posts based in Iqaluit and Whitehorse in favour of pan-northern newscasts to be broadcast out of Yellowknife.

Management at the public broadcaster announced the decision to staff Monday, in an email from Janice Stein, the managing director of CBC North.

The number of newscasts will remain the same, and staff will not lose their jobs, Stein said.

Elyn Jones, the news reader in Whitehorse, and Kieran Oudshoorn, the English-language news reader in Iqaluit, are expected to take on different positions within the corporation.

This move frees up those staff to enhance their reporting in their communities and get more reporters into the field, Stein said in an interview with CBC News.

"We have quite a few challenges meeting the needs of our radio programs," Stein said.

"We already do pan-Northern English newscasts across the North in the afternoon. This is moving that into the morning and it will free up that resource for Whitehorse and Iqaluit," she said.

CBC North is unable to pay to hire additional staff to fill in those gaps while retaining the news reader positions, Stein said.

Though staff will be asked to provide input on how the change will work out, continuing on with the current format will not be an option, she said.

"It's a pan-Northern newscast, but the radio programs themselves are every bit as local in the territories as they always have been," she said. "I fully expect they will have richer content in them because of the change we are making."

Local news to focus on 'Northern experience'

CBC North broadcasts three morning shows across Northern Canada: Qulliq in Nunavut, Trailbreaker in the Northwest Territories, and Yukon Morning, which recently completed an extensive show review and introduced Christine Genier as the new host.

It's a pan-Northern newscast, but the radio programs themselves are every bit as local in the territories as they always have been. - Janice Stein, managing director, CBC North

In addition to interviews and current affairs programming, local newscasts air at 6:30, 7:30, and 8:30 a.m. as well as 12:30 p.m. Newscasters also often come on the show at other times to preview and discuss local news stories before and after they air.

Under the current format, news readers based in each station deliver news tailored to their specific audiences, along with pieces produced in the other territories or elsewhere in Canada as needed.

"Our newscasts already borrow content from each other … it's a Northern experience, we're interested in what goes on across the North," Stein said. "You'll hear what goes on and stories right across the North in the newscasts already."

As part of this shift, expected to begin in January, one news reader based in Yellowknife will read casts that will have relevance across the three territories, Stein said, though it remains unclear exactly how that will work.

The newscasts will also moving away from what are known as "voicers," which are recorded reports performed by the reporter with gathered sound and clips from sources. Instead, the newscasts will feature shorter reports read by the newscaster and sound clips.

Staff 'blindsided' by move, says reporter

But the news prompted swift backlash within staff at CBC North after the news was announced on Monday, explained Kaila Jefferd-Moore, a reporter based in Whitehorse.

Throughout the day, staff in Iqaluit, Whitehorse and Yellowknife sent emails to managers expressing their concerns that this move would ignore voices in small communities and would ultimately end up failing to serve the audience, she explained.

"Folks felt blindsided," Jefferd-Moore said. "Their response was mostly confusion. It was a lot of uncertainty … no one knew why it was happening, where it came from. That's the best way to describe it, blindsided."

It's leaving a huge hole in the show. - Kaila Jefferd-Moore, CBC North reporter based in Whitehorse

Jefferd-Moore said staff in Whitehorse feel the local news reader plays an integral part of their morning show, and losing that takes away a valuable voice from their programming. They're skeptical that a person based in Yellowknife will be able to fill the role in the same way, she said.

"The newscasts make up 18 minutes of our show, Elyn's not just coming on for the 18 minutes," Jefferd-Moore said. "She does so much more, she's listening to scanners, she's checking news releases, she's checking road conditions.

"There are a lot of working parts to her role and a main one is supporting the host," she said. "It's leaving a huge hole in the show."

Since the news first broke on Cabin Radio on Monday afternoon, listeners have already expressed their dismay and frustration on social media.

Jonathan Spence, the president of the CBC/Radio Canada branch of the Canadian Media Guild, the union representing workers at the public broadcaster, said staff have come to him with similar concerns.

"They were upset about a lack of consultation," Spence said. "They are concerned about the integrity of the shows and if there's centralization of the morning newscasts, this will take away the local nature of what people are hearing in Whitehorse and Iqaluit."

"Those are the two things that jump out, it's the consultation and taking away the nature of local programming," he said.

The union was not informed of the decision beforehand, likely because there are no job cuts as a result, Spence explained.

According to Stein, the managing director, Monday's announcement was intended to be the start of the conversation with staff, with more consultation coming over the coming weeks, following meetings in Yellowknife set for Tuesday.