The bright afternoon sun illuminates the crimson and gold autumn leaves of October. Massive white clouds-the kind that often take the shape of animals and people-slowly drift across the bright blue sky. Fairport Marine and Tackle, a weathered, powder blue and white building with a red, hand-painted “Minnows” sign, sits beside a gently flowing river. Empty docks and gravel parking lot suggest that fishing season has closed. Across from Fairport’s front stoop are two bridges-one for trains, the other for cars-that stretch over the river. Along the water’s edge, bulrushes quietly nod in the cool wind. Suddenly, a Ford Explorer boasting vibrant shades of school bus yellow and fire engine red comes to a dusty halt. As the Sesame Street song goes, “One of these things is not like the others.” Passing motorists stare as the driver, Danny Petkovsek, hops out of the vehicle and begins talking to a small, silver digital video camera held above his head. Petkovsek, who resembles the singer Phil Collins, is a videographer, a news reporter and cameraperson rolled into one. He’s preparing a story on a new highway extension for the 6 p.m. edition of VRLand News-part of The New VR, a television station located in Barrie, Ontario, that has redefined how middle-market stations service an established rural audience and new suburban viewers.
Almost four years ago, the newscast was called Total News and the station was simply CKVR. Major renovations came when the station’s owner, CHUM Ltd., took creative control. At the helm was Moses Znaimer, the creator of Toronto’s much applauded and much analyzed Citytv, also owned by CHUM, a flashy station geared to a young, urban crowd. He sees “the news as a soap opera” with reporters and videographers as character actors.
The New VR was an experiment to see if a jazzy style could be exported to a rural area in the throes of demographic change. The owners were so pleased with the results that, in the fall of 1998, Znaimer and company turned newly acquired CFPL in London, CKNX in Wingham, CHWI in Windsor and CHRO in Pembroke into The New PL, The New NX, The New WI and The New RO. Collectively, all five stations are known as The New Net. It’s an appropriate term, considering that residents who want to watch local coverage are now trapped-they have no choice but to watch Znaimer’s hip version of the news.
The New VR officially began on September 1, 1995, the day the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and CKVR ended an affiliation that lasted over 30 years. In his presentation to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission in the spring of 1994, vice-president and general manager Doug Garraway said the station was in trouble because “the CBC no longer wants us, in point of fact we can no longer afford to remain affiliated with them.” By the end of 1995, CKVR expected to have lost a total of $5 million.
In his CRTC speech, Garraway also mentioned that the station’s “survival plan” was based on “strong local news, active community service and a strategic program linkage with Citytv.” Garraway told the CRTC that the proposal “safeguards the extensive news and community service the residents of central Ontario have come to expect for almost 40 years.” The result: the station invested over $1 million, which was put toward new equipment. Among the purchases: a satellite dish, editing machines and FRED, a 10-foot-high video wall for the newsroom. In addition, CKVR’s “Classic Television” series such as I Love Lucy and The Beverly Hillbillies was replaced with shows like Hercules and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Only Leave It to Beaver survived the cut.
About the only other thing that remained the same was the VR of CKVR, but even that had a new meaning. Originally, VR stood for Ralph Snelgrove, who started the station back in 1955, and his wife Valerie. But now the letters stand for slogans like “Very Rugged, Very Raptors,” a reflection of the station’s new style and its broadcast rights for 41 Toronto Raptors basketball games.
VR was also used to help define the station’s broadcast area. Znaimer dubbed it VRLand and all those who inhabit the domain became VRLanders. He believed the station was one of the few things these people had in common. In the September 22/28, 1997, edition of Variety, he said, “How do you bring a new identity to people who are supposed to be rural, conservative and vague about who they are? You tell them they live in New VRLand.” The region encompasses York Region in the south and Muskoka to the north. It goes as far east as Peterborough and as far west as Owen Sound. Videographer Petkovsek refers to it as “the area our footprint covers,” which means it treads on more than a million people.
In 1995, Znaimer predicted residents would warm up to the name in a few years. But most of the people I spoke with see it for what it is-a marketing scheme. As an example, I met Colleen (she refused to tell me her last name), who works in downtown Barrie and has lived in the city for 17 years. She’s one of the few people I talked to who enjoys VRLand News. She likes that it doesn’t report as much crime as the Toronto stations. But she wants a name change. She finds it ironic that “people hate the name so much that they’ll always remember the channel.”
