Veteran journalists depart CTV Ottawa amid ‘dramatic shift’ in local news

Michael O'Byrne
Veteran anchor Michael O'Byrne is among the slew of journalists retiring this week from CTV Ottawa. Photo via Bell Media.

A slew of journalists are leaving CTV Ottawa this week as the shifting business model for local television news continues to put pressure on broadcasters.

Among the veteran newscasters signing off this week are sportscaster Terry Marcotte, anchor Michael O’Byrne and reporter Joanne Schnurr, who, combined, have spent more than a century working for the CJOH/CTV station in Ottawa. Reporter Catherine Lathem will also depart the station after 18 years.

Behind the scenes, award-winning editor Tony Zito and senior producer Mark Tomkins are also wrapping up with CTV this week.

The departing journalists have received an outpouring of well-wishes on social media upon announcing their retirements or plans to pursue new opportunities.

A Bell Media spokesperson confirmed to OBJ that departing employees at the CTV Ottawa station will be replaced, though those roles could look significantly different than years past, according to a media professional familiar with the changing tides at the local broadcaster.

“There is a dramatic shift underway,” says Kimothy Walker, an Ottawa-based PR professional who left her anchor position with CTV Ottawa in 2014 following 25 years with the station.

Television journalists are increasingly expected to both shoot and report their own stories, Walker says, a departure from the traditional TV model that saw on-air reporters work with a dedicated cameraperson. Advancements in technology, the rise of the internet and a shrinking audience for local news have radically altered the TV industry, and Walker says the audience will have to get used to a new model as some of CTV Ottawa’s most familiar faces move on.

“I think what we’re seeing is a fundamental change in the way stories are told,” she says.

Observers have been sounding the alarm for years about the business model of local TV as alternatives such as online streaming services have surged in popularity. A 2016 report submitted to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission forecasted major shutdowns across the local TV landscape amid a 25 per cent decline in revenue since 2010; a 2018 study on the rate of news outlet shutdowns revealed 14 local TV stations across Canada closed their doors in the previous decade.

Though she’s confident in the young talent that will step in to fill the roles left by CTV Ottawa’s veteran journalists, Walker pushes back against audience members who bemoan the state of local media in 2019.

“I get pretty tired of people pointing fingers when they're not actually buying a product,” she says, adding that watching newscasts – whether live on TV or streamed online – is the only way to properly support local media.

“If people value their local news and the quality of their local news, they certainly haven't shown it,” she says. “If they value this, they need to invest in it by watching. That's actually how the business works. And I think a lot of people don't understand that.”