Skip to main content

Last week, writing an online piece about the TV spectacle that was former Ontario PC leader Patrick Brown's press conference, I was in error about CBC's The National coverage. The 10 p.m. ET edition of The National on CBC's main network did carry coverage, and the wording of the piece was duly changed. Like many of you, I suspect, I can be confused about whether I'm seeing a live newscast or a repeat of an earlier edition.

If you watch The National at 9 p.m. ET on CBC NN, you're watching the live edition airing to the Maritimes. On the main network at 10 p.m., it is a live edition, updated if necessary from the Maritime edition.

Usually these days, The National does not run at 10 p.m. ET on CBC NN unless there is breaking news. But, if you later go to the The National channel on YouTube, what you are seeing is the 9 p.m. Maritime edition, not the later and updated editions. Exactly what happens on at different times is beyond me.

It's like a puzzle and, as it evolves, the current iteration of The National remains a puzzle. It is no longer the baffling, near-hallucinatory experience it was during its first week with multiple hosts and a new format. Still, it is sometimes hard to fathom its exact mandate and purpose as a nightly news program. The new format was off-putting to some of CBC TV's loyal viewers and it's possible they have never returned. If they do, they will find an improved program but one that can be excruciatingly unengaging.

Increasingly, it seems to be restoring the principle of offering a lineup of the day's top stories with up-to-date reporting and some analysis. Sometimes, mind you, the approach is so scattershot it looks like a muddle. For instance, the background and analysis has elements of CBC Radio coverage.

On Monday's program – the one I saw online and assume was the 9 p.m. ET/Maritime edition – the two lead stories included interviews done for CBC Radio's As It Happens. Phone interviews placed over screen footage can be useful and can sometimes be redundant.

The top story was the announcement by Toronto police that they believed a murder suspect is a serial killer. Some solid scrutiny from experts followed. Next was an overview of #MeToo reverberations about sexual harassment hitting national politics in Canada, with recent Ontario politics events included. It felt all too brief given the turbulence that the culture shift is causing. Then a short piece about Doug Ford entering the race to become leader of the Ontario PCs, with a requisite and nicely timed mention from Rosemary Barton that Ford was making the announcement from his mother's basement. Next, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May asking for an inquiry into herself and her alleged bullying behaviour.

In the version I saw, there was then an interruption for a piece about about how a police sketch of a subject is done. Then back to the news and the anniversary of the Quebec mosque shooting with a report from Quebec on Islamophobia and Jaela Bernstien reporting. Then supershort pieces on flooding in British Columbia, followed by an item on auto insurance in B.C., then the story of two cops in Toronto apparently consuming pot edibles, next the North American free-trade agreement talks which was more substantial, and an even more substantial item about the start of the trial of a man accused of murdering Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg, then the start of the trial in North Battleford, Sask., of the man accused of killing an Indigenous man, Colten Boushie. And, finally, an item about baseball's Cleveland Indians removing the Chief Wahoo logo from its uniforms.

One got the sense that the latter three items were meant to be linked as Indigenous-related stories just as one sensed the item about Elizabeth May was linked to the #MeToo reverberations story and the piece about Ontario politics. But this was never clearly stated as a theme. It's confusing, as the viewer wonders if the stories are presented as linked news-motif stories or in a hierarchy of news stories.

There was a documentary about survivors of the Quebec mosque shooting that was moving, poignant and superbly told. It was so good you wondered why it wasn't given more promotion earlier in the program.

No doubt those involved are trying, nobly perhaps, to offer a newscast that not only offers news items but presents a picture of the society we live in. Still, much of it seems unattached to the pace and fury of the day's fast news cycle.

We live in a peculiar and bracing period. The equilibrium of power is being disturbed almost daily and the shifting sands are complex and mysterious. The National is trying to make it all explicable, but it still seems, in this format, curiously ill equipped to do that.

Interact with The Globe