Daryl McIntyre, veteran Edmonton anchorman, at the crossroads

A media veteran considers life beyond the newsdesk

One fall morning, not long after the students have returned to campus for another semester, Daryl McIntyre (Radio and Television Arts ’83) walks unaccosted across the vast, bright concrete lobby of NAIT’s Centre for Applied Technology.

He’s dressed like he wants to go unnoticed, which has probably been a challenge for McIntyre for a long time. For nearly 33 years, he was a fixture on Edmonton televisions as an anchor for CTV News, and most of those for the six o’clock newscast. Sitting behind the desk, it was always white shirt and tie, dark blazer, hair trimmed and parted.

Today, McIntyre has accumulated some greying stubble, and wears a black ball cap, dark jeans and a casual charcoal-grey jacket. At six-foot-three, he looks as though he’s trying to inhabit his own late-day shadow.

daryl mcintyre, eyewitness newsOr, he looks unbothered about everything. McIntyre has just come from ripping up the driveway at his 20-acre property west of Edmonton. He had no intention of tidying up to try to mimic Daryl McIntyre As Seen on TV, or to try to capitalize on the celebrity attached to that.

At six-foot-three, he looks as though he’s trying to inhabit his own late-day shadow.

“There is a virtual separate entity from Daryl McIntyre, the human being,” he’d soon tell me, after we'd take a table in a nearby cafeteria. “It’s sometimes created by how people perceived the position I was in [as a newscaster], the experience, and length of time I was there.”

But he isn’t there anymore. About two weeks earlier, given a buyout he didn’t ask for, McIntyre signed off for the last time. And two-and-a-half weeks before that, he shared the news with viewers on air. “It is a little bit bittersweet,” he said, “but at the same time I want you to know I’m really excited to see whatever comes next.”

Off camera, at NAIT, he’s more direct. “I’m not done,” McIntyre says, sipping coffee into which he’d poured milk and sugar with devil-may-care abandon. “I didn’t retire. I’m 55. I need to revamp myself. I need to figure something out.”

He may recognize the need, but he shares it without urgency or alarm, as if it’s just a fact he’s confidently, calmly reporting upon. Nevertheless, the two Daryls would somehow have to be reconciled if the veteran newsman is to get on with carving out a new place in an industry in which he set a standard that is respected and valued, but no longer sustainable in the same way.

As we’d talk about how he might do that, we were surrounded by several dozen students chatting during mid-morning breaks, fiddling with phones, pouring over notes and textbooks. None of them would pause to approach McIntyre and interrupt us with a, “Hey, aren’t you – ?”

Perhaps the ball cap was working.

‘Ooo, geez, I’ve hit the big time now’

daryl mcintyreMcIntyre was not always so confident. In fact, a lack of confidence is what led him into TV in the first place. Building on his grade-school interest in drama and social studies – first in Edmonton and later in Vermilion, after his mother remarried and the family moved to a farm – he wanted to be a disc jockey.

“I found out I was horrible at it,” says McIntyre. “If you want to be a radio host, you have to have enough strength of personality [and] push that out over the air. Otherwise, you’re just whimpering in the corner somewhere. I was more doing the whimpering.”

But news fit. He was comfortable getting behind a story rather than out in front of it. “It was, ‘I have a job to do and I’m going to do the best I can at it and use the skills I have.’ It was easier to wrap my head around. You’re not there so that you can be famous.”

McIntyre got started at a station in Lloydminster, where he proudly recalls doing his first newscast at 19 years old. Soon after, he was off to his first big market: Prince George, British Columbia.

"You’re not there so that you can be famous.”

“It was a city of 75,000 people.” He arrived at night after driving all day. “I saw this huge expanse of light: ‘Ooo, geez, I’ve hit the big time now.’ It scared the crap out of me for three weeks.” Not only was McIntyre in a new market far from home, he was replacing an anchor who’d earned the title of “local legend.”

“That was a lot of pressure and it got to me. I almost got fired because I was so nervous.”

Cutting his teeth in small markets, and willing himself to overcome his studio fright gave him an edge. These were places where roughing it was expected, and that proved an advantage. Teleprompters, for example, were non-existent. You’d look down at your notes, McIntyre explains, memorize a couple of lines, deliver them, then grab two more as you finished.

When he finally got on with CTV in Edmonton, in October 1986, starting as the city hall reporter and weekend anchor, being cued by machines made the gig seem like a snap. “Well, this is frickin’ easy,” he recalls thinking.

