CBC logo with the faces of four reporters in it

Rejigging the format of The National is nothing new. CBC has been at it for 66 years

Original photo: Courtesy CBC

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”10″]L[/su_dropcap]ast February, a dozen CBC journalists assembled for their 5 p.m. lineup meeting to decide which stories to feature on that evening’s broadcast of The National. They agreed to lead the network’s flagship program with a report on rail blockades in protest of a proposed natural gas pipeline on the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en in British Columbia. Next would be a story on the COVID-19 outbreak beginning to spread across international borders. Towards the end of the show, they would run an interview with a British woman who played the violin while having brain surgery. They discussed a story idea—ultimately rejected—concerning a woman in Wuhan, China who refused to return to Canada because she could not bring her cat. After the meeting adjourned, a few remaining staffers discussed how they might patch together interviews from Canadian passengers aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship amidst the early spread of COVID-19, in a format that would be highly shareable online.

On this particular night, there would be two hosts for The National—Adrienne Arsenault and Andrew Chang, both of whom were brought on as part of the show’s 2017 rebrand. The two are the last left standing after the show’s most recent round of personnel changes. Just one month prior, Arsenault and Chang still shared daily hosting duties with veteran CBC-ers Ian Hanomansing and Rosemary Barton. But on January 22, The National’s executive producer, Chad Paulin, issued a memo announcing plans to drop the four-host format that had been in place since 2017. The move was seen as a response to criticism from the public, as well as media reporters, which described the four-host configuration as chaotic. It was also seen as an attempt to resuscitate the brand’s plummeting viewership after the departure of Peter Mansbridge, who had hosted the program for nearly 30 years until his retirement.

The revamped 2017 format sought to invite new viewers by offering them four younger hosts who ranged in age from 34 to 55, with diverse identities, personalities, and journalistic strengths. But critical feedback over the first two years of the post-Mansbridge National forced CBC to pivot once again. Detractors claimed the show was too crowded and confusing, with no clear sense of why each host was appearing on screen when they did. For the second time since Mansbridge’s retirement, The National needed an overhaul.

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”10″]T[/su_dropcap]elevision news viewership in Canada is declining as the public increasingly turns to the Internet. This downward trend, combined with the ongoing challenge of competing with multiple outlets covering the same 24-hour cycle, was what The National’s producers faced as they contemplated how to ensure the show’s survival.

In addition to setting up four hosts based in three cities—Toronto, Vancouver, and Ottawa—producers wanted to increase The National’s focus on in-depth stories, instead of relying on a fast-paced recap of the day’s events. Bringing context and analysis to a few key stories would help add value to items that had already been covered throughout the day. But despite CBC’s best laid plans, the show experienced a 24 percent ratings decrease in the period following the 2017 rebrand.

Since its initial launch in 1954, The National had been hosted by eight different middle-aged, white men who served various tenures. The departure of Mansbridge was viewed as an opportunity to shake up the single-anchor model while remedying the issue of representation—two of the new hosts were women, while two were people of colour. On social media, some pointed out what they perceived to be a superficial attempt at diversity by sharing an article published by satire website The Beaverton: “CBC splits single white man’s salary between two women, two minorities.” The new show was also criticized for what was seen as a disjointed presentation of short recaps interspersed with long-form stories.

Declining ratings, compounded by acerbic commentary from critics, put pressure on The National’s producers. In a review of the show’s 2017 debut, The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle wrote: “The revamped newscast is not a newscast as a newscast is known to you and me. It’s a chatty, visually bewildering assessment of some news stories of the day.” In the Toronto Star, Joanna Schneller wrote of the same episode: “‘You know the news,’ the Ceeb seems to be saying. ‘But we’re the experts. Not the stentorian experts-on-high the way we used to be; we’re chatty experts. Your four friends who always make you go, ‘Huh.’”

While the move to a two-host format has been widely viewed as positive, criticism of CBC’s frequent pivoting has persisted. Doyle has called the “endless adjustments” at The National a sign of CBC’s flailing leadership. On February 28, he wrote that, “The National is now a zombie newscast, half-dead and lurching along.”

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”10″]O[/su_dropcap]ver the decades, CBC’s approach to news has evolved significantly. When CBC was founded as a federal crown corporation in 1936, it operated as a national radio system for Canadians. The broadcaster created its own radio news service in 1941 to provide Canadians with reports on World War II, ending its previous reliance on bulletins generated by The Canadian Press.