That name is, to borrow a term, everywhere. “VRLand News” is festooned all over the newsroom, from the back of the anchor’s clipboard to the black letters on the studio walls. The broadcast is presented directly from an 1,874-square-foot, bright yellow newsroom. While the style is based on Citytv, the visual images can be a little more laid-back. So instead of the flashing lights and police tape of a Toronto murder scene there are pan shots of ice huts on Lake Simcoe. Or instead of people frantically editing tape and rushing around in the open-concept newsroom, only one or two people can be seen talking or working at a computer. Bob McIntyre, The New VR’s weather forecaster, calls the Citytv style “rock and roll news,” but the VRLand tempo is more adult contemporary.
Behind Lance Chilton, the 6 o’clock anchor, viewers can see the editing stations, reporters’ work areas, the sports corner and the assignment board. One thing missing is an anchor desk, allowing Chilton to wander around, lean against tables or perch on a stool. This is supposed to break down the barrier between the audience and the news, to show the viewer how the news is made as it’s presented. As well, the newsroom is the only place in which tripods are used; elsewhere, hand-held shots are the norm, resulting in shaky, gritty and, at times, dizzying effects. In the April 21, 1997, edition of Broadcasting & Cable, Znaimer said that he likes “an intense kind of immediacy. The objective of the media is to get closer and closer to the real thing.” Another way of accomplishing that objective is done through reporter involvement. VRLand reporters are seen throughout the story. For instance, in a series on fire safety, the audience saw videographer Bill Mantas climb ladders, crawl through hallways and interview firefighters. He followed the fifth of Znaimer’s 10 commandments, which Znaimer revealed in the three-hour documentary TVTV: The Television Revolution in 1995. “Television is as much about the people bringing you the story,” he said, “as the story itself.”
The fifth commandment is repeatedly drilled into employees. Last October, for example, six people gathered in the office of John Thornton, VRLand’s director of news and operations, for their morning story meeting. Tapes were piled up here and there; the walls were practically bare. It looked as though Thornton hadn’t finished moving in, even though he’s been there over a year. During the meeting, the group swiftly moved from one story idea to the next. Within the first few minutes, Thornton asked what Gina Livy, the director of sports, was covering that day. “Jujitsu,” replied Cindy MacDonald, the 6 o’clock news producer. “So, she’s going to participate?” Thornton asked sarcastically. No one said anything, so he continued: “You make sure you talk to her, Cindy.” About 15 minutes later, MacDonald suggested a follow-up about a hospital that was supposed to get money from the provincial government. Since Chilton, formerly an entertainment reporter for Citytv’s CityPulse Tonight and co-host of MuchMusic’s Fax, originally reported the story, she thought he could talk to the hospital again and ask what it will do with the money. Thornton piped in: “Did Lance talk to any patients yesterday?” Tense silence. Thornton looked directly at MacDonald: “Are you going to talk to him about that?” MacDonald nodded. Then, as though she might not have understood, Thornton asked: “So what makes us think if we put him on the story today he’ll talk to any patients?” MacDonald lowered her voice: “We’ll talk to him about talking to patients.” With a smug smile Thornton responded: “Great. Well, I’ll be watching.”
Michael Nolan, who teaches media history and media politics at the University of Western Ontario, wonders about the relevance of journalists injecting themselves into a story: “Is the viewer really interested in what the journalist feels or thinks about?” Bill Patrick, who was the first manager of news and operations at The New VR and is now at The New RO, visited professor Janice Neil’s journalism class at Carleton University last year. She remembers him telling her students that the reporter is forefront in the story because “it’s making the audience familiar with the storyteller. You trust somebody whose face you know much more than a disembodied voice.” Anne Marie Green, a VRLand reporter and the 12:30 news anchor, believes that reporter involvement is natural. She says VRLand News “doesn’t want reporters to pretend they’re not part of the story. We’re part of the story. If someone cries, you give them a hug. That’s what you would do out on the street.”
The reporters almost have to get involved to avoid committing the ultimate sin: the voice-over. Viewers watch reporters conduct interviews and give commentary out in the field, as Petkovsek did on the bridge. Or, to cite another example, shots of a car accident will flash on the screen and the voice that’s describing the situation will be a police officer or a witness. “We’re personality driven,” explains Green. “We want the people in the story to tell the story, not the reporter.”
