UP FRONT

THE COMFORT ZONE

Anchor Peter Jennings connected with his TV audience in a very special way

Peter Mansbridge August 22 2005
UP FRONT

THE COMFORT ZONE

Anchor Peter Jennings connected with his TV audience in a very special way

Peter Mansbridge August 22 2005

THE COMFORT ZONE

UP FRONT

Mansbridge on the Record

Anchor Peter Jennings connected with his TV audience in a very special way

Peter Mansbridge

TELEVISION’S network news-anchor club doesn’t have a lot of members, so those who are in it get used to hearing some of the same things from the people who watch them. Perhaps the most common is when strangers come up to you and start a conversation with: “I feel like you’re part of my family because you’ve been in my home every night for years.” Or when they’re particularly frisky, there’s always the dependable, “I go to bed with you every night.” Not everyone we meet is absolutely certain who we are—I’ve been called Mr. Robertson more than a few times, and Lloyd loves to tell the story about how he and his wife picked up a rain-soaked pedestrian one evening and went out of their way to drive her homeonly to have her say as she left the car, “Thank you so much, Mr. Mansbridge.”

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For so many people, stories such as space disasters, the Gulf and Afghanistan will forever be linked to the way he told them

The point is that TV news anchors, whether they wish it or not, connect with their audiences in a very personal way, as we have witnessed in these days following the sad passing of Peter Jennings. There has been a considerable amount of coverage on both sides of the border concerning his death, and a good deal of it has prompted heartfelt emotion. And no wonder—the Toronto-born journalist was not only one of the world’s best at his profession, he had a dedicated audience that he helped lead through a complicated world. But he was, as he would almost certainly have argued, just a news anchor. Why then the extensive tributes, the tears, the flowers left outside his network’s studios?

A few weeks ago, when the CBC lost through retirement one of our most cele-

brated correspondents—David Halton, who ironically was a childhood chum of Jenningssome of our viewers may have helped provide the answer. On the days following an on-air tribute to David’s work that looked back at 40 years of his stories, the response flowed in from those who had admired his reportage. But it was more than that—some wrote of how sad they were about David’s leaving because, in so many ways, his telling of the great issues of our time had helped, in a way, frame their lives. And so I’m sure it was with Peter Jennings.

For almost two generations of viewers, he’d been there with his incredibly smooth and intelligent style: as a foreign correspondent in the turbulent Middle East; and as an anchor steering the coverage of assassination attempts, space disasters, elections, wars in the Gulf, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Iraq, not to mention the marathon broadcast that was Sept. 11. For many, those stories will forever be linked to the way he told them. To suddenly not have him there is a loss that speaks not just of him, but of those who had so depended upon him to not only explain, but to comfort.

I knew Peter—not closely, but enough that we would spend a few moments chatting when our paths crossed. But mostly, I, like his millions of other viewers, based my relationship on what I saw on the screen. Often when the big stories would hit, I’d be sitting in my anchor chair trying to make sense of it all for our viewers, and I’d catch a glimpse of the monitors in the studio that would be tracking the coverage of our colleagues. While the volume was switched off, there was always one channel where I could still “hear” the comforting tones of the anchor embracing his audience in his very particular style. And I still do.

Peter Mansbridge is Chief Correspondent of CBC Television News and Anchor of The National.

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