Days after longtime CTV Winnipeg anchor Gord Leclerc was laid off, loyal viewers still can’t believe they will no longer see his face on the six o’clock news.
On social media, commenters have lamented his absence from the local newscasts. Leclerc himself weighed in, tweeting: "It’s been my privilege to have been welcomed into your homes and lives over the years. I cannot thank you enough for entrusting me with your time."
"To me, Gord Leclerc was the evening news," Heather James said at a downtown coffee shop Monday afternoon.
For nearly two decades, Leclerc was the broadcaster’s senior anchor in Winnipeg, before becoming a casualty of a nationwide round of layoffs by Bell Media, the network’s parent company. Winnipeg radio DJ Mark Morris was also laid off from his role as a host with BOB FM, and other prominent broadcast employees were left without jobs in markets such as Ottawa, Montreal and Windsor, Ont.
A Bell spokesperson attributed the layoffs to a shifting industry, and said the staffing changes were made to ensure its various networks remained competitive while "managing the impact on our bottom line." The spokesperson said the company would still be "investing in content and platforms."
Since Leclerc’s departure Nov. 13, former co-anchor Maralee Caruso has done the job alone.
Such a shift is indicative of changing habits: a 2019 news consumption poll commissioned by the Canadian Journalism Foundation found the older Canadian consumers are, the more likely they are to tune in to TV news. Conversely, the younger demographics are much less likely to get their news from a traditional television broadcast, and more likely to look to online options(including social media channels).
As a result, it isn’t too surprising to see traditional broadcasts at a local level focusing more attention on online audiences, said Lisa Taylor, an assistant professor and undergraduate program director at Ryerson University’s School of Journalism. Independent digital news startups, such as the Sprawl in Calgary, or the Deep in Atlantic Canada, have also sprung up as traditional media changes.
For years, CityNews has been utilizing "anchorless" TV broadcasts, instead relying on roving reporters to "host" the newscast remotely, stitching stories together without the interstitial input from anchors at a desk.
Ahead of that network’s expansion into a number of cities, including Winnipeg in 2017, Rogers Media vice-president of news and information for television Dave Budge told Ryerson's J-Source the shift was "not eroding journalism," but was "a different way of thinking about presentation and prioritization information over polish."
Taylor said TV anchors are often now pulling double duty, writing content for the web or going out into the field and reporting themselves — an indication a job that once defined local journalism has shifted.
In Edmonton last month, longtime CTV anchor Daryl McIntyre left the network as part of an involuntary buyout, according to the Ottawa Citizen; in 2018, the network’s six o’clock news anchors in Vancouver were laid off as well.
Forty years ago, it might have felt impossible for a long-tenured TV anchor to be considered expendable, but Taylor said the move hasn’t come out of the blue. Still, it’s not surprising to see widespread dissatisfaction over the removal of a popular anchor.
"What people in large media centres don’t really get is how iconic some of those smaller media centre hosts are," said Taylor. "A longtime host might be better known than a lot of significant local politicians. Every last person knows who they are."
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.