Q&A: Ian Hanomansing, one fourth of the new anchor squad on the National

Q&A: Ian Hanomansing, one fourth of the new anchor squad on the National

Tonight at 10 p.m., Ian Hanomansing makes his debut on the National. The CBC stalwart is one of four fresh faces behind the anchor desk (Adrienne Arsenault will join him in Toronto, Rosemary Barton is based in Ottawa and Andrew Chang is in Vancouver). The post-Peter Mansbridge show aims to provide a more discerning, analysis-heavy broadcast—an antidote to the 24/7 news cycle and social media. We spoke to Hanomansing about how he plans to cut through the crap, diversity in broadcasting and why he may not live up to his flattering nickname.

Lately, broadcasters like CityNews and Vice have been experimenting with anchor-free news formats. Do you think the age of the anchor is coming to an end?
Well, first I should point out my obvious conflict of interest. You look at City and Vice and they’re trying this bold new experiment, but most newscasts still have anchors. A lot more people watch CTV Toronto than are watching City or Vice. But I think we can all see that the era of someone reading a series of intros and then presenting a series of two-minute news stories is over. And so we at the National are asking, is there a role for someone who is presenting the news to an audience? I guess what the CBC is betting on is that, in this world where bits and pieces of information are floating around all day, audiences are still looking for a place that’s going to take an in-depth look at the significant things of the day.

How do you plan to provide that value-add in a one-hour broadcast?
Our plan is to identify three stories that we can really drill down on. Before, the National felt like it had to be the show of record. Anything that was significant had to be on the show that night. That clearly isn’t the case anymore, because the CBC’s website can be the record. We are moving away from the two-minute news story, which has always been the standard. You can tell a lot in that time, but you can only tell so much. You don’t have a lot of time for nuance or analysis.

Before the CBC announced the Fab Four anchor model, you were widely considered the frontrunner. Be honest: were you a little bummed to learn you have to share the top slot?
A lot of people have asked that, but no. I was fully prepared to not get this job. They were so unclear about what the process was going to be and what they were looking for.

So you had your “it’s an honour just to be nominated” face all ready to go?
I did. It wasn’t until the middle of July that I even found out I had the job. I never got to the point of, “Hey man, how come I have to share the desk?”

Why are four better than one?
Well, originally they were going to go with three, and then they realized that three wasn’t enough. It’s six nights a week, five time zones a night and a promise to be live in a portion of each one of those newscasts, which is definitely not the norm and requires extra manpower. The other thing is that, with four anchors, each of us will have an opportunity to get out into the field and report without any disruption to the broadcast. On Friday, we were doing a practice broadcast as if we were live, and I wasn’t on the program that day. Instead I spent a large part of the day in Brampton, interviewing Diana Abel, the Silver Cross Mother for 2017, whose son died serving in the armed forces, and who is going to be part of the national Remembrance Day ceremony on Friday.

The new team is made up of two female broadcasters and two male broadcasters of colour. To what extent was diversity a priority?
I would argue that the diversity comes in a different way. There is a huge range in terms of age. I’m 56 and Andrew Chang is 34. You have people who have grown up in different parts of the country, people with different work experience: Adrienne Arsenault is a fantastic foreign correspondent, Rosemary Barton is a fluently bilingual political reporter who has spent time in Ottawa and Quebec. If you look at a lot of anchor teams in the States, I bet you’ll see that they’re very homogenous: all went to Harvard or Yale, all lived in the northeast. We represent diversity in a lot of ways that aren’t immediately apparent, but are really significant when it comes to generating story ideas.

Is making history as the first Canadian lead anchor of Asian decent (along with your co-anchor, Andrew Chang) something that feels important to you?
When I was a kid growing up in the Maritimes, nobody outside of our family was nonwhite. Ethnicity was always on people’s minds when they saw me, and I remember back then dreaming about a time where people would take me on my merits. To a certain extent, I think I have gotten there. I think when people see me on TV, they don’t think, “Oh, there’s that brown guy Ian.” They think, “Oh there’s Ian, who happens to be brown.”

Do you think that reflects progress in broadcasting?
In the last 10 years, let’s say, I feel like the best people are getting chosen for the job—but a lot of those best people have still been white males. Now we have four people anchoring this broadcast who aren’t that. Hopefully, in the bigger picture, it’s a step towards a time where, when you say “news anchor,” people aren’t automatically picturing a certain gender and ethnicity.

After Mansbridge stepped down, the CBC hinted that a “younger, hipper” replacement might be in store. Is that how you see yourself, Ian?
Ha! No, I don’t think that is how anyone sees me, though I have more interest in Top 40 music than you would imagine. That’s the other thing about having four of us. I think if I had been the one anchor, the story line might have been: wow, the CBC had a chance to change generations here and they didn’t. Whereas, if they had skipped my generation of journalist, then people might have said, “Wait a second. What about all of those years of tradition?”

You’ve relocated from Vancouver to Toronto for the new gig. What do you like most about your new hometown?
What’s awesome about Toronto is the energy. Vancouver is a big city, but Toronto is a big city. I’m living near the CBC, and what surprises me is how many twenty and thirty-somethings there are on the streets, all the time. It’s inspiring. I have actually, for the first time in my life, started going to spin classes on King Street, which is so not me and feels very Toronto.

As you’re surely aware, a lot of female fans refer to you as Ian “Handsome-Man-Thing.” How do you feel about the nickname?
Well, it would be flattering, but here’s the thing. If everybody does their job properly—lighting and makeup—I look good on TV, but not so much in real life. So it sets me up to disappoint people. I feel like people see me and think, maybe that’s the brother of that guy with the nickname.