Troy Reeb: Global’s news flash

From Wider Horizons magazine - Fall 2008

You’re a fighter, a heavyweight champ, once again ready to answer the bell for another round against a familiar adversary. You’ve studied his footwork, know enough to stay away from the jab and you figure he’ll tire if you can get him on the ropes. You trained hard for this, planned a solid strategy and you’re confident your execution of fundamentals will win the day.

But when you leave the stool, you discover there are now numerous opponents in the ring, many of whom you’ve never seen, who don’t fight the same way, follow time-honoured rules or don’t even box. Adjustments must be made immediately or the fight will be a short one.

Welcome to Troy Reeb’s world.

Recently appointed senior vice-president of news and current affairs for CanWest, the Global TV veteran is driving the strategic direction of Global News. This includes playing an integral role in the launch of Global National’s new foreign bureaus in London, Beijing, New Delhi and Jerusalem.

Reeb also oversees Global’s first newsmagazine show, launching this fall. Reeb knows broadcast journalism must continue to evolve if it is to remain as a relevant source of information in an age of rapidly changing technology.

“There are days when you can use film shot by some of the most creative videographers in Canada, or use something some guy shot with a cellphone,” says Reeb, who graduated from Lethbridge College’s Communication Arts program in 1988. “We spend a lot of time thinking where technology is going in the future and no one’s hit it on the head. In the You-Tubing of society, we are forced to make some interesting adjustments.”

Reeb was just 16 when he entered Lethbridge College to obtain the skills he would need for a career in broadcasting. After a start in radio and five years at Canadian Press in Toronto, the kid from Westlock caught on with Global, first as a political correspondent in Ottawa, then a bureau chief in Washington before being picked to lead Global’s news gathering across the country.

That means directing the efforts of 15 conventional stations (including Lethbridge) and several specialty networks as they glean and disseminate Canada’s daily dose of news.

And that means sparring not only with traditional competitors CTV and CBC, but with the Internet and “some guy with a cellphone.”

“There is a plethora of competitors, many of whom we don’t know exist,” says Reeb. “How do you compete against an infinite universe of online choices.”

Fortunately, the skills and news sense he honed at Lethbridge College continue to serve him well in the new news arena. There are two tenets to which he subscribes.

“The first is, you include news that is locally relevant, and second, you establish your brand so you are clearly identified against the clutter.”

While the corporate confluence of the Canadian media has alarmed many astute observers, Reeb notes that while consolidation may appear to have cut competition, the audience share of traditional media is in decline as the market continues to fragment. It is, he says, increasingly harder to stand out.

Two things have helped here: an entirely local newscast produced in Lethbridge, coupled with what Reeb sees as a unique national product.

The combination should sate the cravings of any newshound.

“The best Canadian-made programs are news programs,” says Reeb.

“The viewership of news is higher in the U.S. than it is in Canada, but polls suggest that while Americans may watch more news, the public trust factor is higher here.

“Sure, we’ve experimented in an effort to make news entertaining, but we’ve managed to retain that trust with our viewers. Canadians have an expectation of integrity, and we have to meet that desire.”

That means injecting a human element into each story, and looking for the curious and the titillating while maintaining a balance. Into each go three elements: facts, emotion and context.

Reeb, as would be expected, is a news junkie; even so, he admits times when he’s gravitated away from traditional newscasts when they haven’t met his needs for, as an example, speed.

“News today is on demand through the Internet; it’s a market we’re trying to meet.

People reach a stage in life when they are tuning into broadcasts more often. They are intelligent, mature viewers with a thirst for news, especially since 2001. They need a brand they can trust.”

Reeb shared his deep interest in the news with the public during a visit to campus for Homecoming ’08 in May.

The event was part of the celebration of the College’s 50th anniversary. At that time, Reeb gave one of two talks in the Distinguished Speaker series speaking on the theme Onward and Upward – The Future of Television, Journalism and Political Discourse in Canada and the United States.

His commitment to his craft saw Reeb receive the Lethbridge College Distinguished Alumni award in 2003. The recognition spurred him to create an annual internship for a Communication Arts student. The 2008 winner was Danny Grummett, who spent two weeks in Toronto and Ottawa early in May.

“I’ve always been impressed with the caliber of grads produced by Lethbridge College, and I felt there was a need to create a greater opportunity for internships,” says Reeb. “Global has heartily supported my internship and we’ve selected the best student every year since we began. I’m very proud of the
program.”

Intern winners have, to date, visited Washington, Ottawa and Toronto, ridden in helicopters, been on the scenes of murders and drug raids, and sat with Global’s national news anchor Kevin Newman.

Reeb says new graduates are bringing to bear a new skill set and greater expectations of connectivity with viewers.

“They understand work in the media is not a oneway communication,” says Reeb. “They themselves can communicate with a wide range of people 24/7 and they have an expectation their work in the media will be the same. We need to understand that element better and find more ways for viewers to give feedback to us.”

Seeking improved methods of feedback is just one more challenge faced in the ring of media competition. Based on his proven ability to answer the bell, you can bet Reeb is ready for the next round.