CBC Television officially launched on September 8, 1952. In 1954, The National News debuted as CBC’s flagship newscast. Veteran radio announcer Larry Henderson was its first anchor, a job he began after covering the Korean War and other international stories for CBC’s radio platform. Then program director Mavor Moore recognized the need for more continuity in the presentation. Rather than having five-minute bulletins read by a series of announcers, Henderson was asked to become the face of the broadcast.

That show was renamed The National in 1969. Back then, union rules forbade reporters from working as hosts. That changed in 1978, after negotiations with unions led to Knowlton Nash taking over as host while also serving as news editor, with influence over content.

In 1982, vice-president and general manager of CBC English-language Radio and TV networks Peter Herrndorf instituted what was seen as another bold move, shifting the show’s time slot from 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. The new primetime slot was viewed as gutsy, putting the newscast in direct competition with entertainment programming. Until then, the operating assumption had been that local news could only be presented between 6–7 p.m., with national news at 11 p.m.

[su_quote cite=”Chad Paulin”]The number one question I received in my entire time on the program was, ‘Why four hosts?’…The challenge for us was how do we make it clear to the audience why there’s multiple people bringing them the news [/su_quote]

In the same year, The National was modified yet again with the introduction of The Journal, a current affairs program that producers decided to start airing after the main newscast at 10:22 p.m. Herrndorf had approached a group of personnel from around CBC to explore the idea of creating a companion show to The National with stronger emphasis on in-depth coverage including interviews and short documentaries. The show’s inaugural season was hosted by Barbara Frum and Mary Lou Finlay, a rarity in an age when broadcast TV was still dominated by men.

Despite its critical acclaim, the combined National/Journal program was cancelled in 1992—in part due to the steep production costs stemming from its reliance on documentaries. Host Barbara Frum, who became the solo host after the first season, died of leukemia that year.

Later that year, CBC replaced The National with Prime Time News, a blended news and current affairs program which aired at 9 p.m. The show was driven by the notion that people wanted to see the news earlier, says Mark Bulgutch, who worked as a lineup producer. The program had two hosts, Peter Mansbridge—who had been the solo host of The National since 1988—and Pamela Wallin. The show’s ratings fared poorly. Its competition, CTV National News, overtook CBC in national news ratings for the first time—a humbling defeat for the public broadcaster.

Producers continued to finesse the show’s format for the following years. In 1995, CBC’s nightly national news returned to the 10 p.m. timeslot and reverted to being called The National. It also incorporated The National Magazine, hosted by Hana Gartner. Similar to The JournalThe National Magazine consisted of in-depth interviews and documentaries over the second half of the 10–11 p.m. timeslot, after Mansbridge’s newscast. Brian Stewart later took over the Magazine until the start of the federal election campaign in the fall of 2000. The show was cancelled following the election, but Mansbridge continued to anchor the nightly newscast for a full hour by himself.

In September 2016, Mansbridge—the longest serving anchor for any major Canadian news network—announced that he would retire as host of The National after the Canada Day broadcast on July 1, 2017. Viewers took to social media to praise the anchor’s career, while reporters noted that his departure marked the end of an era. A send-off party was held for Mansbridge in the lobby of CBC’s Toronto headquarters—the newly renamed Mansbridge Hall—on June 28, 2017. Video tributes were presented from notable Canadians such as hockey player Wayne Gretzky, Inuk musician Susan Aglukark, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as well as several former prime ministers, including Brian Mulroney, Jean Chrétien, and Paul Martin.

On August 1, 2017, CBC announced that the relaunched version of the show, featuring an unprecedented assemblage of four hosts, would debut the following November. Arsenault is best known for her work as a foreign correspondent, covering conflict and disasters with composure. The former host of Power & Politics, Barton is renowned for her sharp, no-nonsense interview style. Chang, the youngest of the four, brought a light, conversational touch to his hosting role. He previously hosted CBC Vancouver’s News at Six, which he joined after a decade at CBC Montreal. Rounding out the team was long-time anchorman Hanomansing, a former host of CBC News Network and guest host for The National. Of the group, he was seen as the most traditional anchor-type.

