The Journalist as Celebrity
Publication
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 30 Jun 1988, p. 37-43
Description
Creator
Mansbridge, Peter, Speaker
Media Type
Text
Item Type
Speeches
Description
The role of the media in today's world: the things we do and why we do them. First, some remarks about the speaker's recent decision to remain a broadcaster in Canada, and the controversy that caused. Current challenges for journalists, including new technologies and the increasing exposure of journalists themselves. The challenges of responsibilities that are becoming ever more public. The failure of the media to discuss with the people they cover, just how the job is done. How decisions are made; the criteria used to determine what is "news." Weaknesses of TV news. Canadians' reliance on TV news for most of their information. The basic elements of the newsmaking picture: the media; government, business, labour; the public. The responsibilities of each of those elements.
Date of Original
30 Jun 1988
Subject(s)
Language of Item
English
Copyright Statement
The speeches are free of charge but please note that the Empire Club of Canada retains copyright. Neither the speeches themselves nor any part of their content may be used for any purpose other than personal interest or research without the explicit permission of the Empire Club of Canada.
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Empire Club of Canada
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WWW address
Agency street/mail address

Fairmont Royal York Hotel

100 Front Street West, Floor H

Toronto, ON, M5J 1E3

Full Text
THE JOURNALIST AS CELEBRITY
Peter Mansbridge Television Journalist, CBC National
Chairman: Ivan McFarland, Vice-President, Royal Commonwealth Society

Introduction:

I am very pleased to introduce our guest speaker today, Peter Mansbridge. By the time he became Chief Correspondent for CBC Television News and Anchorman of The National on May Day 1988, he had already said no to the United States networks in order to stay here. He had many reporting and broadcast achievements over a career that began 20 years ago in Churchill, Manitoba, where he helped develop the CBC News Service to the North.

In very short order and in recognition of his outstanding capacity, Peter Mansbridge moved to Winnipeg in 1971 as a reporter for CBC Radio and in the following year he joined the local CBC-TV News.

In 1975 he became CBC-TV's national reporter for Saskatchewan and in 1976 he moved to Ottawa for four years on assignment to the Parliamentary Bureau. He is also the anchor of Sunday Report and CBC Television news specials.

I had a little fun looking up in my Oxford Dictionary the meaning of Anchor and Anchorman as noun and verb. The noun refers to someone who is playing a vital part, which Peter Mansbridge does as a compere in broadcast programs. As a verb, it means that he is securing a ship, I suppose some of us would refer kindly to CBC as "the good ship CBC." It could also be said to be fixing it firmly, not weighing it down.

Now as Chief Correspondent and Anchor of The National, which is

Canada's highest rated newscast, Peter Mansbridge heads a team of award-winning regional and specialist reporters and outstanding foreign correspondents. As a reporter for The National he has been on location in more than a dozen countries providing us with reports on subjects as varied as Mao Tse Tung's last days in China; the exodus of the boat people from Southeast Asia and the Iran Contra Scandal in the United States. Sunday report, which he has anchored since 1980, is a unique 25-minute broadcast providing a solid combination of elements from both The National and The Journal.

As for the CBC television news specials, he has played a very vital part in bringing Canadians on-the-spot live commentary and analysis of national events, thereby providing a Canadian perspective to international stories.

Over the years, Mr. Mansbridge has provided comprehensive coverage of some of the most significant news stories in Canada and around the world. These include the 1984 federal election coverage, the leadership conventions which brought Brian Mulroney and John Turner to the helms of their respective parties, the last two Royal visits, and the two Papal visits.

Today, we are honoured and delighted to have Peter Mansbridge who has done a great deal, in my mind, to alter significantly the information and socializing roles of the TV broadcast medium.

Peter Mansbridge:

I'd like to talk to you about a number of things today, specifically the role of the media in today's world - some of the things we do and why we do them. But first I should talk a little about a decision I made recently that seems to have received a lot of attention.

