TORONTO — Former “W5” host Kevin Newman says the demise of Canada's longstanding prime-time investigative program is “depressing” and he worries about the future of hard-hitting journalism in the country.
CTV's hour-long documentary series is among the programs hit by widespread cuts announced by Bell Media parent company BCE Inc. on Thursday.
"It's disappointing because there's a shrinking number of places and (less) ability to perform investigative journalism in Canada. As outlets and opportunities for that kind of journalism — which takes time and resources — disappear, I worry that we're losing an important skill set," Newman said Friday.
"It's a pretty sad day for people who care about the kinds of things that 'W5' tackled."
An internal memo circulated among Bell Media staff says the award-winning program will "evolve" from a stand-alone documentary series to become “a multi-part, multiplatform investigative reporting unit.”
Its reports will be featured on "CTV National News," the CTV News website and various other CTV platforms.
The memo said 4,800 jobs “at all levels of the company” would be cut.
The cuts extended to various CTV newscasts and daytime programming at BNN Bloomberg, with casualties including "CTV National News" regional bureau chiefs Jill Macyshon in Winnipeg and Bill Fortier in Edmonton.
Bios on the CTV website for Macyshon and Fortier, as well as parliamentary correspondent Kevin Gallagher and Montreal reporter Vanessa Lee, state they are no longer with the company.
Bell Media did not respond to a request Friday for specifics about the changes at “W5,” including whether they involved staff cuts.
But Newman said he heard several "W5" staffers were laid off, several of whom asked Bell Media if they could work free of charge to finish the investigations they were in the middle of.
"Even after being told they had no jobs, they were willing to work for free to complete their work so that Canadians could see it. And that says everything about the professionalism and the dedication of the current staff of 'W5.'"
"W5," which launched in 1966 and is in its 58th season, took deep dives into a wide array of issues, from government corruption to consumer fraud to cold case murders. It famously served as inspiration for U.S. investigative program "60 Minutes," which debuted on CBS two years later.
Its hosts and contributors included prominent faces in journalism, including Lloyd Robertson and Lisa LaFlamme.
Newman, who was host and managing editor of the series from 2016 to 2019, said he was told "W5" was "the most powerful homegrown brand" that CTV had when he worked there.
"I'm not surprised they don't want to let go of the brand name, but what they are letting go of is longform investigative journalism," he said.
"Good reporting will continue, and some investigative work will happen with a much smaller group, but it'll have to fit into the format of two-and-a-half, three minutes on a national newscast. And that's a different beast. That's not the same thing."
Newman worries there's now a dearth of outlets in Canada devoting resources to in-depth investigations.
"CBC still does a good job at 'The Fifth Estate,' but it's the last person standing at this point," he said.
The public broadcaster said in December that it too faced cuts, and announced plans to shave 10 per cent its workforce and scale back programming.
Brent Jolly, president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said he's "pretty dejected and horrified" to see "W5" cease to exist in its current form.
"Longform, investigative reporting doesn't necessarily generate profits, but it's a public service, and Canadians have a right to fair and accurate information," he said.
"I think what it's ultimately going to take is for us to really rethink how we see investigative journalism. It's not a consumer good designed to turn a profit every quarter. It's part of our civic infrastructure and a public good that we all need in order to be full democratic citizens."
Newman said "W5" always felt "precarious" because "we all knew it was a bit of a luxury item." Good investigative journalism costs time and money, he said.
"I know that the current group at 'W5' fought for it this time and appealed for a stay of execution. But ultimately, the decision was made that they didn't feel that it was financially sustainable. It was a show that didn't lose money, but it didn't make much money either," he said.
"In the environment that exists today and with the ownership that exists currently, I guess that wasn't good enough."
Among Newman's proudest moments on "W5" was a multi-year investigation into money laundering in British Columbia.
"Without programs like 'W5' around, there's less accountability in the system, there's less ability to push authority when it doesn't want to be pushed, and there's less patience in the journalistic community for waiting things out."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2024.
Alex Nino Gheciu, The Canadian Press