Peter Mansbridge said his goodbyes with good humour and grace over the Canada Day weekend– thus ending an almost three decade run as Anchor of CBC’s the National. News anchors for some reason are subject to an inordinate amount of derision—perhaps stemming from their portrayal as mindless idiots—a la Ted Baxter, or William Hurt in Broadcast News. Frank Magazine dubbed news anchors, “bingo-callers” and Mansbridge became “Mansbingo” in the satirical rag’s lexicon. A certain amount of the stereotype can be true, but a lot of the criticism is pure jealousy. As I always said when I was running the CHCH newsroom—“the news anchor is making more money than the rest of us so he must be smarter.” At roughly $1 Million a year, Mansbridge was easily making more money than all of his bosses, and in the case of CBC’s bloated and largely inert bureaucracy—thank God.
I liked Mansbridge in part because he didn’t have the traditional qualifications—no college diploma, no journalism school. He was a high school dropout who worked as a ticket agent at Churchill Airport in Manitoba. In 1968, Mansbridge was discovered by a station manager for the local CBC radio station CHFC, when he heard Mansbridge making a flight announcement. Soon Mansbridge was climbing the ladder at CBC in Toronto. His greatest talent before his ascension to the National was his ability to ad-lib his way through any number of elections, Royal Visits and Federal-Provincial conferences. It was a talent he never lost right up to his last day on the job helming CBC’s Canada Day Coverage, live for many hours, effortlessly introducing reporters from all parts of the country, smoothly dealing with the on-air glitches that are always part of live TV and even keeping his composure while his broadcast booth was crashed by Justin and Sophie Trudeau who wished him well. Mansbridge was a pro to the end.
Lest there be a feeding frenzy of wannabes, CBC has let it be known that they will experiment with rotating anchors to replace Peter Mansbridge. The decision signals or at least underlines the decreasing importance of the news anchor in a world of 24-hour news. People don’t even need a TV to watch news now—it’s all on the iPhone or Android. So called “appointment viewing” is decreasing steadily, which is one reason conventional television is struggling to make ends meet. With the advent of cable news channels, news itself has lost credibility. You can now pick your version of reality a la carte. Critical thinking is no longer required. If you hate Donald Trump, CNN and MSNBC will happily reinforce your convictions. If you love Trump, there is Fox News and any number of syndicated radio talk shows. No more Walter Cronkite, who just about everybody believed, and now no Peter Mansbridge, who most people trusted as well. With the changes that appear to be coming to television and journalism at an ever increasing pace, it’s probably a good time for Mansbridge to pack it in.