COVER

THE FACE OF QUEBEC

BRENDA BRANSWELL May 26 1997
COVER

THE FACE OF QUEBEC

BRENDA BRANSWELL May 26 1997

THE FACE OF QUEBEC

From the turbulent October Crisis of 1970 to the nail-biting 1995 referendum to the current election campaign, francophones have tuned in en masse to Radio-Canada’s Le Téléjournal with Bernard Derome. After 26 years at the Téléjournal desk in Montreal, the avuncular Derome is one of Canada’s longest-serving news anchors and a respected fixture on Quebec television. It is not a role Derome takes lightly. In fact, he admits to sometimes feeling a bit anxious before going on air. “I think the more experience you have, the more vulnerable you are,” says Derome, “and the less people forgive mistakes.” But when the introductory music to his 10 p.m. newscast fades, Derome betrays no sign of nervousness: reading in a steady, authoritative tone, he frequently gestures with his index finger to emphasize a point. “His staying power is incredible,” says Florian Sauvageau, head of journalism programs at Laval University, who believes Derome’s longevity stems from his serious approach. “He’s one of the last ramparts against show business in television journalism.”

At 53, Derome shows no signs of complacency. Colleagues marvel at how assiduously Derome—once dubbed a “news pit bull” by a colleague—prepares himself for stories. “Bernard is foremost a journalist,” says Daniel Lessard, Radio-Canada’s senior correspondent in Ottawa. “And he is very, very good.” He can also be demanding to work with, a point Derome readily concedes. “But I am demanding of myself as well,” he says.

Unlike many anchors, Derome plays a major role in preparing the newscast, from selecting stories to writing some of the copy. Sitting in a boardroom next to the sprawling Radio-Canada newsroom, the soft-spoken, congenial Derome lights up a cigarillo—a habit resurrected since the election campaign began—and explains his approach to the job. "I say to myself each time, ‘What’s the story?’ ” Derome remarks, repeating the phrase a few times. “ ‘Is it a real story?’ and, ‘How do we tell it?’ ” And, given Quebec’s

heated political climate, Derome says that “you have to weigh your words.”

Derome was thrust into Le Téléjournaís anchor job at 26, just weeks before the October Crisis, in which the FLQ carried out two kidnappings and a murder. “I was probably too young to do the job,” he says. “I’m not sure they would take such a chance today.” Derome was raised in Montreal’s affluent Outremont district, in a family with a journalistic tradition: his grandfather, Oswald Mayrand, was the editor of both La Presse and the now-defunct La Patrie, while his father, Jules, who died in 1980, was once a radio reporter. Ironically, television was initially banned in his home. At 18, Derome landed a job at a Rimouski station, reading TV and radio news and spinning discs; he became so popular that some of his listeners formed a fan club. After a two-year stint at Radio-Canada’s Ottawa bureau, Derome returned to Montreal as a reporter, later becoming anchor for Le Téléjournal.

Divorced with three grown children, Derome lives with public-relations specialist Marie Caron, his partner of 13 years. As intense as he can be at work, he is very relaxed away from the job, his colleagues say. Lessard describes him as a bon vivant who loves food and seeing friends.

Le Téléjournafs ratings now slightly trail those of its rival on the privately owned TVA network—a situation that has led some to muse about Derome’s future. But several observers point out that when it comes to major news events, Derome and Radio-Canada wallop the competition. His devoted viewers can take heart. Derome maintains he’ll stay on as long as he is healthy and “as long as I enjoy it.” Adds Lessard: “Bernard is like Walter Cronkite in the United States. He’ll leave when he decides to leave. No one will push him.”

BRENDA BRANSWELL in Montreal