Pictures have to tell the story too. While Petkovsek, who worked for Citytv for 18 years before coming to The New VR last summer, covered the highway extension, he also filmed a preview promotional segment. To convey a sense of danger to the viewers, he showed a dump truck passing by a group of schoolchildren waiting to cross the street. Then he pointed the camera at himself and explained that a highway extension would relieve in-town traffic volume. Petkovsek says his commentary and the visuals are supposed to give the viewer “a connection between dangerous roads and a community’s well-being.”
Because videographers do it all-reporting, filming and editing-they face special challenges in following the house style. VRLand has four videographers: Mantas, Petkovsek, Tonya Rouse and Darrin Maharaj. To tell their stories, they film themselves at arm’s length, often resulting in a fishbowl look, or they film their reflections in mirrors or windows. Sometimes they’ll set up a second camera to film themselves filming an interview. Mantas has what VR calls a “third eye,” a headset that has a small camera lens that juts out from the left side of his head, making him look like a Star Trek character. David Akin, a technology reporter at theNational Post, believes that videographers are a “cost-cutting exercise to reduce a news crew that would normally consist of a cameraperson and a reporter.” But Petkovsek argues that videography is a way of claiming authorship: “When I go out and work, the product that goes on the air at the end of the day, whether you like it or not, good or bad, is mine.”
Most of VRLand’s on-air news staff are young and fashionable. They like black and sport trendy hair styles-from flippy to short and sleek. With three reporters and one videographer who are visible minorities, the ethnic mix is better than it was three years ago. VRLand News is mirroring Citytv’s multicultural blend. As Green puts it, “CHUM is famous for recognizing the importance of having a newsroom reflect its audience and also recognizing that people walk different paths, come from different points of view.” While visible minorities only make up 2.6 percent of Barrie’s population, the area is more multicultural than it used to be. This change can be attributed to the fact that Barrie has become one of the fastest-growing cities in Canada. From 1991 to 1996, its population grew by almost 23 percent as people moved from Toronto to settle in a quieter area.
Some wonder if the Citytv style works in a region like VRLand where there isn’t a major population centre, only farms, cottages, quaint villages, towns and a few small cities. Even though Barrie has a population of 119,000, it still feels like a small-town community where people say hello to strangers on the street and aren’t too concerned if they forget to lock their doors at night. Bob McIntyre, VRLand’s weather forecaster, says that Barrie is “a beer and hamburg town. We’re not sophisticated but we’re not dumb.” John Allemang, The Globe and Mail‘s television columnist, comments that the VRLand style “is a little more thrusting, aggressive, assertive and that’s not been the small-town approach, where it’s been more important to be friendly, affable, nice, nonthreatening, asexual…. There’s always sexuality in a Citytv newscast.” However, Petkovsek says that “people living up here, they’re not all hicks and bumpkins. A lot of people used to live in Toronto and those who didn’t are just as well educated, just as up on popular culture as anybody in Toronto. They can afford a few visual jolts, they’re up to speed on that.”
I got a chance to see the Citytv style in the making when I tagged along with Petkovsek while he reported on the highway extension. He stopped in Holland Landing, a town with a population of approximately 9,400, when he saw a man and a little boy raking dirt on their front lawn. Petkovsek asked the man if he would give his opinion of the highway extension. After the man agreed, Petkovsek told him where to stand and asked his son to keep raking. When Petkovsek began the interview, I almost started to laugh. The man, wearing his red and black plaid lumber jacket, construction boots and blue work pants, stood where he was told. Petkovsek then zoomed in with his little camera to about a foot from the man’s face. Petkovsek started walking around him, crouched down to get an up-the-nose shot and then he walked up a little slope to get a bird’s-eye view of the top of the guy’s head. Petkovsek’s camera angles would make most people uncomfortable, but they seemed even more absurd given the context of a simpler, quieter, rural way of life.
Steve Hurlbut, Citytv’s vice-president of news programming, mentioned in a Toronto Sun article last year that Znaimer often says people must “think globally, watch locally. If you understand your community, you can understand the world.” Translation: report local stories. Petkovsek explained that VRLand News is meant to “hold up a mirror of the community and shine it back on the community.” Allemang says that having a local focus is a smart business move since it helps to gain a strong following from viewers, which larger networks struggle to do.
Tony Panacci, the supervising producer of VRLand News, says his newscast covers all the hard news, such as local politics, accidents and crime. But “we focus on recreation stories, sports, we focus on human-interest stories.” Those are the stories that “make us what we are.” The main criterion for any story on VRLand Newsis that it “has to affect the people in this area.”
