The Departure of Peter Mansbridge — A Meditation

peter-mansbridgeIs television news entertainment?

No, it is not. It is information.

The departure of Peter Mansbridge next July gives the CBC an opportunity to clear up this confusion. It should remove television news from the world of show biz – from the need to please – to the world of public service where it belongs – the same world in which CBC radio news thrives.

The skills an anchor requires are those of an actor performing a text written by somebody else. But, let us face it, any good announcer can read the news.

Celebrity anchors have become incompatible with public broadcasting. It is an insult to a mature public to assume that an attractive face conditioned to look trustworthy is needed to “sell” the news.

Other networks are also having second thoughts on this subject. And no wonder. They have to pay extravagantly high salaries to keep their stars from wandering off and offering their services to the competition. And their celebrity status tends to give them inordinate influence over the men and women who actually have editorial responsibilities.

Not long ago, some ambiguities in the CBC’s guidelines led Peter Mansbridge to accept substantial fees for speaking, for example, to oil companies, until these ambiguities were cleared up. No doubt he also had to be told, from time to time, not to be too chummy with political leaders.

But Peter Mansbridge’s overall competence has never been in doubt and, quite rightly, thousands of people will miss him.

But it is time for the CBC to turn the page.


7 responses to “The Departure of Peter Mansbridge — A Meditation

  1. I might add: TV news, unlike Radio, distracts the viewer by the presence of a deliverer, to the point where ones attention is so focused on the reader, his/her moves, dress, hair style, mannerism, relegating the news itself to the background. Radio offers no such distractions and this fact should be a lesson on how to present the news on TV: News footage with voice over sans anchor.

  2. The pictures are better on the radio, as a wise person once said…

  3. Peter Mansbridge’s overall competence/judgement has been challenged in the media coverage in the wake of his retirement announcement. He has sway over the content he reads, and there are reasons to question choices made on content and questions asked of interview subjects (especially in past year). Criticism is muted because he is captain of “home team” in the view of so many. Personally believe his poor judgement extends to lengthy departure schedule.

  4. Just a reminder – there have been powerful reader presences on radio too. Lorne Greene , the voice of doom for one. Howard K.Smith for another.
    With Mansbridge gone who will become the accepted authority figure to run town meetings at which he is superb and also do the coverage of major events – anonymity won’t cut it, will it? Personality is not news. But I doubt that it can be entirely eliminated from the delivery system.

  5. Sorry, Eric, but as you might suspect, I don’t agree with you. Peter’s role went way beyond “news reader”, as Mr. Townsend pointed out. And, by the very nature of his Journalism and experience, he exercised much influence in editorial decisions. Whoever replaces Mansbridge should have most of his qualifications, and represent all facets of CBC News. There was considerable criticism in the past year, and deservedly so. But, I fault not just Mansbridge, but more so his bosses who, in my view, did a lousy job of managing and enforcing policy.
    And finally, whether The National is newstainment, or simply information, it is in competition with several other outlets, and for now at least, it should continue to try to better the competition, whether for sales reasons (can’t get away from this right now) or simply because CBC News should always try to be the best, as measured objectively by viewers as well journalistic standards.

  6. David Schatzky

    How many Canadians get their news by watching CBC TV’s The National?
    More or fewer than in earlier times?
    Does anyone under forty watch television news at all?

    What’s the future of “nightly national television flagship newscasts”?

    Perhaps the big change we have to acknowledge is the change in the way news is delivered, not who is the front person for a form of news delivery which is in decline. How can a public broadcaster deliver important information in ways other than the traditional nightly newscast?

  7. David Schatzky

    Today, I asked a bright older teenager from a well-educated CBC-ish home if he and any of his friends watch major night time television newscasts these days. His answer, yes, regularly: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver on HBO.

    That’s a U.S. news satire show.