I can tell you all the attention has somewhat embarrassed me. I'm supposed to be in the business of reporting news, not making it. And, believe me, I certainly prefer it that way. A lot has been said about my rather simple decision to stay with the CBC and in Canada, and a lot of what's been said has blown things somewhat out of proportion. It's been said that I wear special Maple Leaf underpants and that at night before I climb into bed I wrap myself in the flag for comfort. Let me assure you neither is true.

Sure I love this country, but who in this room doesn't. We have a lot to be proud of here - and we are proud, and we always will be. But lots of Canadians go to the States and other countries without losing that pride or love of country. And they will continue to do so.

A lot also has been said about the money - that CBS offered me an enormous amount of money. Well that's true, they did. I won't say how much, I never have. So whatever numbers you've heard just remember they didn't come from me or CBS, and so an intelligent person may wonder just how accurate the numbers being mentioned are.

But let me say this about money. Money isn't everything, but I'm not stupid either. CBS was offering me a guarantee of financial security for the rest of my life and I had to take that into consideration obviously, and so did the CBC. I wanted security here as well, and I got it. Mind you there are degrees of financial security, but what I received here is ample.

No, the major factor in this decision was not the flag or money, it was the job and the way we do it here in this country. Let me explain. On the job, l had to make a decision between an influential American broadcasting job, one that would have me working in the early, very early morning, mixing some political interviews with mainly entertainment, fashion and cooking interviews - between that job, and the most influential, most important and some might say the most powerful job in Canadian television journalism.

The decision then became easy. It's the job I've spent almost 20 years working towards, it's the job I've been trained for, and it's the job I've always wanted.

But some said: "Peter you stayed in the little leagues, you could have played in the big leagues. It's like the star centre on the Sherbrooke Beavers saying, no I don't want to play for the Montreal Canadiens, I want to stay here in Sherbrooke the rest of my life:"

Hogwash, that's a lousy comparison.

We in Canadian television journalism are in the big leagues. We play this game as well or better than anyone else in the world, and our record shows it. Sure the American networks have more money and more resources but their journalists are no better. If they were, why would they have to keep hiring

Canadians for their top jobs? Why do they often choose our reports over their own when major international news stories occur? Why, when we work jointly in the field with the U.S. networks, do they often use the news pictures shot by Canadian crews over their own pictures?

Why? Because we play in the same league and we play as well or better than they do.

We are also willing to spend more time analysing issues, events and people, looking at stories in depth. Do you see any of the major American networks following their nightly newscasts with an in-depth analytical broadcast like The Journal? On both sides of the border, there is a serious commitment to covering the news of the day. But the commitment on this side of the border, not just at the CBC, I believe runs deeper. Canadians want more and more reporting on news and current affairs and we're doing our best to deliver it. And when our 24-hour news channel goes on the air - and I am still very positive that it will - our commitment will run even deeper and your desire for even more information will be fulfilled.

So those are the main reasons I stayed. But staying would still not have been possible without the actions of one man. In the days leading up to my final decision, l was having a lot of difficulty making up my mind. It was an incredible offer and the CBC wasn't really offering anything new to me. Then late one night Knowlton Nash phoned me and asked me to come over to his place for a chat. It was midnight and he knew what I had been going through - and he didn't want me to go. He offered me his job to stay. It was an incredibly emotional moment for both of us. But it was the turning point. After that there was no way that I could leave.

I just want to make one more point about this - and it speaks to the point of some embarrassment for me - all the coverage this story received. I was stunned when the morning after the decision I opened my front door and saw my name in the headlines, and my picture on the front page of The Globe and Mail. I could see it making the entertainment pages, but not the front pages.

After all this was just one Canadian staying home, not going anywhere. I guess I was stunned because I'm not the first Canadian journalist to say no. In fact I'd already said no three other times and no one blinked. But for every Canadian journalist who's left, there are an equal number who have stayed.

