More voices, more places
CBC North knocks down barriers between programs to survive cuts

by Janet Smellie
Northern News Services

NNSL (Mar 17/97) - While CBC North employees have yet to feel the full impact of the federal cuts - more are coming - the new "single journalistic" approach to programming is giving staff hope.

Recent cuts have seen two full-time programming positions in Yellowknife axed, as well as layoff notices hitting most temporary and casual workers. CBC North also has lost the position of executive producer. More cuts will come this June.

Wearing two hats isn't new to Joan Merrill, who, despite losing her job as executive producer, has been filling in for station manager Craig Mackie, who's away on secondment.

And while she's agreed to leave the corporation at the end of this month after 15 years of service, Merrill's optimistic the work CBC North has done to deal with the cuts will ensure the radio service continues to offer Northerners the service their used to.

The new approach, which has torn down the barrier between news, current affairs and Dene-language departments, now sees the station's new journalists pool contributing to both news and current affairs programs.

"For example, a Dene-language programmer producing a report from Kakisa in South Slavey will also file a report for English news, or even appear on another host's show to give a report," Merrill says.

Before, reporters would be assigned to a single program and would only be heard at certain times of the day.

"It's a lean machine, where the rational and cause over why we got here is horrible, but it is generating a certain amount of excitement because people are doing things they've never done before. It's more raw, less refined, the product is definitely less-produced, but I think the result is we're offering more variety," Merrill says.

"There's never a dull moment," admits Ian Hanna, former news editor turned co-ordinator of the pool that now churns out news and current affair items for the programmers.

"There's a must, an urgency happening here. If we don't accomplish this, we stand to lose more program hours," Hanna says, adding that Toronto executives are monitoring their progress and "there will be more evaluations and more cuts coming.

Hanna, who shares the job of co-ordinating the pool with Judy McLinton, says that, though it took a while for "people to feel out their new roles, (he's) surprised at how successful the transition has gone."

Former programmer turned pool contributor George Tuccaro, whom many Northerners know as an entertainer as well as a veteran broadcaster, jokes when asked "What end of the pool are you in, the deep or shallow end?"

"I'm in neither end," he answers "I'm still on the diving board waiting to jump in."

Tuccaro, who's been a broadcaster with the CBC since 1971, now announces the nightly television news on CBC Northbeat and reads the 5:30 p.m. regional radio news, as well as contributing stories to current affairs and sports programs.

Tuccaro says that, because of his new position in the pool, he's able to offer coverage of one of his favorite beats, amateur sports.

Known for his offbeat humor, Tucarro says he's "trying to keep everyone smiling during these times, it's sad that we're losing some good people."

But with his usual Tuccaro humor, the interview ends with of course another joke.

"What's the definition of a CBC optimist?" he asks.

"The guy who shows up at work and brings his sandwich with him. The pessimist, well, he comes to work, all right, but he leaves his vehicle running outside."