It’s not, of course. “It’s a very high-paced, stressful business,” says Jeannette Cable, department head for Media Innovation and Communication Technologies at NAIT.

Cable worked with McIntyre at CTV for more than 20 years, often producing his shows. Still, he never buckled under pressure, she says, whether he was covering stories such as Edmonton’s 1987 tornado, the shooting of four Mounties in Mayerthorpe, or the 2011 Slave Lake fire, where he reported live on location, sans teleprompters.

Particularly with breaking news, McIntyre is a master of identifying the heart of the story and making the material meaningful, says Cable. “You could throw anything at him on air and he would basically write it in his brain as he was speaking. I was blown away how he could ad lib.”

Over the years, she felt that he made her storytelling better as well, she adds. “He always would push journalists. … If there were areas that he thought I needed to improve in, he would tell me and I appreciated that.”

During his years on the desk, the art of storytelling was as important to McIntyre as the craft of reporting. “You have to be creative or else you’re just boring,” he says. “You can take the most brilliant story in the world and turn it into a snorefest and nobody wants to watch it.”

McIntyre’s advice to up-and-comers came from the philosophy that he himself tried to keep to: “Just do the job. Do it well. Try to get better.”

By his own admission, however, McIntyre was an unorthodox mentor. Building up a young reporter sometimes began with exposing them to that “separate entity,” the brusque, larger-than-life anchorman.

“Somebody new would come into the station and there’s this guy who’s been here some 35 years and done well and everybody loves and he’s six-foot-three and he’s loud and he’ll sometimes stare at you and scare the [crap] out of you,” says McIntyre. “I was being a [jerk].” (Crap and jerk being print-friendly versions of words he used.)

“I have crushed some young souls.”

This does not precisely align with what Cable remembers. McIntyre's self-criticism may be as close as he gets to misrepresenting facts. “He's a serious news guy,” says the NAIT staffer. “But underneath he was like a big teddy bear, because he's humble, he's kind, and kind of a small-town guy.”

Teddy bear is not the term McIntyre would use. But he does say that he never meant to be malicious. Any staring and scaring were about the job that needed doing, the role of the reporter in stewarding facts, and the public service this represents. Just as he did with Cable, McIntyre wanted to help others fulfil that role, and all the more so in an era of questionable if not unreliable sources.

Even then, he was only ever able to maintain the act with newbies for so long. “I helped bring them back after I realized, ‘Oh my god. I broke the puppy,’” he says.

End of an era

daryl mcintyreMcIntyre didn’t get that kind of treatment in 2019, when he was told that his time was up.

The newsman is part of a trend. The internet changed how we consume media, and that has affected broadcasting revenues. Between 2014 and 2018, the industry in Canada reported repeated annual losses, mostly owing to decreased advertising and subscriptions, bottoming out at $254 million in 2018, according to Statistics Canada. In response, CTV owner Bell Media has been cutting jobs – including high-profile on-air personalities – at stations for several years.

McIntyre had known this was coming for him, but didn’t think it would be quite so soon. On the afternoon of Aug. 21, the station’s news director and vice-president of operations sent him a note to ask if they could meet offsite after the newscast. During a meal and a glass of wine at a restaurant near the station in Edmonton’s west end, she slid some papers across the table. McIntyre laughed in response. He told her he wasn’t surprised.

“It was, ‘You’re getting a package. It’s not negotiable,’” he says. He could choose his last day on air, but it had to be soon.

“I’m really good with it,” McIntyre says. “I had one moment in the week leading up to my last newscast where I was like, ‘Screw you! Why do you get to decide when I’m done?’” Then, just as he once wrangled his emotions to keep himself on the newsdesk, he did it again to come to terms with leaving it. “I didn’t want to decompose on the air anyway. It’s fine.”

Not for everyone, mind you. Colleague Dan Grummett reported on the staff meeting where McIntyre revealed he was leaving the city’s most popular six-o’clock newscast. “You could actually feel a sadness in the room: a collective realization that CTV News Edmonton ... was truly at the end of an era.”

Before that meeting, Josh Classen (Radio and Television – TV ’96) jokingly predicted that McIntyre was going to retire. He shocked himself and co-workers by being right. “In true forecaster fashion, I called it.”

In several ways, Classen also feels the finality of that departure.

One, as Grummett pointed out, is marked by the significance of the absence, which Classen sees as similar to that left by longtime CTV anchor Lloyd Robertson, or Peter Mansbridge, anchor of CBC’s The National for 25 years. “He was the real deal,” Classen says of his friend and colleague.