With such a strong focus on the local, it’s no surprise that national and international events are relegated to the end of the newscast and presented in headline fashion only. McIntyre remembers one day when “the Hutus and the Tutsis were beating the crap out of each other. There were bodies all over the place. Not one call. A cat’s up a tree, 65 friggin’ calls in 15 minutes to get the damn cat out of the tree.” The New RO has the same intensely local coverage, and Richard Gray, its news director, says that “we will answer your fundamental questions on [national and international news], but if you’re looking for more depth, then you should probably look somewhere else…. We’re going to give you depth and breadth on local issues.”
In order to measure the depth of VRLand News, I looked at the elements of a good local newscast that were developed last year by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an affiliate of New York City’s Columbia University graduate school of journalism. A team of 13 local TV journalists in the United States “defined quality as doing an accumulation of basic things well: Good local news broadcasts should accurately reflect their whole community, cover a wide variety of topics, cover what is significant, and balance their stories with multiple points of view, a variety of knowledgeable sources and a high degree of community relevance. In short, Journalism 101.”
The elements for analyzing a local newscast include: “Topic Range,” in which the number of topics in a newscast is divided by the number of stories-a measure to ascertain if the local news reflected the entire community; “Story Focus,” in which each story is examined to see if it focused on a larger issue or everyday occurrence; “Enterprise Level,” in which the station is evaluated to see how much effort is put into the story; “Number of Sources,” in which the sources in a story are tallied; “Viewpoints,” in which the different viewpoints in each story are calculated; “Source Expertise,” in which the quality of sources is measured; and “Local Relevance,” in which a story’s connection to the community is assessed. I took some of these criteria, peeled away the flashy style of VRLand News and tried to assess the quality of its coverage.
I randomly selected eight 6 o’clock newscasts from a time span of three months. Two aired during last November’s sweeps period, four were from the week of December 7, 1998, and two aired at the end of January of this year. I didn’t look at weekend shows because they’re only a half-hour instead of an hour.
After viewing these examples, I found VRLand News lacking in the “Enterprise Level” category. In the eight newscasts, most of the stories were about fires, accidents and local events. There weren’t many innovative story ideas. Only 15 percent of the local stories didn’t seem to stem from a press release, the wires or a phone call. Janice Neil of Carleton’s school of journalism, who worked for the CBC for 12 years, makes an observation about news coverage on The New RO that also applies to VRLand News: “The kind of news they’re doing is quite different. They’re not tackling policy stories…. They are tackling things that have happened.” Occasionally, VRLand News took an “event” story and tried to make it relevant to local residents. For example, Petkovsek went to a local hog farm on December 10, when the provincial and federal governments announced they’d provide aid for hog farmers. Not only did he explain why the money was needed but he also showed the viewers how the farm operated.
With coverage of so many one-time events, VRLand News didn’t report many larger issues. Only 21 percent of the stories focused on topics like the effects of local teachers’ strikes or the government’s suggestion that higher taxes on cigarettes might encourage people to quit smoking. When VRLand News reporters covered these stories, they often presented them from a local angle. In doing so, large issues were connected to local faces. For example, on November 4, VR reporter Sherine Mansour did a story about a little girl in the small town of Inglewood who needed a heart transplant. Through interviews with the parents, viewers learned about the daughter’s rare heart disease, what size of heart she needed and the difficulty of finding a replacement. The viewers were brought into the girl’s home and saw the necessity of organ donation.
I tried to measure “Source Expertise,” but VRLand News didn’t always tell viewers who was being interviewed or why that person was significant to the story. Sometimes the person who appeared on the screen wasn’t identified by the reporter or by graphics on the bottom of the picture. Other times, the person’s name appeared but his or her connection to the story wasn’t explained; instead, a quote from the interview appeared under the person’s name. For example, on December 8, a younger woman was interviewed at a seniors’ home where little kids were singing Christmas songs for the residents. Her name, Lydia Whelan, appeared on the bottom of the screen while she was talking, but underneath her name we read “Seniors love it.” She did say that the seniors enjoyed the performance, but the general viewer couldn’t tell if she’s a parent, a doctor, a nurse, a teacher or someone who just hangs out at seniors’ homes. Her opinion would have been more credible if she was a caretaker for the seniors than if she was a parent watching her little Johnny sing.
