Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Mansbridge Wins Again

Many eons ago, when I was a broadcast journalist, the inside joke among many was the top anchors of the major networks would outlive us all – just to keep those of us gunning for their jobs at bay.

That joke – albeit in poor taste – appears to ring true.

Recently, Don Newman, one of the veteran journalists at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) – he’s got over 40-years on the job – announced his retirement. Newman has never held down the anchor desk at the flagship “The National,” but has had a number of impressive accolades over his career. Some of those include, opening CTV’s Washington bureau in 1972, winning a Gemini award for his coverage of the Meech Lake Accord in 1990, helping launch CBCNewsworld in 1989, and many other awards from his peers. Newman says he’ll be stepping down from hosting his show on Canadian politics at the end of the summer, but did not announce any additional plans.

The top dog at the CBC’s national news desk remains Peter Mansbridge – he’s been in that much coveted seat for over 15-years, and I suppose isn’t moving. Back in the late 1980’s a similar battle brewed between Mansbridge and Pamelea Wallen, another veteran CBC journalist. Wallen eventually left CBC for CTV, but because that network’s main anchor was also safely tucked in his chair, she eventually just left the news business altogether.

That’s why many in the news business sadly joke about it being one of the few businesses which eat its young.

Over at Canada’s other national network – CTV – Lloyd Robertson has anchored their flagship “The CTV National News” for just as long, if not longer.

Journalism is one of the toughest rat races to move up the corporate ladder in. It isn’t like other businesses, where if you don’t move up at one company, you can just go to another company. There are only a handful of credible news networks across the country – and each one has their very most senior person at the top.

Granted, Mansbridge and Robertson are exceptionally talented journalists. They have covered some of the world’s most memorable events with great skill.

But sometimes, it’s time to move on and let someone else hold the reins.

I remember watching the CBC’s coverage of U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to Canada. After the initial landing of Airforce One, and then the much anticipated convoy of vehicles from the airport to the Parliament buildings, the two went to a private lunch.

The media wasn’t allowed into the lunch, and Mansbridge had some time to fill on air, live, before they were allowing cameras inside for a quick photo opportunity.

To fill time, Mansbridge started reading the menu of what the President and Prime Minister would be eating. In the middle of his reading, he broke off saying: “I can’t believe I’m reading this thing.”

Being a former television reporter – hell just being a reporter – I was shocked and dismayed that he said that on live television.

Yes, its fluff, and yes he was trying to fill some airtime until the real meat and potatoes. But, to simply dismiss the lunch menu right away as something beneath him to read out loud was in poor taste, and shows how the longer someone stays in the top, the more arrogant they become.

Mansbridge never seemed to balk at telling us what was on the menu during numerous visits from other dignitaries years ago, as I recall during those live broadcasts. So why is he now?

Even though it is fluff, for us common folk that never get to have lunch with international dignitaries, it is nice to add some color by telling us some of the trivial fun stuff – like the menu, even things about the portraits on the walls.

In the States, CNN talked about some of the portraits on the walls within the lunch room during President Obama’s swearing in lunch, to fill time. Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s equivalent to CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, didn’t seem to mind telling us all about these works of art – despite it also being a clever way to fill some live air time.

But then, Blitzer hasn’t been in the top anchor chair as long as Mansbridge or Robertson. Maybe it is time to shake things up over at Canada’s big networks, so that we continue to get the coverage we’ve come to expect from our national broadcasters?

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