Quietly this year, Global National became Canada's number one national newscast. Every weekday in 2006, over a million Canadians caught the early evening newscast based out of Vancouver, anchored by journalist Kevin Newman.
Yet, Newman and the Global National team have received little notice for this accomplishment. It's an achievement made all the more remarkable because, against all odds, Global National beat out its long-established competitors at CTV National News and CBC's The National in five short years.
"It's been a long journey and it's been a quick journey," Newman says in a phone interview with Popjournalism. "It happened quicker that I thought it would. I thought we'd be considered credible in year five, but not number one by year five."
Newman's surprise is not false humility. When Global National launched on Labour Day 2001, few expected much from it. While Global had a number of local affiliates, the network did not heavily invest its previous national news programs, First National and Canada Tonight. But with Global National, the network finally wanted to become a player in Canadian news, notably luring Newman. It also bucked tradition by airing during the supper hour across most of the country, and not in the late evening.
"Global dared to imagine a supper hour news show; it was a smart thing," Newman says. "We found a national news audience that was our own."
However, Newman attributes most of Global National's success to its enterprising crew. "Our success represented a lot of hard work by our small team," he says.
Of course, Newman shares the team's can-do attitude, especially since he himself had a lot to prove when the newscast launched. While Newman had worked as a journalist at Global, CTV and CBC, he is best known for his seven-year stint at ABC News.
"The opportunity to work at ABC was the lure of an entire company dedicated to news," he says of his time at the U.S. network. "Everybody in the building was doing news and I was completely surrounded by excellence. It was an incredible sandbox. There were no questions about whether we could afford the satellite fee" – a major expense for Canadian TV interviews – "it was a matter of if it was a good enough story."
Considering this advantage, why would Newman want to return to Canada? Especially to a comparatively small and fledgling national news presence like the one at Global.
"It was the opportunity to create something from the ground up," he says. "For me it was a great creative experience. I missed home and telling stories at home. It's a different story broadcasting in a different country. While you obviously can tell the stories, I didn't feel them as deeply as I would stories about my own country.
"Coming back was like putting on a comfortable sweater."
A considerable comfort bearing in mind that his seven years spent at ABC News were unfortunately marked by his short, low-rated turn as the co-anchor of Good Morning America from 1998 to 1999. Newman didn't want to have a replay of this scenario in Canada.
"It was a risk," he says of launching Global National. "Nobody wants to fail. I've experienced failure at GMA. Still, it was mostly about the creative [opportunity at Global]. I think if the show weren't as successful, there would have been more pressure on the company. As an individual, I would be okay."
Newman is doing more than okay now, and not only does he lead the country's top-rated newscast, but he also scored Gemini Awards for Best Anchor in 2005 and 2006.
It's this kind of success that's lead to speculation that Newman will be heavily courted by the competition should either CTV's Lloyd Robertson or CBC's Peter Mansbridge vacate their respective anchor chairs.
Newman doesn't directly discount the idea of a move, but says that he isn't enthused about the idea of stepping into those long-running shows, with their own well-established protocols.
"I've worked at both organizations," Newman says, "but at Global News, I have my fingerprints on things. As long as the challenge and the creativity are here at Global, I'm happy."
Still, Newman isn't letting himself get too carried away by his number one status.
"CTV's very competitive and they're willing to spend money. For a while CBC was number one and so was CTV, so it's nice that Global has a chance to hold that position.
"We're going to hold on to it while we have it, but we certainly can't rest easy."
About Robert J. Ballantyne
Robert J.Ballantyne is a senior editor at Popjournalism and Creative Director at Artsculture.ca. Previously, he was a journalist at the CBC on a number of news programs including the fifth estate, Marketplace and The National. He also worked as a staff writer at the Toronto Star.