Four CBC journalists will share anchor duties as the network revamps The National to offer an expanded digital focus along with more insight and analysis on the day’s news, the public broadcaster announced today.
Senior correspondent Adrienne Arsenault, Power & Politics host Rosemary Barton, Vancouver local news host Andrew Chang and News Network anchor Ian Hanomansing were named hosts for the program that will debut in November.
“I didn’t want four different versions of the same person,” said Jennifer McGuire, editor in chief for CBC News.
“The four that we’ve chosen are quite different and they bring different skills to the program … we think they’ll resonate with audiences.”
It’s been a guessing game about who would take over the top post since longtime anchor Peter Mansbridge announced his retirement last September. Mansbridge hosted the show for almost 30 years before stepping down on July 1.
The show is expected to look different in many ways, including the four hosts, and McGuire admits it is a challenging prospect.
“It’s a big risk, for sure it is,” she said. “We’re not seeing it as a television show solely anymore.”
Arsenault is best known for her award-winning work as a globe-trotting senior correspondent. It has taken her to many far-flung countries — Pakistan, Libya and Zimbabwe, to name a few.
Arsenault has also been a foreign correspondent based in London, Jerusalem and Washington and a senior correspondent in Vancouver and now Toronto, from where she will be part of anchoring The National.
What will change, she said, is how they present the news.
“We’re trying to work hard to make the story the focus.”
Arsenault said her international travels have helped inform her reporting in Canada, where she has been based for the past few years. This has taken her to some of the country’s biggest stories, including the housing crisis in Attawapiskat and last year’s devastating wildfire in Fort McMurray.
Facebook Live: The National’s new hosts
She knows the stakes for the revamped show are high.
“It’s not the model it has been, and that’s OK. It’s not the era it has been,” she said. “We know there’s a lot at stake, and we want to get it right. We’re desperate to get it right.”
Arsenault has been close to The National since her CBC career began. She started as an editorial assistant in 1991 but actually had an interview lined up for her then dream job at CBC Radio’s As It Happens.
She got lost in the CBC building and wound up in The National newsroom, where someone offered her a job on the spot. Now 26 years later, she is poised for one of the show’s top jobs.
Barton will anchor The National‘s coverage from Ottawa. Her name was floated by many guessing who would replace Mansbridge, speculation that heightened when she guest-hosted the program earlier this summer.
The veteran political reporter is the current host of CBC News Network’s Power & Politics. She took over that job after CBC fired the previous host, Evan Solomon, and led viewers through the marathon 2015 federal election campaign.
She is respected for her sharp, no-nonsense interviews and her conversational style, something she said she will be keeping as she switches jobs.
“This is not going to be as formal as people thought,” she said. She will be able to crack jokes, laugh and be tough as the news allows. “The idea is not to make this stilted, and I plan to be myself, because that’s what I do.”
Barton got her CBC start researching for RDI in 1999, the public broadcaster’s French news network, in her hometown of Winnipeg. After a stint with Global, she rejoined CBC as a legislative reporter in Quebec City in 2004 and then served as a national reporter with the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa.
“It’s going to be a lot of work,” Barton said of the new show. “It won’t be easy.”
Chang is making the leap to The National after high-profile hosting gigs as a local anchor for CBC.
He is the current host of CBC Vancouver’s News at 6, for which he was named best local news anchor at the 2016 Canadian Screen Awards. Chang joined the CBC in 2004 and spent a decade at CBC Montreal, working his way up from researcher to local news anchor.
“It’s quite an opportunity,” Chang said. “It is uncharted territory in a pretty significant way.”
In 2012, he anchored CBC Montreal’s election coverage as Richard Henry Bain tried to assassinate the just-elected premier-designate Pauline Marois during her victory speech and she was rushed off stage.
“I think I’ve built somewhat of a reputation of being a live specialist.”
“If you think of the digital ecosystem that we’re in, everything is changing. The way people consume news is different. The National has to change accordingly.”
Hanomansing was perhaps the most expected contender for the job. Back in February, a widely shared report in the Trinidad Express suggested he already had the position, which Hanomansing was quick to rebut. 22 Minutes comedian Mark Critch even joked with Mansbridge about Hanomansing’s top anchor prospects during the 2015 federal election broadcast.
It’s something the B.C.-based anchor has been rather coy about.
“I knew that it was quite possible it was going to happen,” he said. But he had doubts, too.
Hanomansing will be based in Toronto. He currently hosts CBC News Network and has been a longtime guest host for The National, as well as other CBC shows such as Canada Now and Pacific Rim Report.
Hanomansing was born in Trinidad and grew up in the tiny town of Sackville, N.B. (current population about 6,000). His family didn’t have cable TV so he would obsessively listen to the radio. He started as a summer student at a nearby radio station in Amherst, N.S., days after he graduated from high school.
“Our family were the only people that looked the way we did for miles and miles and miles and miles around,” he said in a recent interview with Open Chest‘s Raj Girn. “I used my name, my last name. Imagine that last name on the radio in 1979 and not once did [the station manager] ever question that.”
Hanomansing first landed at the CBC in Halifax in 1986 and has held many jobs over the years: local reporter, national reporter, local anchor and national anchor. He has spent the bulk of his career on the West Coast, where he has covered major events including the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and both Stanley Cup Vancouver riots.
He said there’s a huge amount of uncertainty about how his new job will look, but that excites him.
“We don’t frankly know what’s coming next, but I’ve seen enough and have enough faith in the people that I know are involved in this that I really do think this is going to be an opportunity to remake news.”
McGuire said the revamped show will have an expanded digital focus, more visual storytelling and a push on original journalism. That includes original content for digital and more insight and analysis on the day’s top stories, with a goal to push the stories forward.
“It absolutely is risky,” she said of the revamp. “But we think it also is a unique opportunity, and our belief is that we had to, at this moment in time, wrestle with the question, what do Canadians need to get at the end of the day in a continuous news environment?”
The show has faced setbacks to get to this point, though, and has been bumped back to a November launch.
In May, managing editor Steve Ladurantaye, who was spearheading the show’s redevelopment, was reassigned after he tweeted his support for a so-called appropriation prize.
Christopher Waddell, a Carleton journalism professor and The National‘s former senior program producer, was closely watching Tuesday’s announcement. He said the revamp is a big risk, which may alienate the show’s current audience.
Great colleagues and one prolific selfie taker. This is the National. pic.twitter.com/FkrNP2Icqh
“Any time you make change and you’re alienating an audience you have, you’re doing it with no real confidence that you’re producing a different audience that will replace the audience that you’re losing,” he said.
“But if a public broadcaster won’t be innovative and won’t take risks and won’t take advantage of the status they have and the position they have to try and do things that no one else will do, then I think that that will be a sad day too.”
Facebook Live, Aug. 1, with The National‘s new hosts: