The new set of The National. Image courtesy of CBC.

New look: The National is prioritizing in depth original journalism

The new edition of The National will premiere on Nov. 6, 2017 with four new hosts. Continue Reading New look: The National is prioritizing in depth original journalism

When the new The National premieres on Nov. 6, 2017, it faces a challenge all TV news programs are grappling with — how do you remain relevant in the digital era?

How people get their news has changed. Many people, unhooked from cable packages, aren’t tuning into the 11 o’clock newscasts. They are getting updates on their phones, in real time.

“We’re trying to take a show that lives within a continuous news environment and define what it needs to do at the end of the day,” explained Jennifer McGuire, the general manager and editor in chief of CBC News. What that means is that we will see a difference format and a different style of The National.

Fewer stories, more depth

The focus of The National going forward is not on recounting every single news story of the day — though that will happen, to some extent — but on going in-depth on three to five stories a show. “You’ll see less stories, but diving deeper, more elemented treatments,” said McGuire. CBC will be making a larger investment in pursuing enterprise and investigative stories for The National.

“We are no longer thinking of ourselves as a program of record that touches all the stories that happened today and presents them at 9 p.m. at night,” said Caroline Harvey, executive producer of The National. “We think of it almost as a live news special, where we will identify three or four stories that really lend themselves to in depth coverage.”

The changes to The National have reverberated throughout  CBC. World at Six, a cornerstone CBC Radio broadcast, is also relaunching, and a Central Desk will coordinate coverage of the biggest news stories of the day. “Because our news operations are so closely linked you can’t change in a fundamental way the output of The National without taking a look at everything, so it does flow from that,” said Jonathan Whitten, executive director of CBC News Depth & Context. He said they most important thing is that the CBC be able to put more people and more resources to original journalism.

“The National for us is more than a television show.” said McGuire. “It is a depth promise for the audience, it’s context, it’s about discovery.”

A bigger digital presence

Get ready to be seeing a lot more of The National everywhere. “We want The National to be known not as a television show but as a source for the best of our journalism,” said Michael Gruzuk, senior director of CBC News Content Experience. Stories will be rolled out throughout the day on a variety of platforms and formats.

In addition to the television broadcast, The National will have a bigger presence on social media, including more social and digital video. There will be more longreads, said Gruzuk, a newsletter, and podcasts. “We’re positioning it as a brand going forward where people connect with the journalism and The National as, this is premium CBC content,” he said.

Creating new relationships

Peter Mansbridge was easily the best known anchor of any Canadian newscast before his retirement in July. Now, Canadian audiences are getting to know four new anchors — Rosemary Barton, who will be based in Ottawa, Adrienne Arsenault and Ian Hanomansing, in Toronto, and Andrew Chang in Vancouver.

“We can’t compare the relationship these four have currently with the audience to Peter, who had decades of time, and built such huge awareness,” said McGuire. But she is hopeful that the new hosts, all whom have significant reporting experience and their own audiences, will grow a new audience, and develop a new rapport.

On some nights, you’ll see all four hosts handing off to each other, said Gruzuk. On other nights it might be less, but he expects it will even out to the same amount of airtime for all four during the week. The hosts will also be in the field – they are reporting as much as they anchoring.

“(The hosts) will be owning those segments, and those stories, and taking the viewer along with them through that block of content,” said Harvey, who added that you will see them working as a team. “They have a real natural chemistry between them,” she said.

A diversity of voices

With the reorganization that has come as a result of The National overhaul, McGuire said that the corporation has  tried to ensure better diversity in the senior ranks across CBC News. “We’re trying to privilege different kinds of storytelling,” she said, which she said will be seen in The National.

“Getting closer to story means getting closer to people and having a wider range of people represented,” said Gruzuk. “I think the four hosts all have a track record of being close to story.”

“They are all passionate about capturing more of Canada,” he added.

H.G. Watson was J-Source's managing editor from 2015 to 2018. She is a journalist based in Toronto. You can learn more about her at