The new National was designed with a digital-first appearance, says Michael Gruzuk, senior director of CBC News programming and development. “A lot of the look and feel of broadcast TV does not migrate into the digital space naturally,” he says. “That was the driving principle behind the emphasis on photography, typography, and bold black and white [colours].” The show’s new introduction scrapped the splashy theme song and graphics in favour of photographs teasing the top stories, while dropping the iconic CBC red logo for a minimal typeface title. On November 6, 2017, Arsenault opened the debut episode, declaring: “You’ll notice some things are new tonight.” She appeared alongside her three co-hosts in four narrow vertical panels, their Remembrance Day poppies nearly edged out of frame. Arsenault co-hosted with Hanomansing in the sleek Toronto studio, which had been renovated for the relaunch. Screens surrounded the gleaming glass desk at the centre, displaying images related to the day’s news, from U.S. President Donald Trump addressing the National Rifle Association (NRA) to scenes from the war in Syria.

Vancouver-based Chang led with a late-breaking story about the murder of a police officer in Abbotsford, B.C. Hanomansing picked up from there, reporting on a Texas church shooting, with correspondent Paul Hunter contributing interviews with survivors. In a subsequent talkback, Hunter mentioned the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which 20 children were killed. “I still get choked up thinking about it,” says Hunter, reflecting on his own experience reporting the story—his candor a sign of the show’s newfound permission to share emotion. From Raqqa, Syria, Arsenault detailed the area’s ongoing tensions, and reported on dangers faced by local residents.

At the end of the episode, Barton notes the newscast will be updated throughout the evening as it airs across Canada’s various time zones. “Andrew, that’s your job,” she says to Chang, who’s been tasked with tweaking his script as stories develop. He smiles and replies, “Every night’s going to be a long night for me.”

These informal exchanges among the four hosts, while jovial and friendly, were not well received among critics. In the 2020 book The End of the CBC, authors Chris Waddell, who previously worked as a program producer at The National, and David Taras, who specializes in communications studies, referred to such bantering moments as “a time-consuming staple from local and cable news that, in the past, had been beneath the seriousness of The National.”

Months prior to the 2017 kick-off, Arsenault was casually approached by Jennifer McGuire, then CBC’s editor-in-chief, about taking on a hosting role once Mansbridge stepped down. She recalls being surprised that she was among those considered, but decided to take a chance. “I thought, ‘Why not say yes to something that scares you?’ It still terrifies me,” she says. Arsenault did have one caveat. “I would not do it if I could not still be a reporter. That is my red line.” (McGuire left CBC in February, after more than a decade in the role, with the broadcaster citing restructuring.)

The casting process was kept quiet, according to Arsenault. “It took a little bit before [we were told] there’d be four. It took even longer before I knew the names.” She had known Hanomansing since the early nineties, when she worked as an editorial assistant for The National in Toronto, while Hanomansing reported from Vancouver. But she had only met Barton and Chang a few times. “They came from different areas of the organization and not all knew each other well at that point,” says McGuire of the four hosts. Shortly before the announcement, she brought them together for a short trip to the country, just north of Toronto, to do promotional photoshoots and get to know each other.

“We wanted to control the reveal, as [it was] the beginning of the marketing push for the new National,” says McGuire. “At this point in time, other than me and very few others, who was replacing Peter was not known….We wanted a place to take photos and prepare for the press conference without it leaking out.”

[su_quote cite=”Michael Gruzuk”]We wanted to have the ability…to provide consistency, but then also have the notion of a host who is able to fly out the door into the midst of a Newfoundland snow hurricane at the drop of a hat and report [/su_quote]

Of the surprising choice to hire four hosts for the show, Gruzuk says, “We wanted to have the ability…to provide consistency, but then also have the notion of a host who is able to fly out the door into the midst of a Newfoundland snow hurricane at the drop of a hat and report.”

McGuire says that the changes were also related to the wider broadcast environment. “The easiest thing would have been to replace Peter with an anchor in a format that already existed, but it wouldn’t address some of the bigger issues that are not only CBC issues, they are issues for all nightly television, and that is an aging audience…and a whole generation of people consuming their news primarily in digital environments.”

Viewership of The National among millennials actually increased by 16 percent over the first year following the 2017 relaunch, mainly due to expansion of the show’s online platforms, including CBC streaming app Gem, its social media pages, and YouTube channel. Producers had wisely endeavoured to capture audiences online, although they still found themselves bound by some of the traditional trappings of television, such as its tethering to a 9 p.m. timeslot.

