The early evening broadcasts have no anchor at the helm, favouring on-the-scene reporting.

By H.G. Watson, Managing Editor

If you watched the early evening newscast on CityNews in Toronto recently, you might have noticed someone missing — the anchor.

That’s because since 2015, CityNews has been experimenting with cutting out the middleman during their early evening newscasts. At 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. there are now no anchors to be found. Instead, reporters are running the show, throwing to each other’s stories from the field and in the studio. It’s a model that CityNews is looking to export as they expand to five new markets in the next year.

Dave Budge, Rogers Media’s vice president of news and information for television told J-Source that the new anchorless newscast model emphasizes the work journalists are doing in the field. “What we’ve found is the audience trusts and responds to those working reporters even more profoundly than they do to an anchor who is in a studio who is doing little more than reading introductions to those reporters’ stories,” he said.

For CityNews reporters, it means they now have to be ready to go during the early evening newscasts. “I feel like it has elevated our work together as a team because there is no one person who is steering the show,” said longtime CityNews reporter Cynthia Mulligan. “It is everybody and it’s on an equal plane. That’s exciting, and I think everybody has stepped up their game.”

CityNews is not alone in trying this kind of news broadcast. Vice News Tonight, a weeknight news program broadcasted on HBO, has no anchor, instead bringing together segments hosted by various journalists. More traditional news outlets have also done away with anchors. In 2011, KIAH in Houston, Texas, did away with anchors for the early and late evening newscasts.

The format also lends itself more easily to digital presentations. The CityNews broadcasts are also livestreamed on the CityNews website and on Facebook, where viewers get added content because advertisements can’t be played online.

Budge said this may make their stories more attractive to younger audiences, who he believes don’t need the slick packaging that has defined traditional news broadcasting for half a decade. ”They are looking for raw, immediate but credible content,” he said.

He may be right. According to Numeris data for the past year provided by a CityNews spokesperson, the six o’clock newscast is number one among the 18-34 demographic — the coveted millennial audience. (CTV Toronto’s 6 p.m. newscast is number one if you look at aggregate numbers as it is broadcast on both CTV and CP24).

The new format hasn’t been expanded to all broadcasts. Evening and weekend newscasts at CityNews are hybrid models that are not yet fully anchorless, explained Budge.

But it is an idea that he is interested in expanding. On June 6, 2017, CityNews announced it would be expanding to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal. There will be no traditional anchors and no studios in these cities as CityNews tries to target the same millennial audience that has been captured in Toronto.

”It’s not eroding the journalism,” said Budge. “It’s just a different way of thinking about presentation and prioritizing information over polish.”

Editor’s note, July 21, 2017 1:44 p.m.: This story has been updated to clarify some of the Numeris data on 6 p.m. news broadcasts in Toronto.

H.G. Watson can be reached at hgwatson@j-source.ca or on Twitter