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Watching the Watchdog: CTV Bests CBC on National News

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Veteran television producer Tim Knight contributes a regular blog to HuffPost, analyzing and rating the top broadcast news shows in Canada. On Saturday he will watch Sun News.

Episode: CTV National News

Date: Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Anchor: Lisa LaFlamme

Lead Story: Once More With Same Feeling -- Air Canada workers set to strike on Monday's March break. Strike threat stories inevitably follow an identical formula and, in fact, can be written weeks in advance, merely filling in the details on the day. Even so, Omar Sachedina sets up the situation well with management claiming it's losing millions, a union leader claiming "my membership has suffered for 10 years," and an analyst pointing out the practical point that the union "has to keep their membership on board and therefore the leadership has to appear to be strong."

Dangerous Drugs? -- Daniele Hamamdjian reports that Sandoz, the only Canadian supplier of most injectable drugs, is having trouble keeping up with demand. Interesting story but no explanation of line, "the U.S. warned (Sandoz) did not meet certain standards." Surely, we need to know what those "certain standards" for powerful and important drugs are? Apparently the government is trying to speed up production, so LaFlamme adds "Let's hope so," at the end, a superfluous comment.

Reporter on Speed -- John Vennavally-Rao reports professionally on day three of Tori Stafford murder trial but speeds too fast through these complex events involving such a large cast of characters. We need a break sometimes, simply to absorb and consider what has just been said and be ready for the information to come.

Time to Think -- Tom Kennedy reports from London on the Syrian rebellion. Appropriate cynicism about the Syrian government's PR campaign and appropriate statement that "there is evidence to support" the rebel claims of slaughter. Well-paced narration with pauses giving us time to mull over the information.

Wasting Precious Time
-- When the newscast runs a half hour (minus commercials, maybe only 23 minutes) is it really necessary to run all these story teases before commercials?

Crucial Information -- Canadian scuba diver dies off Mexico. Speaking as a diver myself, reporter Janet Dirks should have pointed out that diving partners are supposed to watch over each other in case either gets into trouble. Also that the "exhaust" mentioned in the interview almost certainly got into her tank when it was filled with air right next to some sort of carbon monoxide-spewing gasoline engine.

Time to Think -- Paul Workman reports on a documentary about Joseph Kony, monstrous leader of the Lord's Resistance Army in East Africa. Well done, well-paced story with enough room for us to breathe and even think between sections.

Return of the Dinosaurs -- Seamus O'Regan has fascinating story of dinosaur skeletons being rebuilt in polyester for an exhibition at the Royal Ontario Museum 65 million years after the great wipe-out. Well-done storytelling.

Verdict -- Compared to CBC's The National last night, this is a cleaner, neater, tighter, better paced, and better-written news program. Even so, there's too much narrating over edits and when that's done, we stop listening to the words for a moment. That's because, for humans, video is more powerful than audio and we're forced to concentrate on the pictures rather than the words.

LaFlamme does competent and professional job but is a bit too breathlessly pushy which causes every story, important or not, to sound pretty much the same.