Friday, September 2, 2011

My family helped Lloyd Robertson cover 9-11 and other memories of Canada's Most Trusted Anchor

"Goodnight Lloyd"

When the twin towers were hit on Sept 11, 2001, I was working for CTV News and CTV Newsnet in Toronto (before it was renamed CTV News Channel, it used to be called Newsnet) in several capacities.

I was a business anchor in the CTV national newsroom (see screen cap), but I also did writing, and editing for Newsnet, I worked as one of the writers for the CTV National News with Sandi Rinaldo, I wrote and posted stories on CTV.ca  and I worked on their coverage of Pope John Paul the second's illness and death.


At CTV National News, it isn't unusual for journalists to do a lot of things. That's one of the great things about working there: lot's of opportunities.

But part of the reason why folks do a lot of different journalistic functions at CTV News headquarters might be because the CTV national newsroom is pretty small, despite how it looks on TV.

Everyone works closely together in a main hub, at Channel 9 Court in Toronto. The assignment editors, writers, producers, video editors, master control, and the senior news executives' offices all are in or on top of this open hub.

Which is how I got to rub shoulders with Lloyd Robertson.

His office is, as CBC Ombudsman Kirk Lapointe points out in his blog, pretty small for someone who has been a giant in the Canadian news business for so long. It was located in the north east corner of the newsroom, right beside where the staff mailboxes were, on the way to the bathroom and some recording rooms and the library.

So when I was a business anchor there, my anchor desk was actually right beside Lloyd's office. I remember how awed I used to feel as he would come into work in the afternoons. He drove his own car. No limo driver for him. And he always encouraged everyone with a friendly greeting, a supportive comment, and made everyone treat him as if he was an ordinary guy.

I only heard him yell once in the years I worked at CTV (1997-2006).

It was when he was anchoring a newscast.   When the show went to commercial break, he was livid because someone had gotten the name of a newsmaker wrong in one of Lloyd's scripts, or had misspelled the name (I was never quite sure). He yelled down from his anchor chair to his senior writer Jeff Wigle (who is now at the helm of Sun TV News) to find out how this had happened. I imagine it was horrifying to Lloyd because he was a consummate professional and didn't enjoy what he must have felt was a blow to his credibility as a newscaster.

I also remember feeling secretly scandalized, yet proud, when I once saw Lloyd dressed for anchoring in his suit, but wearing bedroom slippers on his feet under the anchor desk. I thought that showed that he was a normal human being who also suffers from sore feet once in a while.

But Lloyd's the coverage of Sept. 11, 2001 showed how extraordinarily talented he is.



When the news broke about the Twin Towers, I wasn't scheduled to work that day. Like most people, I was glued to the TV and feeling extremely shaky and scared. But I called the human resources guy Ted Wilson and asked to be able to come in to the newsroom to help. When I got there at 5 p.m., Lloyd had already been on the air for hours, live.

We were all flying on adrenaline, as no one had experienced anything like this terror attack before. Tom Haberstroh and Joanne MacDonald and the specials team were hunkered down in the control room, while Lloyd was in the national news desk chair, calmly and authoritatively reviewing the information for Canadians, as it came in, and taking directions in his earpiece. As he has said, the crazier things get, the calmer an anchor needs to be to avoid panicking the viewers.

Lloyd's live 9-11 special needed continuous interviews and guests to fill the airtime, so I whipped out my little black book, and got to work. My step-sister Karen is a Canadian lawyer who lives with her family in New York City. I got her on the line, asked if she would take a call and be interviewed by Lloyd. I remember she told him she was sitting on the floor in their apartment hunkered down, and in shock at what had happened.

Next I got my sister's sister-in-law lined up for Lloyd to interview: Rhonda is a Canadian psychologist specializing in anxiety and stress disorders for people who've survived terrorist attacks. She's normally based in Israel but she was in New York on 9-11, and decided to make her way down to the hospitals to see if she could help out. Lloyd interviewed her, too, about what the psychological implications would be for survivors of the 9-11 attacks.

I don't remember seeing Lloyd leave the anchor desk for the entire 14 hours he provided live coverage of the 9-11 attacks.

Watching his daughter's tribute documentary and his final newscast last night will be required viewing for my television students this fall at Centennial College in Toronto.
http://watch.ctv.ca/news/top-picks/lloyd-robertson/

Goodnight Lloyd.

2 comments:

  1. Ellin...what a great story and memories. How lucky you were to have worked so closely with Lloyd Robertson.

    ReplyDelete
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