With so many local stories, VRLand News did the best in “Local Relevance.” Besides its World News segments, only 11 percent of the stories were from outside of VRLand’s borders. Some reports, though, seemed irrelevant in terms of news value. For example, on November 4, a reporter drove around and took shots of snow on the ground. She then asked people what they thought of the snow, as though the sight of white flakes in November was new to an area that lies in a snowbelt. Other stories were too narrowly focused to have much meaning for most viewers. For example, Maharaj, the entertainment videographer, did a report last January about a 16-year-old boy who has size 17 feet and couldn’t find shoes to fit. So Maharaj took him to a shoe store that didn’t carry shoes that big. Then he made a plea to the public to help the boy find shoes. In a follow-up report on January 25, Maharaj drove the boy and his mother to Toronto, where the Toronto Raptors gave the teenager size 17 shoes and team paraphernalia. A nice plug for the Toronto team, considering its connection to The New VR, but was it news? Maharaj failed to make this story effective. He could have looked into how many large sizes are made by manufacturers, what the average size of shoe is for a 16-year-old boy, the problem people have buying wide shoes or people who can’t find shoes because they have small feet.
Sandra Leduke, 32, moved to Barrie in November 1997 from Mississauga and usually watches the first few minutes of VRLand News to find out what’s happening in the area. As we sat in the back of the hairdresser shop where she works, surrounded by rows of lipsticks, nail polishes, eye shadows and blushes, she told me that she doesn’t think VRLand News presents in-depth coverage. For example, when it reports on a fundraiser, it doesn’t show what happened or how much was raised. Instead, the event is presented as “by the way, there’s a fundraiser for such and such.” Leduke doesn’t mind the style, but she says, “When you’re watching, something doesn’t feel right. I don’t feel entertained and I don’t feel like I’ve gotten all the information. I feel like I’ve been shortchanged.”
But VRLand News does live up to the promise made by The New RO’s news director, Richard Gray, of delivering breadth on local issues. The station covers a huge area. It can’t possibly squeeze in all the news from every hamlet and village of VRLand in less than 14 hours of news each week even with about 26 newsroom staff, which consists of producers, production assistants, assignment editors, reporters, editors, directors and videographers; 11 camera operators, who usually work for the newsroom each day; 12 vehicles; and a videophone to do live coverage. VRLand News doesn’t try to cover every story and every area in one newscast. Petkovsek says, “We make sure we cover all the bases on a regular basis.” The bases include everything that might be of interest to local communities, such as local sports and charity events, accidents and crimes. VRLand News tries to cover them depending on its resources, which follows Znaimer’s philosophy that “the true nature of television is flow not show; process not conclusion.” VRLand Newsbelieves in covering stories as they develop over weeks and months. For example, the eight newscasts had three reports about Barrie gas stations charging higher prices than Toronto stations. The story moved from Lance Chilton discussing the situation with local MPP Joe Tascona in November to the MPP looking into the problem in January.
VRLand News lineups also have a good geographical mix. On December 7, the newscast had stories from 11 cities and towns, including Collingwood, Victoria Harbour, Bolton, Barrie and Newmarket. The average newscast had local stories from eight different places. But it isn’t enough coverage for some VRLand residents. I met four women from Bracebridge, part of VRLand, at an Irish pub in downtown Toronto. Dianne, Candice, Joan and Joan had sipped away at a round or two of Coors Light by the time I asked them what they thought of VRLand News. After some groans and eye rolls, the criticisms began to fly. Joan put it bluntly: “It sucks. I used to watch the news every afternoon. I’d stop whatever I was doing, but now I couldn’t care less. I watch CKCO [a station located in Kitchener, Ontario] instead.” The other Joan agreed: “Kitchener news covers Bracebridge more than The New VR.”
I also taped the October 2, 1998, 6 o’clock VR newscast and brought it to Howard Bernstein. He brings a lot of experience to the broadcast classes he teaches at Toronto’s Ryerson Polytechnic University. Among other things, he worked at CTV for seven years, where he produced Canada AM and was the head of news specials; he was also the executive producer of news and current affairs at CBC Toronto and the news director at Global Television. After we sat down in one of Ryerson’s editing suites, Bernstein popped the tape into the machine and pressed play. As we watched the newscast, he pointed out that three stories had absolutely no news value, such as the one that revealed the astonishing fact that there’s no known cure for the common cold. “If people have to watch the news to basically find out to take cough medicine,” said Bernstein, “I don’t think those people need medical help, they need psychiatric help. This is basically talking down to the audience. There’s no real information in any of this.”
