MISC.: Brian Stewart, a CBC News veteran, replies demonstrating class and professionalism

Recently I met Brian Stewart, well known foreign correspondent for CBC News. A professional and a gentleman to the highest level. I wrote Mr. Stewart lamenting that after his convocation speech, the audience were not given a question period.

He not only read my email, but he answered my questions at length.


Richard meets Brian Stewart in person

I asked Mr Stewart the following:

1. How CBC broadcast news would change its format from anchor based news with Mansbridge to what? They are not going to replace Mansbridge with Mesley, or Swain or Mark Murphy or any other personality. Each of these persons has an authoritarian presence in newscasting but the days of “anchored newscasts” are going the way of the dodo…based on social media and abbreviated attention spans as spawned by that media.
2. Authenticity, veracity and integrity of news reporters in light of the artificiality and lack of authenticity of news currently being reported…what will news reporters do, how will reporting change?
3. And finally, I posted a photo of an audience member using their iPhone while Stewart was speaking. I commented that young people find focussing on one thing for long periods to be a challenge and I blamed this short attention span on extensive use of social media.
Mr. Stewart replied from a base of broad experience, informed knowledge and hard thinking.
Read his response below:
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Hello Mr. Szpin,

Thanks for your email and for the picture.

I’ve only got a copy of the speech in Caps, and I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with some spelling mistakes. As to your questions:–

1) I do not know what CBC The National will do after Peter M leaves at the end of this month and plans are quite secret at the moment. My sense is that they will go for several hosts, as many as three.

But I do not quite agree that “anchored newscasts” are going the way of the dodo. CTV still has a solo anchor and is doing very well with her. The three main US Newscasts, ABC, NBC, and CBS still have far larger audiences than the all news channels and each has a solo host. Even on all news networks are finding a single host has a lot of appeal to audiences….Rachel Maddow of MSNBC is now trumping the Fox News solo host who appears against her. Over on CNN the solo hosts of various hour shows are the big stars.  If you look over the Europe including the UK its again a case that networks go for star quality and specific hosting skills and a single anchor tends to build brand loyalty….hence are paid the big bucks.

I tend to find combinations of two or more hosts tend to come and go. Remember the chaired anchors on CBC after the National/Journal hour was dropped for NewsMagazine. Didn’t survive long.

There tends to be particular skills that the best solo anchors have.  Someone like Peter has an extraordinary capacity to deliver calm, thoughtful, and highly informed anchoring for hours on end even in the midst of the most dramatic crisis…like 9/11 and the attack on Parliament. They have decades of experience that gives them a huge edge on election nights and major event coverage.  Audiences still like experience and come to trust the reliability of someone they’ve known for many years. In the US main news, of course, they are always taking focus group soundings as to what people want in news delivery—they tend to like their anchors in middle-age or older (also people often prefer the uncle look to someone who looks younger than they are.  Note Wolf Blitzer).  I hope the CBC experiment works well, but one never knows beforehand.

2) I tend to believe news reporters on TV or in print need to cling to balance and fairly old tried and true virtues. Forget most the corn and showbiz attempts. Learn how to present news that informs with solid balance and reliability. Work on writing skills all the time…and stay extremely well informed. Unfortunately, the modern pace of news somewhat limits the amount of time journalists have to stay well informed, although the access to the internet balances that somewhat. A foreign correspondent today, for example, has extraordinary information at his fingertips—incomparably more than we had when library files were our mains source of background—but they have a terrible time crush to deal with. They tend to be extremely bright but I wish networks gave them more downtime to attend seminars and courses. They also need to face more personal risks in the field these days and the logistical hassles are enormous. The ones that survive in today’s environment are as good as any in journalism history…even including the like of icons like Edward R. Morrow and Mathew Halton. They just don’t have the star treatment given them that their elders had.

Hope this and the script are of some use.

Best wishes,
Brian Stewart


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