“He knew the funny comments to make after animal stories, and he knew the thought-provoking things to say after really tragic moments. He studied hard, and that allowed him to speak off the cuff and be authentic. There aren't too many people that you can throw into any situation and can fill 30 seconds or three minutes and have it come off flawless. There aren't a whole lot of guys of that sort of ‘anchorman’ generation that are still kicking.

“It's sad for us," Classen adds. "We miss Daryl. I know viewers miss him. But he would agree that the world did not end on the day he left work.”

That points to another way the era is ending. Whereas the news of the day was once bundled as a one-two punch involving the morning newspaper and six o’clock newscast, it’s now disseminated as a barrage of website and social media postings.

“I don't think people watch the news with the same sort of reverence as they used to,” says Classen. This means a greater emphasis on staff in the background who fuel the barrage, and there’s also more “churn” at the station. Going forward, the career that spans decades in one place, doing virtually the same job, “that's not going to happen.”

The change also reminds Classen of a grim fact at the modern news station. “We are all replaceable.”

“Anybody who works in TV that thinks the world will stop spinning when they retire, it's foolish. I'll leave here and people will go, ‘Oh no!’ And then, three weeks later, they’ll be like, ‘The new guy’s really good!’

An unexpected freedom

daryl mcintyre, last CTV newscastAt the end of McIntyre’s final newscast, during which he wore the same burgundy tie as he did on the student newsdesk at NAIT nearly 40 years earlier, he signed off with the hope that, after all those years, “people might just say he was a hell of a newsman.”

And that was that. The next day, McIntyre went golfing with buddies from his no-checking hockey league. Then they had a barbecue. He served the dessert that wasn’t touched at his send-off at the station.

“We ate a cake with my face on it.”

That may have been as close as he’s come to dwelling on the past. His mind is on other things. If he’s not playing hockey, or doing jobs around the acreage, he’s playing some guitar. After years of sticking to an acoustic, he’d just bought his first electric, a Gibson Les Paul, off “another guy from work who recently got laid off as well.” McIntyre writes rootsy, three-chord songs.

“I’ve got a dead dog song, a song about my horse, my motorcycle, stuff like that.”

It’s just a diversion, of course, a way to pass the time until the inevitability of getting back to work. “I’m not going to spend my days just strumming on the guitar,” McIntyre says.

Ultimately, though, he didn’t know for sure how he would spend them.

“Daryl will have no problem finding something to do next,” says Cable. “He's a talented writer. His voice is smooth like butter.” His knowledge of politics, the markets, the province and more, she adds, would also set him apart as he plunged into the gig economy.

“I’m not going to spend my days just strumming on the guitar.”

At the moment, McIntyre’s only understanding of the future is that it represents freedom. He plans to choose the jobs he wants, instead of waiting for someone to choose him. Maybe he’ll write, he says, narrate, emcee, do auctions, act – whatever. “For the first time in my life I’ll be working for myself, not someone else.”

What kind of boss will he be? “I’ll probably be a [jerk],” he says. “But with a heart of gold.”

He expects this transition to be “daunting.” In his mid-fifties, he’s entering a freelance market that few baby boomers like him have had to navigate, but that many millennials know all too well. None of them, of course, are Daryl McIntyre. Inevitably, that “separate entity” will prove an advantage, whether he likes it or not. It’s a brand, after all, that has stood the test of decades.

“Now I have to figure out how I translate the skills that I’ve accumulated and what are they worth?” says McIntyre. “It’s a different world.”

He hopes that being able to tell a story while sticking to the facts still translates. It’s the thing he knows, the thing that made him, and it’s what people like Cable say will always be in demand, no matter how the broadcasting industry changes.

As we wrap up our interview, McIntyre wonders how I’ll tell his story. Before we shake hands and say goodbye, he slips into what might have been that mode reserved for those newbies who arrived at the station to find a six-foot-three Edmonton icon staring them down.

“Don’t screw it up,” he says, mocking sternness and eyeing me up as if my soul could use some crushing.

No bringing back follows. If the puppy was broken this time, it would have to stay that way. For now, McIntyre isn’t in the business of sharing advice and wisdom from a lengthy and illustrious career. Maybe again, sometime. Probably, somehow. Until then, there’s concrete to bust up.

Note: This story was originally published in December 2019.

daryl mcintyre at NAIT with barb higgins

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