Just in my circle of colleagues: David Halton, Joe Schlesinger, Wendy Mesley, Mike Duffy, Sheila MacVicar. They've all been courted for bigger money at the American networks and chosen to stay with the CBC. And CTV has an equally impressive list of those who have chosen to stay.

And why stop at journalists. Look at business. Look at any walk of professional life in this country. You'll find thousands of successful Canadians whose mark has been noticed outside Canada, but when wooed have chosen to stay.

Well enough on that. Let's move on to some more general comments about the media and the way we do our job. These are fascinating days to be in journalism. The challenge is enormous; the technology advances so rapidly that what's up to date today is often out of date tomorrow. We can broadcast literally from anywhere, thats how far satellites have taken us. And because of the portable way we shoot and edit, the only deadline is air time.

But these are also fascinating days for journalists because in many ways the spotlight is on us, on the way we do our job, how responsible we are to ourselves and to the public we serve.

We are being challenged, for the way we cover stories and for the stories we cover.

Now there is no doubt that we journalists are a very defensive lot; we love to dish it out, but more often than not we are quick to deny when the finger is pointed at us. And of course that's not healthy.

Now I think the controversy over how the media operate is partly due to the failure of the media to discuss with the people they cover, just how the job is done, how the decisions are made about what we think you need to know.

And in saying that I realize I'm saying a lot - what we think you need to know - it sounds pretty pretentious. What we are actually saying by that is that we are constantly making judgments about what is news, and what isn't - what affects our lives, and what doesn't. Making those judgments means we are being very selective. Because let me assure you that for every item you see on the National, literally dozens and dozens of other items have been, through the day, judged not important, not news.

How do we make those decisions? What are the basic criteria used to judge and select news?

We judge by a number of age-old journalistic theories. I feel that viewers tuning into any newscast are first asking:

• Is the world safe? • Is the country safe? • Is the province safe? • Is the city safe?

• Is the street safe? • Is the home safe? Are they all safe?

They want to know whether the day has left them richer or poorer, the so-called pocketbook issues. And they want to know what's different, what's changed, what's good, and what's bad.

Those are some of the basic questions we have to answer every night on The National. But let me express a serious weakness of TV news. It's not how we do the job. It's the end product, it simply isn't long enough. The National is only 22 minutes long, the same length as all network TV newscasts on this continent. Twenty-two minutes is not very long. Pick up The Globe and Mail or any major newspaper and just read the front page. Read every word on the front page and it may take you 22 minutes.

That gives you some idea of just how much written information there is in a TV newscast. TV news, as Walter Cronkite has said, is just the headlines. People must seek out more information - read the newspapers, read books, listen to radio, watch analysis TV programs like The Journal. And get out and get involved in the issues.

I say this because there is growing evidence Canadians are getting more and more reliant on TV news to provide them with all their information. Recent surveys have shown as many as 70 per cent of those surveyed rely exclusively on TV news to get their information. Well let me, as a TV newscaster, assure you that you won't get all the information you need by only watching TV news. '

I'd like to close my comments today with some brief basic thoughts about the relationship we all share. I like to think of the newsmaking picture being made up of three elements: The media

Government, business, labour The Public

I see the media's responsibility as one to provide all the relevant information possible so the public can make up its own mind about the issues.

I see the government's responsibility as one to want to provide information.

And finally the public's responsibility, and we all share this one, to want to be informed.

Thank you for your patience, and your time.

The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by A. A. van Straubenzee, President of the Empire Club of Canada.

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The Journalist as Celebrity


The role of the media in today's world: the things we do and why we do them. First, some remarks about the speaker's recent decision to remain a broadcaster in Canada, and the controversy that caused. Current challenges for journalists, including new technologies and the increasing exposure of journalists themselves. The challenges of responsibilities that are becoming ever more public. The failure of the media to discuss with the people they cover, just how the job is done. How decisions are made; the criteria used to determine what is "news." Weaknesses of TV news. Canadians' reliance on TV news for most of their information. The basic elements of the newsmaking picture: the media; government, business, labour; the public. The responsibilities of each of those elements.