When I worked in television news, it was occasionally called the 1,000-pound electronic pencil.
That's because of its cumbersome nature. So many people work on each story and it's so damn expensive to produce.
In those pre-Internet days, it was common to have a camera operator, video editor, story producer, assignment editor, and news researcher all working with a reporter to put together a two-minute TV news story.
The show had a lineup editor, news director, intro writer, and floor director. Newscasts also needed a weatherperson, a sportscaster, and someone on reception who did double duty monitoring police scanners.
A veritable army puts together TV newscasts. A 1,000-pound electronic pencil, indeed!
It takes many gross ratings points—GRPs as they're known in the business—to generate the revenue to pay for all those bodies, not to mention the technical gear.
Today, Vancouverites are talking about the departure of two anchors from CTV News Vancouver.
Tamara Taggart and Mike Killeen will no longer be behind the desk of the 6 p.m. newscast, which can be a big money maker or money loser for TV stations.
I can only conclude that this pair didn't attract sufficiently high ratings.
Unlike Global, which has round-the-clock B.C. news coverage, or CBC local news, which gets a boost from its local radio service, CTV Vancouver is largely on its own.
The 24-hour CTV national news network is based in Toronto, and there isn't a lot of integration between it and the Vancouver newscast. That doesn't help the profile of local CTV news staff.
What about ageism?
Some will be tempted to attribute the ouster of Taggart and Killeen to their age.
And it's true that many TV anchors are sent packing or reassigned or retire when they approach or pass the age of 50.
But if they can still pull in those gross ratings points, they can stay on the job nearly forever. Lloyd Robertson and Tony Parsons are two such examples.
For now, CTV veteran Mi-Jung Lee is anchoring the flagship 6 p.m. program. But if history offers any lessons, the station may install someone younger as the permanent anchor.
This way, a marketing campaign can be crafted to help build an audience for years to come.
Reporter Scott Hurst is one possibility. He's the son of retired CTV News president Robert Hurst, which will help his standing with the big boys who run the network.
Scott Hurst also has hard-news experience, which is important in an era when anchors are increasingly called upon to go live with reporters in the field.
Perhaps he would be paired with CTV reporter and occasional anchor Nafeesa Karim, another hard-news reporter who has plenty of experience in radio and TV.
CTV Vancouver has broken plenty of stories over the years by Lee and reporter Jon Woodward, in particular.
But for many viewers, there's a perception that its newscast is still softer than Global's and far more corporate than CBC's.
That's partially due to who's been behind the anchor desk at different times during the day, but it's not the only reason.
CTV Vancouver also isn't known for breaking big stories out of the legislature.
Another problem is its relentless promotion of the Vancouver Whitecaps, who are sponsored by Bell Media's owner, Bell Canada. It's a constant reminder to savvy viewers that Bell's local newscast plays favourites with its sports coverage.
I expect that as CTV Vancouver retools for the crucial fall ratings period, it will try to ramp up its gravitas to make inroads on Global B.C.
Naming a hard-news anchor will likely be part of the equation.
But until CTV Vancouver demonstrates that it's more serious about covering the most important provincial news stories out of Victoria, it could still find it difficult to become the city's top-rated TV newscast. It's taken hyperlocal to the extreme.
CTV Vancouver is also hampered by its 11:30 p.m. slot for its late-night newscast. It's fairly boneheaded on the part of management to put on a local newscast right after CBC and Global have already aired their local 11 p.m. newscasts.
By 11:35 p.m., anyone in Vancouver who's seriously interested in current affairs has already switched to Stephen Colbert.
But because Toronto is still running the show at CTV, that's not likely to change. Head office is going to continue hogging the 11 p.m. slot for national anchor Lisa LaFlamme, and the local station is going to be damned as a result.More