McGuire admits the program would not have changed so dramatically if Mansbridge had remained. Those who worked with Mansbridge praised his talent for live reporting and his ability to deliver the news in an unruffled fashion. He was adored, including by U.S. media commentators. American news magazine Mother Jones called his coverage of the October 2014 shooting on Parliament Hill a “master class in calm, credible breaking news reporting.” This was not easy to recreate.

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”10″]A[/su_dropcap]fter the 2017 relaunch, audience feedback indicated concerns around the four-host format. Says executive producer Paulin: “The number one question I received in my entire time on the program was, ‘Why four hosts?’…The challenge for us was how do we make it clear to the audience why there’s multiple people bringing them the news.”

Paulin emphasizes that the criticism focused on the number of hosts—not the personalities themselves. “The audience likes these four people, and they like them all for different reasons, because they see that they all bring something different to the table….By treating them in the beginning like they were all basically the same, we put up a barrier for the audience to be able to connect to them.”

In Paulin’s January 22 email to staff, he wrote: “Television news viewership is driven by consistency, both in format and in presentation. Our audience told us they want to know what they can expect night to night: who will bring them the news and how it will be delivered. We listened.”

The changes that followed included “sharpened hosting roles” which had begun to roll out in the weeks before. Chang and Arsenault would now serve as co-hosts, based out of Toronto, from Monday to Friday. Hanomansing would anchor in Vancouver on Friday and Saturday, while contributing special reports on Alberta and British Columbia. Barton became CBC’s chief political correspondent, making her the first woman to hold that role in the corporation’s history. She remains Ottawa-based, and appears on The National to report on major national stories, like the Wet’suwet’en dispute, as part of regular broadcasts, in addition to hosting the show’s At Issue panel each Thursday. She also hosts CBC podcast Party Lines with Elamin Abdelmahmoud.

After implementing set changes over a period of time, the new National now cuts straight to Arsenault and Chang speaking into the camera, instead of leading with a striking visual preview of the evening’s news. The introduction used to present headshots of the four hosts. Now, Arsenault and Chang are discreetly identified with a nametag at the side of the screen. The large, glass, angular desk was replaced with a more compact model, allowing the two hosts to sit side-by-side instead of appearing on split screens. Notably, they look at the viewers instead of each other—this newscast is now about the news.

Meanwhile, Barton, no longer a host, is occasionally interviewed by her former co-anchors about Parliament Hill—still framed in a screen from the Ottawa studio. The rebooted show has the efficient tempo of a typical evening newscast, with lengthier stories saved for later. On some evenings, producers devote the entire episode to a single story, such as the Ukraine International Airlines crash in Iran on January 9.

The modern day co-parenting-esque roles of the hosts do not stop there. Arsenault is now more regularly dispatched to the field, while Chang remains in-house. In January, Arsenault covered the snowstorms in Newfoundland. In February, she travelled to Iowa to report on the American Democratic caucus. (On March 23, Arsenault began anchoring The National from the back deck of her Toronto home, in an effort to socially distance amid the intensifying COVID-19 pandemic. A week later, her segments were relocated to a rented condo in downtown Toronto.)

Despite the endless fine-tuning, the move to a two-anchor model seems to have been welcomed by most media observers. On January 22, Jesse Brown, founder of the Canadian news organization Canadaland, responded to the change by tweeting: “4 anchors was always a really bad idea. TV news has been around for a very long time and nobody has ever made multiple anchors work. This was clearly a bust very early on.” Daniel Bernhard, executive director of watchdog group Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, also chimed in, tweeting: “CBC made the right decision in revamping The National. The 4-host format wasn’t working. We all need CBC to be better.”

Feedback from CBC audience research also highlighted concerns with the pacing of the four-host newscast. “The audience told us they want some of those more traditional qualities of a newscast—tight stories, quick pace, and energy,” says Paulin. “By really pulling away from those qualities, I think the audience wasn’t quite sure what they were watching.”

Long-form stories, including collaborations with CBC’s investigative teams, were used to bring more depth and analysis to the show, beyond the daily rundown of the news. Going forward, the show will no longer feature those long-form stories at the top of the broadcast, says Paulin.

