Lisa LaFlamme went public Monday with news that her 11-year run as anchor of CTV’s National News was over. She said she was told in June that her contract would not be renewed and that the CTV National News was “moving in a different direction.” Whether the news program ‘moving in a different direction,’ means some format change that LaFlamme would apparently not be capable of executing, or whether the only change in direction is somebody new, and younger, (and, dare we say maybe cheaper?) at the anchor desk—one suspects the latter. If CTV is on a youth kick, it is a relatively new policy. Lloyd Robertson didn’t relinquish the anchor chair until he was 77 and afterwards, he still worked on the newsmagazine W5 for a few years, and 83-year-old Craig Oliver can still be seen on the weekend show, Question Period. Compared to them, LaFlamme is just a kid at 58. Starting next month, Omar Sachedina will assume the role of chief news anchor and senior editor of CTV National News. He is 39.
Make no mistake, in 11 years at the anchor desk, LaFlamme will have been well enough compensated to stash something away for retirement. CBC was reportedly paying Peter Mansbridge something in the $800,000 range before his retirement five years ago. CTV would have had to be competitive, especially since LaFlamme was pulling better ratings than Mansbridge. There would also be the regular CTV pension she would have presumably contributed to in some fashion over a 38-year career. Then there would be a severance package. LaFlamme alluded to negotiations that had been going on since she learned of her non-renewal. So, it shouldn’t be about money.
In many ways, like the Number Two Al Qaeda leader, news anchors are becoming more and more an endangered species. Gone are the days when major local news markets had maybe only three news anchors, and in Canada at least, in English Canada there were only two national anchors. With all-news cable channels, nowadays there are dozens of news anchors, some of them pretty good. Late night appointment viewing of national newscasts reaches less than five percent of Canadians. The one thing we have learned, with few exceptions, changing anchors does little to improve ratings.
For reasons that are not necessarily their fault, news anchors in many ways are set up for the crushing disappointment that comes, when in the words of Roy Orbison, “its over.” The trappings of the job involve sitting in a makeup chair and being fussed over, much like a movie star. It takes a crew of minions to get you on the air. During breaks in the show, brows are mopped, makeup is reapplied. There is wardrobe and hair to be considered. It all adds up to a kind of queen (or king) bee dynamic. It’s hard not to be seduced into thinking it is more than it is. What news anchors refer to as “telling people’s stories” in reality consists of reading news copy off a glass mirror. The art comes in not looking like you’re reading and having the ability to look empathetic, and if that sounds simple, it is not. It takes years of hard work and practice. Whatever the superficial aspects of the news anchoring game, LaFlamme came to the job with a solid journalistic background. It’s interesting to see, in an industry that is built on the premise of above all telling the truth, the amount of BS that news organizations put out at times like this.