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CBC budget cuts: A response from Johnny Michel, B.C. and Alta. senior managing director

03/26/2015 08:13 EDT | Updated 05/26/2015 05:59 EDT
CBC's Western region is about to lose 72 positions from both English and French services. The region's share of the recently announced $15 million budget cut is about $6 million, or 44 per cent.

Across Canada, CBC English Services has announced it is shedding more than 140 positions in its local news operations. Radio-Canada, CBC's French-language service, announced today that it is cutting 100 jobs.

No shows will be cancelled and all locations will remain open, but some programming changes are coming in the fall.

To hear more about this, On the Coast spoke with Johnny Michel, the senior managing director at CBC British Columbia and Alberta.

Why are B.C. and Alberta shouldering such a large share of the budget cuts?

Over the years some places built up more of an infrastructure and built up more workforce resources than others.

When you look at the West, unfortunately over the years we've had more than other places, so we stand to lose more.

How will that impact programming?

We had to take a look at how could we possibly cut $15 million and come out on the other side in a way that we can be competitive and relevant to Canadians.

So part of the plan was to really take a look at reorganizing ourselves.

That's why our television service is changing — we're going to down from 90 minutes to 60 minutes [in Vancouver. In Calgary, the supper-hour newscast will shrink to 30 minutes.]

We're adding more news breaks so we're adding more touch points throughout the day.

Radio does extremely well, so that was untouched in terms of the programming itself, and we're putting more resources into digital, because that's where are experiencing a lot of success.

We have a lot of resources in our television newscast and we have not traditionally done well with that. There are literally tens of thousands more Albertans and British Columbians who consume our content more on the digital platform than they do on television.

In the newsroom, we're seeing a reduction in the number of people who are producing content, while there's an increase in the number of people managing and re-purposing the content. How will this be reflected in the quality and content that people hear on the air?

There's a reason why CBC is one of the top brands in the country and in the world — it's because it's recognized for the quality.

We create a lot of great content here.

In B.C. alone, by 9 a.m. we have 18 hours of content that we've created, when you consider all the morning shows that we have across this province. And that content is very intelligent, smart conversation from all these neighbourhoods and all these communities.

The balance has always been, how do we maintain the quality? And the answer has always lied in working in a fully integrated environment.

We're very fortunate here at CBC in that we're a little bit ahead of what's happening in the rest of industry. We operate radio, television and online all with the same newsroom, with the same management, the same assignment desk and the same resource plan.

But what you have is the same story repeated on television, on radio, and online because there are no resources being put into the newsgathering and all the resources are being put into managing that diminishing amount of content. Isn't that a problem?

The numbers don't back that.

When you look at the success of radio, CBC Radio in Vancouver has been incredibly successful and continues to grow every single month. You look at our numbers in the digital space, and they continue to grow.

So clearly British Columbians are engaging with us.

How much does the CBC value variety and diversity when it comes to the stories we cover?

When you look at some of the things that we are protecting, in Vancouver radio is being protected — certainly the content and the current affairs shows.

We continue to invest in breaking news, we continue to invest in investigative journalism, we continue to invest in enterprise journalism. Those are the things that we feel are the cornerstone of the service.

What are some online programming changes we'll see coming up?

Online, you're going to be seeing a lot more robustness in terms of the content.

We've been very fortunate in both B.C. and Alberta.  For the past few months we've been experimenting with embedding digital-only positions into the current affairs programming, and the results have been incredible.

This interview has been condensed and edited for the web. To listen to the full interview, click on the audio labelled: CBC's B.C. and Albertasenior managing director responds to budget cuts.

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