It’s hard to determine whether viewers of The National are leaving the show due to Mansbridge’s departure and, if so, what other newscasts they have tuned into instead. The program’s viewers tend to skew male and older, says Paulin, when compared to the overall potential audience in primetime which tends to be more female and slightly younger. In other words, The National has untapped potential. The show’s producers now find themselves tasked with the challenge of contemporizing their programming while operating within a medium associated with declining audiences. As Paulin notes, they have to be “creative but within the confines of [audience] expectations.”

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”10″]T[/su_dropcap]he lack of continuity arising from the reliance on multiple hosts is something that Jeffrey Dvorkin, former managing editor and chief journalist for CBC Radio, found problematic as well. Dvorkin worked on The National at various points during its transitions in the 1980s, and also worked for NPR from 1997 to 2006 as ombudsman and vice-president of news and information. He says that the four-host format disrupted flow in the viewing experience. “Simpler is always better,” he says. “If the audience can see the same person, or hear the same person on a continuing basis, the mental landscape is identifiable.”

Waddell, who was a senior program producer from 1993 to 2001, echoes this call for more continuity. “People need to know if Adrienne [Arsenault] is on air, ‘OK, we’re going to be dealing with foreign news.’ If Rosemary [Barton] is on air, this is about politics and Ottawa. But that wasn’t clear from the outset.”

Bulgutch says the 2017 iteration of the show resembled what he saw as being so problematic about Prime Time. He says the show upset the typical formula of presenting the top stories at the start of the newscast. “[Canadian viewers] don’t want a documentary at the top of the program. They want to know what happened today,” he says.

Another struggle the show continues to face is satisfying the interests of different types of news consumers such as young versus older or frequent news consumers versus occasional viewers. This issue is not unique to CBC. “It becomes difficult if you’re producing a television newscast at night, and you’ve decided your main role is no longer a recap of what happened during the day because you’re worried that much of your audience knows it already,” says Waddell.

Being publicly funded places CBC in the unique position of not necessarily having to prioritize innovation over audience preferences. Dvorkin says that CBC “…kind of watered everything down and said, ‘We’re going to be all things to all people’, but they refuse to make the kinds of tough [programming] choices that other public broadcasters have made.”

Meanwhile, CTV, Canada’s largest private broadcaster, has relied on the same newscast format for 60 years. By the spring of 2019, The National had only half the audience of CTV National News—in part due to stronger program lead-ins. As TV critic Bill Brioux noted for the Canadian Press in 2019, based on data provided by Numeris: “The CTV National News drew 955,000 in overnight estimates. CBC’s The National did 414,000 and 369,000 over each half hour.” The only major change CTV has instituted since 1965 has been the person serving as anchor on its national news broadcast.

Viewership numbers are only one metric of success, but it’s one that matters, says Paulin. “Ratings are a measure of your relevance with an audience….They help keep the lights on and [viewers] have to be able to watch the show in a way that makes them feel like they’re getting good value for their money.”

CBC endures the same tests as all public broadcasters seeking to compete in a highly fragmented and digitized news universe. So where is the room for innovation? “[CBC] has always been institutional,” says Herrndorf. “It’s always been bureaucratic. It’s always been hard to make a dramatic change at CBC. But when it happens, it’s because CBC is one of the few organizations that can bring really significant resources and really significant talents to bear.”

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”10″]I[/su_dropcap]n 2014, CBC’s strategic plan, titled “A Space for Us All,” outlined its goals to reach all Canadians through digital streaming services designed for mobile devices. Part of the calculation was that relying more on the web would allow CBC to gain increased advertising revenue, while capturing more of the 18–35 age demographic. Paulin says the team is now constantly working on how “to create content that can travel from one platform—that’s going to air on broadcast—to the digital space.” This means tailoring stories for optimization across CBC’s apps and social media. On CBC Gem, The National now appears hiply nestled alongside millennial-targeted entertainment programming like Schitt’s Creek and Kim’s Convenience, promoted by a shot of Chang and Arsenault shoulder-to-shoulder, their two former co-hosts now out of the picture.

In 2016, then heritage minister Mélanie Joly announced the launch of public consultations with the goal of helping Canada’s media industry transition into the digital era. Proposals put forward by the Liberal government included updating the CBC’s mandate to ensure its presence across a variety of platforms, while revising the Broadcasting Act and the Telecommunications Act, which had last been updated in 1991. This would allow the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission to mine audience insights from data previously unavailable. CBC, then, could use this data to compete with, and optimize its own programming on, streaming platforms like YouTube and Netflix, widely seen as threats to CBC because they divide television audiences.

