Robert Hurst stepping down as head of CTV News; has spent 38 years at network


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TORONTO - After 38 years with CTV, Robert Hurst is stepping down as the network's news president, saying it's simply the right time to go.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/12/2010 (4574 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

TORONTO – After 38 years with CTV, Robert Hurst is stepping down as the network’s news president, saying it’s simply the right time to go.

The 61-year-old broadcaster announced his decision in a staff meeting Wednesday that left some staffers in tears. But the matter-of-fact newsman remained dry-eyed, he said later in an interview.

“When you have an opportunity to go out on top of your game you kind of really seriously examine that,” said Hurst, who has worked as a correspondent for most of his life.

“CTV News has been the number one television news organization of this country for 22 years — (at the) national, local level — and I’ve been running it for the better part of 10. There’s a natural cycle here. There are new owners, the general election is several months away, the royal wedding is several months away, so the moment and the time is right.”

Hurst has held the top news job at CTV since September 2002.

He began his broadcasting career with CTV in 1973, working as a writer for “Canada AM.” Within a few years, when he was just 26, he was named news director at Toronto’s CFTO affiliate.

That was followed by a return to reporting, which included foreign postings in Washington, Moscow and Beijing and stints as a war correspondent in Nicaragua, El Salvador and North Korea.

In 1994, he returned to Canada and held various positions, including chief news editor and vice president. In 1995, he spearheaded the application for CTV News 1, which later became CTV Newsnet, and is now known as CTV News Channel.

He was the acting senior vice-president of CTV News when the network made its major push to the web about 10 years ago.

“Bob goes out a winner with CTV News standing tall as Canada’s No. 1 (in) news,” Ivan Fecan, president and CEO of CTVglobemedia and CEO of CTV Inc., said in a statement.

CTV said Hurst will remain in his current position until a successor is named in the coming weeks. Hurst said interviews have already begun.

Lloyd Robertson’s nightly newscast has been a ratings winner during Hurst’s tenure. Hurst says he hasn’t tinkered much with the format.

“You can’t be changing it up every few months or every few years,” he said.

“We built our set in 1988. The only significant change I’ve done with the national news was we took it HD last summer. But essentially the fundamentals are still there and still the same. The fundamentals of that broadcast — the set, the graphics, the fundamentals are there.”

While commending CBC as a great organization, he questioned the decision to embark on a massive overhaul of the news division. Recent changes included new graphics, a rebranding of Newsworld to CBC News Network, and standing hosts for “The National.”

“We compete with CBC News every single day and they did their relaunch last January with … graphics and standing up, and it’s fascinating and it’s interesting but unfortunately it hasn’t proven any increased ratings. Anywhere. Either on (CBC host) Peter (Mansbridge)’s show, ‘The National,’ or the local news,” said Hurst.

Even with the impending departure of Robertson from “CTV National News,” not much will change, he said. Hurst predicted a smooth transition for incoming host Lisa LaFlamme when she officially takes over next year.

“Lloyd will finish one day and Lisa will start the next day and we’ve got some huge special events where both of them will be involved if they’re this spring — meaning royal wedding and election,” said Hurst.

Still, he admitted that the departure of veteran broadcaster Tom Clark in September after LaFlamme nabbed the top job was disappointing.

“That was a tough situation but that was last summer. Tom was a longtime friend of mine and it’s part of the process. We had to choose somebody and we chose Lisa.”

Hurst leaves the TV news scene as a third 24-hour English-language cable news channel — Sun TV — prepares to join the dial in March. He applauded the addition of another an all-news, Canadian-only voice when “there are so few on the dial.”

“I’m sure there’s a market,” he said of the conservative-bent channel.

“I suspect the market isn’t as big as it is in the United States. Clearly, there’s a market in Canada on radio for right-wing talk.”

While Hurst said he can’t rule out the possibility of returning to CTV in an advisory position, he expects to make a complete break from his days in news.

“I’ve got a cottage in Huntsville and I’ve got a great big open area,” he said of a retreat north of Toronto.

“I’ve been sort of thinking in the last few weeks if this happens then I could probably spend the winter building a cedar-stripped canoe.”

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