DePOE, NORMAN

Canadian Broadcast Journalist

Norman DePoe was a pioneering figure in Canadian television news reporting, one of the heroic figures of front-line journalism. He was among the first of CBC-TV's high-profile television correspondents and helped to establish the traditions of television journalism in Canada. In the 1960s, he was a national institution, his gruff voice heard in almost every major news report on CBC-TV, when the public broadcaster dominated Canadian television news.

DePoe began his broadcasting career with CBC Radio in 1948, moved to the fledgling television service in 1956, joined the CBC-TV parliamentary bureau in 1959 and was named chief Ottawa correspondent in 1960. He became the first television reporter admitted to the Parliamentary press gallery and helped to provide legitimacy to the handful of broadcasters (five in 1959), whose attempts to gain admission to the gallery had been strenuously resisted by many newspaper writers. As media historian Allan Levine has put it in Scrum Wars: The Prime Ministers and the Media, "DePoe was the first television journalist who could compete on an intellectual level with the other stars of the gallery." He was well read and a skilful writer. Years after he had left the air in 1975, DePoe's hard-edged reporting style continued to set the standard for broadcast journalists. Politicians were quicker than print reporters to identify DePoe as a key player in the gallery and to foresee the dominance of television news in politics.

His physical features were assets on the screens of the 1960s, but in a way that would make him ill-suited to the glamorized television newsroom that came later. Raspy-voiced and rumpled, wrinkled and weary, DePoe cut an oddly romantic figure in the Bogart mold. He possessed a prodigious memory and a healthy disregard for those in power, whether they were in political offices, government bureaucracies or the management suites of the CBC. DePoe was famously contemptuous of producers and was not above criticizing them on air. For him political reporting was a solitary exercise and at times a splendid joust with those he covered. His contributions to national newscasts were much-envied models of economical incisiveness.

Even during his spell as the principal reporter on national affairs, DePoe was assigned to cover significant political stories in the United States and elsewhere in the world. An unabashed patriot, his comments about U.S. politics could be biting. The visibility afforded by foreign assignments only added to his reputation as an authoritative commentator on politics for the English- language television audience in Canada. For many Canadians in the late 1950s and 1960s, especially rural audiences served by few other national media, he was perhaps the most credible authority on political affairs in Ottawa and elsewhere. It is estimated that he gave some 5,000 television news reports, including coverage of 31 elections, several leadership conventions, and other major political events.

Although DePoe was widely revered, there was another side to his career. He led a romanticized life in journalism full of the kind of carousing bellicosity often stereotyped in American cinematic treatments of newswork. According to a successor in the Ottawa post he was visibly inebriated during a live stand-up on at least one occasion, and the memoirs of contemporaries are replete with candid anecdotes or unmistakable hints about his rough-edged lifestyle. With respect to gossip about his drinking, he once remarked that "ninety percent of the stories are just not true." He fell out of favor with assignment editors in the early 1970s and in 1975 returned to radio news, finally retiring in 1976.

At the time of his death in 1980, DePoe was remembered by Knowlton Nash, another of the CBC's well-known correspondents and one-time head of CBC News as "the most memorable reporter of our lifetime .... the most enjoyable, most charismatic, most effective electronic reporter Canada has ever seen, with a colorful, irrepressible style." He was regarded with wary respect by the political leaders of his standard of integrity, toughness and incisive reporting that has been hard to match.

-Frederick J. Fletcher and Robert Everett


Norman DePoe

Photo courtesy of the National Archives of Canada

NORMAN DEPOE. Born in Portland, Oregon, U.S.A., 4 May 1917. Educated at the University of British Columbia, 1934-38; University of Toronto, 1946-49. Married: 1) Madeline Myra, 1942, seven children; 2) Mary Elizabeth, 1974. Served as Captain in the Royal Canadian Signal Corps, 1938-46. Reporter in CBC's overseas unit, war and post-war reports, 1939-52; joined CBC's News Department in 1948; news editor, Graphic, 1956; CBC television parliamentary correspondent, 1952-69; host, The Public Eye, 1965-69; interviewer, Weekend, 1969-72; host, Newsmagazine (later CBC Newsmagazine), 1973-75; retired from CBC in 1976. Died in 1980.

TELEVISION SERIES

1965-69 The Public Eye
1969-72 Weekend
1973-75 Newsmagazine

FURTHER READING

Levine, Allan. Scrum Wars: The Prime Ministers and the Media. Toronto, Canada: Dundurn, 1993.

Lynch, Charles. A Funny Way to Run a Country: Further Memoirs of a Political Voyeur. Edmonton, Canada: Hurtig, 1986.

Taras, David. The Newsmakers: The Media's Influence on Canadian Politics. Toronto, Canada: Nelson, 1990.

Troyer, Warner. The Sound and the Fury: An Anecdotal History of Canadian Broadcasting. Rexdale, Ontario, Canada: John Wiley, 1980.