CBC has never asked itself, “What do we do better than anything else? And how do we want to do it?” says Dvorkin. He says CBC should conduct more research to better understand its audience. He notes that National Public Radio, where he previously worked, is not a network, but similar to a cooperative, which means its local member stations are like co-op members. In 1984, after nearly descending into bankruptcy, NPR agreed to a deal in which the annual Corporation for Public Broadcasting stipend would be given to local stations, which would support NPR through subscriptions. CBC is owned by the government, but the example of NPR’s locally-tailored approach could provide some lessons to them.

[su_quote cite=”Jennifer McGuire”]The easiest thing would have been to replace Peter [Mansbridge] with an anchor in a format that already existed, but it wouldn’t address some of the bigger issues that are not only CBC issues, they are issues for all nightly television[/su_quote]

The Toronto headquarters currently provides the core of CBC’s news and programming. But according to Dvorkin, they should let the stations decide what they want to run and when because, “they are closer, theoretically, to their audiences than anyone in Toronto.”

In fact, some of the strongest innovation in Canadian television has happened at the local level, says Bulgutch, who cites Toronto’s CP24 and CityNews as strong examples of networks that know their audience. Its anchors are young and diverse, just like the city they read the news to.

In 2017, Ottawa-based Public Policy Forum released “The Shattered Mirror,” a report on the future of the news industry. The study asked Canadians how they learn about what is happening in their communities as well as around the world. Most respondents told survey researchers that while they get much of their news from Facebook, when something big is happening, they turn to a trusted source. That source is often an established news brand or a particular journalist, such as a television anchor. This suggests that there’s promise for CBC’s flagship program to reclaim its standing in Canadian media.

After the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic on March 11, The National saw a sharp rise in ratings. That week, the show had a combined audience of 1.15 million viewers. Weeks prior, it had a combined audience of 714,000, marking a 61 percent increase, according to Numeris. While it is not unprecedented for major outlets to enjoy a viewership surge in times of crisis, this spike was astounding. From March 16 to April 2, the show had a combined average minute audience of 1.57 million. (Prior to COVID-19, the show’s average viewer was aged 62. The average age is now 57.)

[su_dropcap style=”simple” size=”10″]T[/su_dropcap]he February 20 broadcast of The National concludes, like each episode, with a segment called “The Moment,” which unpacks a viral story from the Internet. This evening’s Moment covers the death of Larry Tesler, the Silicon Valley pioneer who invented the copy-and-paste function. The segment, added to episodes during the 2017 relaunch, pulls from content circulating on social media, and repurposes it into a televised form—part of the program’s efforts to make the Internet seem accessible to those still watching the news on TV.

The National is still seeking new audiences through digital platforms while adjusting its approach to the broadcast, says McGuire, prior to her departure from the CBC. This means having a strong social media team and adapting stories specifically for apps. “We’ve been iterating since the get-go….We were transparent that would be the approach from the start,” she says of the show’s structure.

Gruzuk says the show is ever-restabilizing, just like the journalism industry itself. “Do we hit the mark every night? No. It’s an evolving business where every day the news is different. And finding that perfect alchemy of great journalism with the exact stories the audience is looking for from us? That’s the thing we’re trying to do every day.”

Back in 2017, a pair of tall wooden shelves stood in the corner of the show’s set. On the shelves were, among other memorabilia, Knowlton Nash’s trademark glasses, a television owned by Mansbridge in the 1970s and a note that Nash left Mansbridge in 1988 when Mansbridge inherited The National. It also featured a vase containing numerous press passes formerly carried by each host. During the relaunch episode in 2017, Arsenault described the shelf as “a nod to the great legacy and history of this place.” In 2018, it was removed. Staff felt that the shelf—a mini-museum of nostalgia displaying relics of the past—was hard to shoot around. While the shelf served as a shrine commemorating the show’s storied history, its presence and subsequent removal seemed to emulate the pressures facing the new hosts and producers. How do you embrace the future when the past is lurking in the shadows?

Gruzuk says the program’s producers acknowledge the show will always be developing. “We’re not done,” he says. “We’re never done.”

The National will continue to be central to CBC’s identity, assures Paulin. “[In the future] it may be The National as a flagship brand living on a different type of platform that is not a linear newscast. That’s possible. That’s not the current plan,” he says. “But who knows what the future holds?”

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