Videographer Tonya Rouse did another of the stories that lacked news content: a follow-up to a piece she had done the week before about bare shelves at the Barrie food bank. In this newscast, she reported that many people made donations because they saw her original story. But she failed to interview any donors. It came across as a look-at-me-I’m-a-great-reporter piece. “Theoretically, they’re supposed to be helping the food bank,” said Bernstein. “What you’re helping is this woman further her career.”
Bernstein also noticed that Petkovsek didn’t deliver the story that he promised. He began his report on the opening of a Wal-Mart in Orillia by saying that some people in the area were upset about it. However, every person he interviewed, including a local shop owner, was happy about the event. “Frankly, I hope Wal-Mart paid for this because they couldn’t have come up with an ad that’s this good,” Bernstein remarked sarcastically. Bernstein noted that four reporters missed the opportunity to interview people when there was an obvious need for local reaction. Reporter Sharon Posius, for example, had the lead story on contaminated soil and pointed out that there was a condominium nearby. But she didn’t ask any people who lived there if they were aware of the problem. After the second story that failed to include local residents, Bernstein commented that VRLand News “gives the impression when it comes on that this is about people in VRLand. But so far, there haven’t been any in the show. It’s all officials.”
In the newscast, several people weren’t properly identified, and in some cases, their names weren’t given at all. Bernstein believes this sends a message to the viewers that the person isn’t important. “If they think they’re important enough to put them on the air, the least they should do is tell us who they are.”
Overall, Bernstein felt that the hour was wasted because there wasn’t any news. He liked the production but mentioned that this style of fast-paced news presentation doesn’t allow for mistakes or technical glitches, of which there were many. “As far as I can see,” he said, “all of the thought goes into production and none of the thought goes into coverage.”
University of Western Ontario journalism professor Michael Nolan agrees with Bernstein that the Citytv style delivers more flash than content. Nolan considers “roving anchors and these types of devices or techniques cosmetic at best, with little or nothing to do with the highly important factor of communicating the day’s news to you.” Viewers can “get caught up in the techniques as opposed to the substance and the content of the news.” Nolan watches The New PL in London, which is based on The New VR, and he feels the news “represents the triumph of style over substance; maybe it’s not quite there, but it’s dangerously close.”
But the ratings for VRLand News indicate that many residents aren’t distracted by the style because they’re not watching it. More than three years have passed since the newscast went from humdrum to bright and bold, and the ratings still haven’t improved. In fact, they’ve decreased. In the spring of 1995, just before the switch to The New VR, the Bureau of Broadcast Measurement found that 79,000 people who lived in the Barrie area watched Total News. The latest published ratings indicate that in the spring of 1998, 59,000 people watched VRLand News-a loss of 20,000 viewers in just three years. Also, VRLand’s prime target audience of 18-to-34 decreased from 13,000 in 1995 to 6,000 in 1998. McIntyre, The New VR’s energetic weather forecaster, says immediately after the transition to VRLand News, “We really got smashed because people said if you’re going to change then do it well. We weren’t doing it well. That was our biggest problem. If you’re going to change something, you have to make it every bit as good, if not better.” Whether it’s because of the new style or the lack of substance, VRLand News has yet to increase its audience share.
I had hoped to get The New VR’s reaction to the preceding criticisms, but I was politely told by public relations representative Anita Cenerini that the station would no longer cooperate with my story until I promised to show them a copy of this article before it was published. I politely refused.
VRLand News has room to improve. It has only been on the air for three years and is still adjusting to the new style. The show reminds Petkovsek of Citytv when he first started working there: “City was very much an upstart station and many of the issues that we’re hearing now about VR were issues we heard then about City.” Those issues include viewers’ adverse reaction to the style and the type of stories VRLand Newsreports.
Leila McDowell, 24, sits patiently as her hairdresser prepares to colour her long, auburn hair. She has lived in Barrie all her life and watches VRLand News about once a week. She doesn’t like the newscast, especially the style. But McDowell realizes that “what we’re watching is their learning process. I would just like to watch someone who knows what they’re doing, like the news on CTV.”
Greg Lubianetzky disagrees. He’s a police officer now, but viewers of Total News, the CKVR newscast thatVRLand News replaced in 1995, would most likely remember him as an anchor and reporter. He was fresh out of college when he started in 1979, and he stayed until the first official day of The New VR. In a busy Tim Hortons, he tells me that VRLand News won’t necessarily listen to the viewers as it develops: “My impression is that they’re trying to make this audience grow into them rather than them growing with what audience is there. It’s almost an indoctrination. They provide the image, the sound and you eventually listen to it long enough and it will be part of you. Did I say propaganda?”