I am writing this as Don Newman completes his last Politics program for CBC Newsworld. Any minute now he'll sign off and a storied career will end its most significant chapter.
I was fortunate enough to be hired as a host 20 years ago next week in Ottawa at the largest-ever journalistic experiment in Canadian history this generation, the all-news cable channel that complemented CBC's extensive conventional channel news material.
Don was brought aboard in a much larger role as the anchor of daily material in Ottawa, and given the amount he had to front, we fellow employees immediately renamed the channel Newsmansworld. In the early days it was Don's job to stickhandle the network's coverage of the House of Commons and much of its parliamentary and political material. His role only expanded; one thing about a national capital that's certain is its endless supply of politicians to interview, and Don was relentlessly present and consistent.
It is no exaggeration to say he would be on the air at times for hours day and night anchoring or bookending events, and it is also no exaggeration to say he was able at times to summon some sort of encyclopedic memory to --- well, let's be frank --- kill time when it was necessary to bridge to a live event. Don could cite statistics, round it into shape, keep a coherent narrative and move to the event better than anyone under such circumstances I've ever seen on TV.
Truth be told, the CBC culture of that early time made Newsworld feel a little lesser-than, mainly because it consumed a lot of CBC News' resources without paying for everything at first.
But because Newman was out of its fold --- he hosted This Week In Parliament and was a reporter in the CBC News Ottawa bureau --- he was able to push back and demand that the place be taken more and more seriously. As more and more funding issues hit the public broadcaster, the cable revenue stream for Newsworld made it more and more economically important --- and thus more and more journalistically supportive of the overall CBC News enterprise.
Some of the top talent at CBC found its way to Newsworld and a lot had to do with Don's own credibility that built an audience and reinforced the business model of a cable news channel (CTV later launched a rival). I believe he is the lone remaining anchor of that start-up still in place, but the start-up would not be the fortified Canadian channel were it not for his continuity.
Along the way he earned the Order of Canada and interviewed everyone in Canadian politics, always with a reasonable tone of reverence and an underlying accountability. He knew his files as well as anyone and the politicians knew they weren't going to slip assertions by him, so they came and dealt honestly or didn't come so as not to be embarrassed by their hubris.
His retirement really signals an end to a particular brand of programming and a real loss for . (Disclosure: I've done the show a couple of dozen times over the years.) I'm not sure who or what replaces him, but it won't be the same.