Ian Hanomansing on the new news and CBC’s relaunching of The National


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CBC is relaunching its iconic newscast The National on Nov. 6. We talk to one of four new hosts, Ian Hanomansing, who is back in Toronto to kick-start the show.

What makes you most excited about relaunching The National at the CBC?
I think the opportunity. We are exactly one month away from launch, and there is a lot about this show still being determined.… This is actually a different model, and with that comes a huge risk but, on the other side, a huge opportunity.… Right now, we are about to embark on something that, if we do it right, maybe it’ll be a model for other people. It’s not going to be the action news team sitting next to each other and bantering. 

With so much access to information the instant an event happens, why do we still need something like The National?

I think that's a question that a lot of people within the CBC have been asking as well. And a lot of talk about how these days people get the news you need to know on their phones throughout the day. And although that's true, I think that's only part of the story.

In Vancouver, on the show I worked on right up until last week, I used to tell people about the MH370 (Malaysia Airlines Flight 370) lesson. That was a story, on our program, we were on the air when the plane disappeared, and we did a lot of coverage of what might have happened to it. I remember one Saturday, about 10 days after the plane disappeared, or maybe eight days, I was at ball hockey with a bunch of friends of mine and afterwards, we went out for brunch. And, I said a couple of things about the plane disappearance and they kind of looked at me and said, oh, well I didn't know that. And these were pretty well educated and definitely plugged in people, and I realized that for all the access they had on their phones, and 24-hour news, and all that sort of stuff, they had busy lives, and there was a lot about that story, although they were interested, they didn't know, and they certainly hadn't put all these things together. So that reminded me that there is a lot of information out there but that doesn't mean people have the time or willingness to sift through all that.

So I think that’s the thing for The National. On the day of a terrible event like the shooting in Vegas, you can get a lot of information during the day, but I hope that people are thinking to themselves, “hey you know what tonight I can turn on the TV or my computer and watch coverage that is going to give me  all that I need to know about this from what happened, to what we know about why it happened, to what the reaction has been, and what the implications are for Canadians.” We will be busy throughout the day putting that together, and I think there is still room for that kind of service. 

So are we talking about the news with a Canadian perspective and context and less breaking news then?

It depends on what time the news breaks. Like, with Vegas in the Eastern time zone, most of us woke up to that news on Monday morning. I’ve always been a news junkie and I was glued to the 24-hour channels throughout the day on Monday. So on a story like that, yes, definitely would be providing context. I mean we would be providing a Canadian angle as well, but not always a Canadian angle, certainly a Canadian perspective. That was a story where there were Canadians were involved. But even if Canadians weren't involved, I think it’s interesting to look at a story like that through Canadian eyes, and raising some of the questions that in the States they wouldn't think to ask or feel like they could ask.

For instance, gun control is such a divisive, political and emotional issue that everyone is so careful when they talk about it. But as Canadian reporters and consumers of news, we can look at that maybe a bit more dispassionately and say okay what were the guns used here, what were the rules, why aren't politicians talking more about the gun issue when from a Canadian perspective it seems like an obvious issue at least, not necessarily the solution but at least an issue.

But in terms of breaking news, if that Vegas shooting were to have happened at 9:30 Eastern time, let’s say at night, in the old days of The National, we weren't really geared up to deal with a story breaking while on the air. It if was big enough, like say Swiss Air, we'd go live with it, but if it was not that big, we'd just kind of touch on it. Now, on the program, we could be very responsive in the Eastern time zone, Adrienne (co-host Adrienne Arsenault) and I will be there, at least through the first two editions, and let's say something happens at midnight Eastern time and we are on our way home, Andrew Chang in Vancouver will be in the studio ready to go and jump on it. So, it is actually an interesting hybrid. On the one hand, on some stories, in this 24-hour news world, we will be providing context and analysis, but then in an instant, a story happens while on air, the Grenfell Tower in the UK is an example that happened while the National was on air, we would be on top of that story in a very significant way.

Recently, there was a poll on whether or not Canadians would vote for someone who wears a turban (Jagmeet Singh). What do you think of such articles?

I saw that poll today and found it very interesting and certainly wasn't bothered by the coverage of it. You don’t want to foment intolerance and stir it up, but I think it’s important to confront it and discuss it. I like the fact that we have that conversation and we talk about how we’ve progressed. Things have changed so much in this society in 30 or 40 years. I remember filling in on The National years ago, and I would come upstairs and remember seeing the look on some of the editorial assistants’ faces answering the phones, and I heard later that some of those calls were people saying very unkind things about me, and it didn’t have to do with how I read the newscast. That doesn’t really happen anymore. The reaction to Jagmeet Singh also says something about where we are. 

Have you been in Toronto long enough yet to realize our vast superiority to Vancouver?
I arrived on Sunday. And so it still feels like one of the many dozens of stints I’ve had here. But here is the thing: I grew up in New Brunswick and spent a lot of time in Toronto as a Maritimer, and I lived here for just under a year, and I really like Toronto. In Vancouver, I used to say this to people all the time. So many people there have never been in Toronto but know they really don’t like it. In Vancouver, when I had no idea I was coming back, I’d say I really like Toronto to someone, and there was always a pause in the conversation because I think people thought it was a set-up for a joke.

But you’ve enjoyed your return so far?
You know what, when I’m coming into the city and taking that last turn passing the CNE and Lake Ontario and the towers on the left hand side of the cab, always, I don’t care how many times I see it, it’s always exciting.

All right, but I really want to hear about this hockey board game of yours, the NHL General Manager Game.
It’s kind of sitting here. I’ve been working on it since the mid-2000s  and was really busy between 2005 and 2011, but boy, the board game business is hard to break into. 

You must be a big hockey fan then. Must be nice to come to a city with a team actually on the rise. 
Absolutely. You know what, I grew up in New Brunswick as a Habs fan, so I was always an outlier in Vancouver, even during the rise of the Canucks, with two game seven appearances in the Stanley Cup final in ’94 and especially in 2011, when everyone thought they would really win. But being a Habs fan in Vancouver is not a rare thing. There are a lot of Leafs and Habs fans, but I could never fully embrace what was happening there, and now, I’m a Habs fan in Toronto. 

What is your greatest fear?
I don’t know that I have a greatest fear, but rodents are right up there. 

What is your most treasured possession?
Family photo albums from the ’90s. Oh, and my Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy picture disk.

When and where were you happiest?
I would say, I don’t want to sound too corny, but last year, our two university-aged boys were back home, and the four of us, my wife, my two sons and I, were having supper. And I remember looking around the table and thinking I didn’t expect the four of us to be sitting around having supper for the first time in years, maybe since my oldest kid was in Grade 9, and I said, “You know what, let’s savour this.” Then, one of my sons just rolled his eyes and said, “great.”

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Clever answers to questions like these.

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Ron Johnson is the editor of Post City Magazines. Follow him on Twitter @TheRonJohnson.

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