Newman 'jazzed' about Global gig by Chris Nuttal-Smith

Jan 30, 2001

Source : Ottawa Citizen

ABC reporter glad to be back in Canada as anchor of national newscast

by Chris Nuttal-Smith

VANCOUVER - Global Television took a major step yesterday toward making its new network newscast a national contender, officially naming ABC correspondent Kevin Newman as its new, marquee anchor.

Ontario-born Newman, who began his television career with Global in 1981, will leave his position with ABC's Nightline, a respected U.S. nightly news magazine, to take the anchor's chair. The new newscast, which is scheduled to debut in September, will be broadcast from the BCTV studio in Burnaby near Vancouver.

Peter Kent, anchor of Global's First National newscast, will take a management role with the new program, the network has announced.

Newman and Global news vice-president Ken MacDonald, who was on hand for the announcement at the Burnaby studio, said they intend to provide an innovative and thoughtful alternative to the network news offerings on CBC-TV and CTV.

MacDonald noted that Global will add some $9 million to its news budget but said the network is still working to determine whether it will boost its foreign news coverage. MacDonald would not specify what time slot the newscast will fill.

Global's parent company, CanWest Global Communications Corp., became a media giant this summer when it purchased newspapers from Hollinger Inc., including 14 major Canadian dailies, including the Citizen, 126 community newspapers and a 50 per cent stake in the National Post.

CanWest Global also recently acquired Western International Communications, which owns BCTV.

Monday's announcement brought a new twist to a remarkable personal journey for Newman.

After starting at Global in 1981, Newman rose to the position of parliamentary reporter, then moved to CTV National News, where he worked as a parliamentary reporter and Atlantic Bureau Chief. Newman moved to CBC's The National and later became co-anchor of CBC Midday, an afternoon news and interview program.

That position came to an abrupt end in 1994, when rising CBC star Ian Hanomansing was tapped to take over the anchor's spot. (In a delicious twist, Hanomansing now anchors the CBC's national supper-time broadcast, Canada Now, also from the Vancouver area.) The change would have left Newman as a reporter.

"I said a prayer to God to show me a path," Newman told an interviewer in 1998. "The next morning, there was a voice mail from ABC."

His ascent at ABC was quick. Newman began as a morning and substitute anchor at the network in New York, then moved to Good Morning America to fill in as host and anchor the program's news segment.

He got his break when Diana, Princess of Wales, died. Newman, on call that weekend, was widely praised for the way he handled the live coverage, and he was soon offered a co-host spot at the struggling morning show.

After a honeymoon that lasted only a few weeks, Newman's star at the program began to slip, then freefall.

He was criticized for switching his eyeglasses for contacts, for his overt Canadianness and for focusing on soft news features.

Eight months later, in February of 1999, he left, abandoning a reported $1 million U.S. salary to become a correspondent for Nightline.

At Nightline, where Newman often focused on stories about Canada, he won acclaim for his work, earning at Prestigious Peabody Award for the network's Millennium Coverage, as well as an Emmy Award for outstanding achievement. Yet Newman missed home, he explained yesterday.

He wanted more time with his two children, 11 and 14, and with his wife, who has multiple sclerosis.

"I look forward to a desk job for a while," said Newman, who has travelled extensively at Nightline.

Newman said he appreciated all the resources available to U.S. network reporters, as well as the trust that producers put in their journalists. But he said yesterday he had been looking toward Canada and was "jazzed" about the stories here.

So Newman called Global's MacDonald, he said, who immediately told him: "Let's have lunch."

The new position will mean a "substantial" drop in pay, Newman said. But he added he looks forward to being able to shape the newscast, and to tell Canadian stories in a unique way.

Newman said his U.S. experience exposed him to novel ways of telling stories, as well as a lesson in the pitfalls of television news.

He said he worries that celebrity journalism has made inappropriate inroads into network news, and that the U.S. networks have bought into a preconceived notion of what their audiences want; a notion that means television news often attempts to entertain viewers rather than provide them with an experience.

Newman said he intends to cut through that influence with the newscast and to tell honest, compelling stories about real people.

Ian Morrison, spokesman for the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, a national watchdog group, said in an interview from Ottawa that he sees yesterday's announcement as part of an encouraging trend at Global.

"Global has not been known for the resources it puts into its news programming," said Morrison.

"What they're famous for is they import American programming and they wrap Canadian advertising around it and they make loads of money."

But Global, in seeking approval for its purchase of Western International Communications, promised the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission last year that it would increase its spending on news coverage and base its new show on the West Coast, Morrison said.

"It shows the company is maturing somewhat," he added.

He said the B.C.-based newscast is part of a broader trend that is putting more of the Canadian networks' focus on the West Coast. The same trend prompted the CBC to broadcast its new supper-hour news program from its Vancouver studios.

"It helps end the problem of Toronto imperialism," Morrison said.

© Ottawa Citizen