Looking Forward, Looking Back: CBC News and the Revamped National

Article originally posted on August 2 at Activehistory.ca

The new anchors of The National. L to R – Rosemary Barton, Andrew Chang, Adrienne Arsenault, Ian Hanomansing. Via CBC.ca

Since Peter Mansbridge announced last year that he was retiring from his post as anchor of The National, there has been plenty of speculation about how the show would use his departure as an opportunity to revamp. Criticisms of the show have ranged from political bias to being too centered around its anchor and many looked forward to a fresh start. As a result, yesterday’s announcement that the anchor position will be split among Rosemary Barton, Andrew Chang, Adrienne Arsenault, and Ian Hanomansing created quite a stir.

While The Beaverton may have won for the funniest story about the change, the announcement simultaneously harkens back to the CBC’s earliest days, when announcers were not expected to be household names, while also signalling a potentially dangerous shift in how the national broadcaster intends to deliver its news.

During the Moose River Mine Disaster in the spring of 1936, J. Frank Willis became a celebrity for his fiery and extravagant descriptions over Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission stations. When the CBC started later that fall, General Manager Gladstone Murray wanted to make sure that no personality was bigger than the Corporation, which contributed to his effort to standardize the accent and vocabulary heard on CBC programs.

Over time that policy was challenged by the likes of Matthew Halton, whose updates from Europe during the Second World War made him one of the best-known journalists of the period. Since then, the idea that journalists should remain largely anonymous has really virtually disappeared. One could argue that Knowlton Nash and Peter Mansbridge shattered that idea in Canada as both are inextricably linked with the CBC’s wider news service.

In an era where news outlets are routinely accused of partisan motives, returning to the days of less prominent individual journalists can help alleviate that problem. For the CBC, the news division will no longer be identified by a single person, whose personal beliefs can come to represent the entire organization. Additionally, four people, who have very different professional backgrounds, bring different perspectives and, with that, a layer of protection against claims of partisanship.

If the CBC had just announced the personnel change, that would have been fine. But the Corporation added something to its announcement that made yesterday feel like yet another step in the ever increasing shift towards American style news.

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Science of the Seance

Following the excitement of our 100th History Slam episode, we tried something new for episode 101: a live audience. As part of the paperback launch of Beth Robertson’s Science of the Seance: Transnational Networks and Gendered Bodies in the Study of Psychic Phenomena, 1918-40, we held a live podcast. In the episode, we talk about the scientists who conducted the research, how they connected with each other, and the ways in which the space became gendered. We also open the floor to questions from the audience and discuss the challenges of researching such a unique topic. You can find the full post here.

History Five Years Later

This was a somewhat momentous week for the History Slam podcast as we posted our 100th episode. In this episode, I talk with the podcast’s most frequent (starting with the never released pilot episode) guest Aaron Boyes. We talk about the podcast’s origins, how history has changed over the past five years, and the adoption of digital tools by historians. We also talk about the job market for historians and the pros and cons of doing a PhD in history. As an added bonus, we talk with Megan Reilly-Boyes about the benefits and challenges of doing history in the 21st century. You can find the full post here.

Digital History Open House

We posted our 99th episode of the History Slam podcast today at Activehistory.ca. In this episode of the History Slam, I venture to the University of Ottawa’s Digital History Open House. I talk with the Open House’s organizer, Jo McCutcheon, about her digital history class, teaching students to use digital tools, and the challenges associated with non-traditional projects. I then speak with two of the presenting students, Chris Pihlak and Chloe Madigan, about their respective projects. The episode finishes with my conversation with Carleton University’s Shawn Graham, the Open House’s keynote speaker. We chat about failing in public, creating spaces where it’s ok to productively fail, and how to assess non-traditional history work. You can find the full post here.

High School History Trips

On Wednesday, we posted our most recent podcast episode. In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with high school teacher (and friend of the show) Ashley Baine. We talk about preparing students for international travel, incorporating experiential learning into the trips, and getting back into the classroom upon their return to Canada. We also talk about memorable teachers and incorporating new strategies into our own courses. You can find the full post here.

Using and Managing Water

In one of our recent editions of the History Slam, we looked into the way in which water has been managed in western society. In this episode, I talk with Professor Jeremy Schmidt about his new book Water: Abundance, Scarcity, and Security in the Age of Humanity. We talk about the origins of western water management, the exportation of that structure around the world, and the ways in which water has become a commodity. We also talk about individual efforts to challenge that structure and ensuring access to clean water for everyone. You can find the full post here.

Fake History

Originally Posted at Activehistory.ca on March 29, 2017

Back in the fall of 2014, we had an idea for a podcast episode. The premise was that you were at a party, somebody finds out that you study history and asks a question to which you don’t know the answer. Normally, you might say that you weren’t sure, but in this setting you decide to have fun and make up an answer that sounds plausible. Perhaps not the most inspired idea we ever had, but we thought it was fun and recorded the show on November 27, 2014.

The decision was made, however, to not run the episode that fall, in part because we had a bunch of other material to post. Little did we know that the show was merely ahead of its time. Two years later the idea of Fake News has entered the political arena and there is more focus than ever on what constitutes ‘facts.’ In reading about ‘Fake News’ and the term’s changing meaning over the past few months, I constantly thought about this episode. In this episode we created fake history – everything was made up out of thin air. That’s fake. History that challenges your preconceived world view is not fake, however. Just as news that challenges your political perspective isn’t fake.

When we are too liberal in using the term fake news to describe stories based in fact that we disagree with, we distract from what truly constitutes fake news – like those conspiratorial stories that lead a person to a pizza place in Washington, D.C. with a gun. When CBS edits an interview that portrays Sean Hannity negatively, that’s not fake news. While Hannity has a legitimate argument about the context of the exchange and the need to make the entire interview available, the portion CBS aired isn’t fake. And when it’s called fake, it minimizes the damage done by ‘news’ stories that are complete fabrications.

That false equivalency between truly fake stories and stories that you may disagree with is dangerous. By using the term fake news as a partisan method to discredit political opponents, the term loses its significance when applied to stories that are legitimately fake.

This is ultimately why I decided to post this episode. We had a lot of fun recording this back in 2014 – there are a lot of laughs in this episodes. It is meant to entertain (whether we accomplish that is up to you), but in the current context, I think it shows just how easy it is to make things up that sound plausible. As we recorded, I was the only one who knew the topics ahead of time, the others were coming up with their answers off the top of their heads. That the answers sound plausible is evidence of how fake stories can sound real and how important it is to check the veracity of the content we consume on a daily basis.

In that spirit, I hope you enjoy this episode of the History Slam!