Global Anchor Leslie Roberts Tells The Truth About The News

AmongMen sits down with Global anchor Leslie Roberts (Photo credit: Global News)
AmongMen sits down with Global anchor Leslie Roberts (Photo credit: Global News)

When Leslie Roberts interviewed Rene Lévesque in 1980 during the heat of the Quebec referendum, he was 18 and ‘scared shitless.’ Lévesque was an imposing figure: the founder and leader of the Parti Québécois, the most powerful advocate for the national sovereignty of the province.

Compared to his successors though, Leslie says, Lévesque was a moderate. “He actually believed English Montrealers were important to the change that was happening. Quebec was in linguistic apartheid.” The young Roberts, grandson and namesake of the voice of English Montreal at the time, was candid with the political heavyweight. Welsh in descent but born and raised in Montreal, Roberts felt like a second class citizen in his home province. But it was the French, Lévesque explained, that were the second class in the larger scheme.

Now, sitting at his news-desk at Global in Toronto, Roberts explains what that conversation 35 years ago taught him. Mostly, it was the difference between a reporter and a journalist. The difference is that a reporter gives the facts while a journalist tells their personal story. While both forms of dispatch are necessary, the two kinds of truth often get in the way of each other. They had to sort themselves out sitting across from the Québécois leader. 

Leslie Roberts is an anchor on Global Toronto and— “what’s my title?”— executive editor of the superstation. It means every morning he and his team take a gut-check, and decide what the news will be. And every day he decides to be the reporter. 

Not to say—the Leaf’s fan is quick to acknowledge— that reportage is always the straight beef. “The nature and definition of the news has changed. The bottom line is ratings. It’s not the journalist who makes the decisions now. It’s the consumer.” In other words, no matter who you are, it is this voice you speak for. 

And so, he expains, even a reporter serves two dishes. People care about tabloid: the instantaneous itemization of celebrities’ daily lives, as much as the real news. They want a voice that understands, that has facts fit for their perspective. Leslie gives a little information about Global News’ changing mandate, made to fit that audience. “Here’s your scoop. Global is becoming an advocate.”

“You’ll see more of it on-screen. We’re going to start asking questions and continue asking them until we get the answers.” It means more of the public’s voice on air: a reporter’s obligation to the truth with a journalist’s tie to a particular identity. “A lot of this” he notes “is still confidential.” What’s important is that a larger return is being made to exposé reporting in a style to fit a technologically advanced consumer world. It means that now Roberts is the advocate, not the man sitting across from him.

He tells another story. Leslie’s great-grandfather, a first generation Montrealer, published “The Axe,” a newspaper reporting on the corruption of the liberal government. Back then, if you voted Liberal, they paved your road. When Roberts’ ancestor stood against this, he was thrown in jail.

“I haven’t been thrown in jail yet” says the former dish-washer (another story), almost hopefully. “The Press has never been freer.” That does mean fluff and ratings making decisions, but also competition. “When the National Post came on the scene” he says, “The Globe and Mail became a better newspaper.”

But there is one limitation. Live, he sits alone in a room with three cameras. The room is lime green, and the newsroom around him is virtual. He can’t wear anything lime-green, but he can wear funky socks. Which he does.

“They’re from Marshalls. It’s nice to wear them under a restricting, news-man suit. They’re comfortable, and they give me some style cred.”

Credibility mixed with freedom is harder to find than a younger man might have thought. 

Zach Buck

Zach Buck

Zach Buck is a writer and editor currently living in South Korea. He serves as the official editor of Spatial Studies magazine HEADREST. In 2016 he released experimental digital archive game house.xct_ with Other Families, and it can be read about on otherfamilies.ca.

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