It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s Todd van der Heyden
Todd van der Heyden (Photo: Courtesy of CTV)
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It’s a bird… it’s a plane… it’s Todd van der Heyden

One of Canada’s rising news stars talks about anchoring the top-rated English newscast in Montreal and similarities to his favourite comic book alter-ego, Clark Kent

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Robert Ballantyne
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There are no tougher media markets in Canada than Montreal. Sure, Toronto gets all the attention, but figuring out how to attract and capture a diverse, metropolitan population of over 3.8 million that speaks primarily both French and English is not easy.

CTV’s Todd van der Heyden, the co-anchor of Montreal’s top-rated English local TV newscast (and number two overall), certainly understands the challenges of the market, and has thrived there. He started out at the station 10 years ago as a general assignment reporter and worked his way up to 6 o’clock co-anchor in 2008 alongside Montreal news icon Mutsumi Takahashi.

“I’m having the time of my life,” van der Heyden says. “I grew up in the city, so to be able to anchor here is fantastic.”

Popjournalism caught up with the 36-year-old van der Heyden in la belle province and found out that one of Canada’s rising news stars not only has his feet firmly planted on the ground, but is also a huge fan of comic books, and shares some surprising similarities to his favourite character’s alter-ego, Clark Kent.

Montreal TV Newscast Ratings
Average total weekday audience: Spring 2009
1.TVA (6-7 p.m.)450,000
2.CTV (6-7 p.m.)197,000
3.Radio-Canada (6-7 p.m.)187,000
4.CBC (6-7 p.m.)40,000
5.Global (6-6:30 p.m.)5,000

What was it like starting out at CTV Montreal?
I started out as the late and weekend general assignment reporter. It’s entry level, so you’re working from 3 to 11 at night and you work weekends. They sort of test you out to see if you can handle the deadlines. It’s a bit of a crucible, but I moved onto weekdays and ended up becoming a consumer reporter. I spent five years doing that, and won a couple of awards for my investigative work, too. I far preferred the investigative stuff, as the consumer thing was not as interesting to me. I mean, I liked doing it, but if it comes to getting a scoop and busting someone for corruption or what’s the best toaster —

The toaster wins!
(Laughs) Yeah, it’s not really a competition is it?

So why did you choose to become a television reporter? Did the other mediums not interest you?
It was totally by accident. I did a degree at Carleton in Ottawa and I really wanted to be a print reporter, but when I got back to Montreal, there were really no jobs available. It was the summer of ’96 or ’97 and there were some volunteer positions at the local cable access channel. That’s how I got started and I figured it would be a temporary thing, but it stuck.

I actually got into journalism by accident because I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. I took a personality test in high school and they told me the number one profession for me was a journalist. So, it wasn’t like I was five years old and always wanted to be on TV. I always liked communications, English, history and stuff like that, but I really didn’t know what I wanted to do until that test focused me to apply to Carleton.

On a totally different note, since we’re talking about high school, I read that you’re a comic book fan.
Totally, yes.

You still collect comics then?
Yep, I still go every week. Not as many as I used to when I was young. I used to buy, like, every series when I was younger. Now, I’m a little bit more selective, but I probably still buy 30 titles a month. My father thinks I’m crazy.

What’s your favourite title?
I love Justice League! I find comics keep me kind of grounded, and I like the off-the-wall stuff. On the one hand you’ll see me reading The New York Times, and on the other hand I’m reading a Superman comic book. It keeps your feet on the ground, you know what I mean?

Is Superman your favourite character?
I like Superman, yeah.

You have some Clark Kent-ish qualities.
Yeah, do I?

Well, I was reading your press and it was very earnest. You said once, “The best reporters are those who believe in their job and believe that the media can be a force for good and against evil”.

As your cape flows in wind.
(Laughs) Yeah, yeah, yeah. I actually gave a talk at this youth conference, and I said, “When I was a teenager, I really wanted to be a superhero”. It was true. There are all these professions you can do, like become a doctor or a policeman, but, the great thing about being a journalist is that if it’s done properly , you make a difference out there and help people who don’t have a voice. That’s why I have so much job satisfaction. When I was an investigative reporter, people would call me all the time with problems about their job, or problems with the government, or problems with their neighbour. They would call us when they weren’t getting anywhere, and we couldn’t help all the time, but sometimes we could. It was a kind of superhero-type magic.

You came into the anchor position in 2008, replacing Brian Britt.
Who replaced Bill Haugland.

Both were huge in Montreal, right?
Huge, exactly.

So give me a sense of what that was like for you to step into those shoes.
My consumer segment was still airing within the news, and I was working with Mutsumi at noon, but at the time I was not doing the six o’clock show. That’s the flagship, it’s considered the Cadillac of the station. On the other hand, I thought, well, I’m not being parachuted in here, I’ve been here eight years, Montrealers know me.

You were kind of being groomed for the position.
I guess they groomed me. They brought me along over a course of four or five years, but it still was like all of a sudden you’re driving your dad’s Cadillac, and you’re thinking: “Wow, I hope I don’t scratch the Cadillac, I’d better return it intact otherwise I’m in big trouble!” And after a while, it starts to feel like your own Cadillac. But needless to say, the station has been around since the 60’s, and they only had four anchors before me. I’m only the fifth anchor in the station’s 50-year history.

That’s a pretty comfortable position to be in. Do you think you’ll be anchor here for 20, 30 years?
You could if you wanted to, but I don’t think that’s what I want, to be honest with you. I don’t ever want to become too comfortable. There are a lot of things I would like to do; I would love to go to Afghanistan and shoot long-format stuff. But those are all projects that await me in the future, and I’m learning new stuff. I get to interview people every day, and I get to meet a lot of interesting people . It’s a whole lot of fun now.

You can catch van der Heyden at 12 noon and 6 p.m. weekdays on CTV Montreal. The newscast is also available outside the region on many timeshifting packages.

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