What news watchers want from a post-Mansbridge The National
A major overhaul is coming to the CBC's flagship news broadcast after its veteran anchor steps down.
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TORONTO — With Peter Mansbridge set to sign off as CBC News chief correspondent and anchor of "The National," speculation abounds as to what will happen with the public broadcaster's flagship program.
Mansbridge's last night on "The National" comes on Friday and he'll then helm the CBC's Canada Day coverage on Saturday. The CBC has said it will unveil a revamped edition of "The National" on Oct. 30 with multiple hosts, a new format, a new set and new graphics.
It's a change industry observers welcome.
"I would urge and applaud them to use this opportunity to create something different," said Janice Neil, chairwoman of the school of journalism at Ryerson University.
"I think it should distinguish itself from the other stations. You only have to look at the ratings tumble over the years to see that CTV has continued to do so well with its newscast, it's not declining the way the others have. So why should the CBC try to go head-to-head? I know they're not the same hours but why should they?
"It's an opportunity to try different things, like there is experimentation elsewhere in local and in other markets."
Including airings on both CBC and CBC News Network, "The National"'s average minute audience between Aug. 29, 2016 to April 9, 2017 was 866,000 viewers, according to data supplied by ratings agency Numeris. Including all CTV and CTV News Channel broadcasts, the average audience of "CTV National News" during the same period was 1.3 million.
In an age when many viewers consume news all day on social media, some say "The National" needs to focus on in-depth conversation and context to the headlines.
"The only way a newscast like that, I think, is going to work in the future is (if) it's not going to tell you the news, it's rather going to make sense of the news," said Richard Stursberg, a former CBC executive and the new president of the writers' group Pen Canada.
"So then it becomes about context, background, analysis, investigatory. It becomes all that kind of stuff rather than just telling me what the news is — because I already know that."
Ian Morrison, spokesman for the advocacy organization Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, declared: "Judged by the hard numbers, it's time for a change."
"The status quo isn't working and so shaking things up and trying another approach is something that I think all viewers should welcome," said Morrison, noting he'd like to see a current affairs-style element to the show that appeals to a younger generation.
"A lot of the appetite for watching 'The National' now is those panels that they have, the Chantal Heberts or Jennifer Ditchburns or whatever ... helping to contextualize the information and I think that that's really important."
Diversity is also a critical factor the CBC should be considering, he added.
"I think there's a lot of pressure, and appropriate pressure, on the public broadcaster to reflect Canada on the screen," Morrison said. "And that involves diversity in age, in facial colour, in male-female balance and a whole range of things."
Mansbridge announced nearly a year ago his planned exit from "The National," where he's been at the helm for nearly 30 years.
He said in a recent interview with The Canadian Press that he hasn't been a part of the decision-making for the new show, although he has offered input.
"I do raise the cautions about risking going too far in change and I think those warnings are respected," he said.
The switch to multiple anchors isn't a huge change, added Mansbridge, noting: "It's always been a team anchor in our case."
Stursberg argued the role of news anchors has changed in the digital age and they now have much less influence.
"The idea that there's a father figure or a mother figure who is the trusted source of all wisdom that comes from the national newscast, I think those days are just gone," he said.
Neil noted the news anchor has typically been seen as "the captain of the ship," but "now viewers are increasingly perfectly happy to be their own programmer."
Still, Mansbridge does believe that in a time of crisis, viewers want to watch an "anchor they respect and like the most."
Morrison is happy to see "The National" move away from the idea of "the cult of the personality."
"Mansbridge would exemplify that in spades," said Morrison. "He's reported to be quite influential around story content, editorial decisions, how much time is spent on this and that.
"All of a sudden he's gone on the first of July and I kind of welcome that. I think it's better to have a variety of sources in this age where context is important."
— With files from David Friend.
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