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ABOUT FACE | Morning Sun

Morning Sun

Alex Pierson

The next time you wake suddenly in the cold blue light of 3am and convince yourself that you’re best off going back to bed – that, seriously, it’s not even morning yet – spare a thought for Alex Pierson, who’ll just be starting her day as co-host of The Roundtable, the freshly launched morning show on the fl edgling Sun News Network. A graduate of Mohawk College with a degree in journalism, Alex Pierson began her broadcasting career in the mid-’90s in radio at Hamilton radio stations CHML and Y95, vaulting to television in 1996 – initially CHCH, later Calgary’s A-Channel and Barrie’s Citytv’s sister station The New VR. In 1999, her work moved from Barrie to Toronto and deeper into the Citytv universe, as weekend anchor and reporter for Cablepulse24, co-anchor of Toronto’s 11pm CityNews alongside the late basso newshound Mark Dailey, and reporter for CityNews at Six. That diverse and nimble schedule (Not for nothing is the station’s catchphrase “Everywhere!”) kept her busy, sharpened her skill set and brought with it intensely rewarding moments, including fi ve days at Pearson International in the wake of 9/11. She left Citytv in the fall of 2006 and, after a brief hiatus, joined the Global Ontario news team as general assignment reporter, weekend anchor and eventually court reporter. That all changed earlier this year, when Pierson left Global and, in mid-April, made her debut on the 24-hour Sun News Network as one of the hosts of morning show The Roundtable, along with Pat Bolland and Andrea Slobodian. Running from 8am to 11am, the show offers viewers a spirited perspective on the news from across Canada – Pierson and Bolland in Toronto, Slobodian in Calgary.

Over her 15-odd years in broadcasting, Pierson has covered many notable stories and has won three Radio Television News Directors Association awards for her dogged investigative work. Her colleagues on The Roundtable are equally seasoned. The moustachioed Bolland, a business journalist who earned his salt at BNN, CNBC and CBC Newsworld, has been working in television for over 20 years. Slobodian has spent the last decade working in television, radio and print newsrooms across Western Canada.

Pierson has cautioned that this is a morning show that won’t be afraid to bare its critical teeth. “Talk is cheap and I’ll gladly take on anyone who talks a big game and can’t back it up,” she said. “With Pat at my side, we are ready to shake things up.” That may well be the case. After all, it’s not as if there wasn’t seismic activity before the network even hit the air. Upon news of its imminent arrival, critics nationwide carped about the development, colloquially dubbing it Fox News North in reference to another iconoclastic bastion of full-blooded news commentary and pugilistic punditry.

“This little network has polarized people,” Pierson concedes with a breezy, whaddya-gonna-do laugh. “People I’ve known for a long time, good friends of mine, have taken out opinions based purely on speculation. Why don’t you see what we do in the first few months and if you don’t like what we do, turn the channel. But of course that’s not the case. To see it judged it so harshly out of the gate has been surprising to me. But this business is traditional in many ways. Everyone likes to hold to the status quo. Nobody really wants to push the envelope. A lot of the time, networks want to please everyone, all the viewers, by not really taking a position. But everyone has an opinion, so can journalists be impartial? I question that.”

Nor was the early word on the station entirely negative, she says. In fact, it’s part of what attracted her to leave Global for the newly minted Sun News Network. “I had been at Global for four years,” she recalls. “This offer came out of nowhere – the chance at a leadership role at a national morning show on a brand new network that was generating a ton of headlines. I never wanted to wake up wondering ‘What if?’ I wanted the challenge, wanted the growth, to see if I could do it.”

While the network’s pre-launch media profi le was mixed – it’s hard to imagine that the blogosphere’s hyperbolic froth left any spare pejoratives laying around waiting to be hammered into critical barbs – Pierson is quick to put things in perspective and emphasize the positives.

“There’s a lot of energy, for sure, but there’s also a lot of pressure to deliver. We’ll be held to task more than any other network, so we really need to deliver. The fact that we were branded as ‘the opinion maker’ really rattled a lot of people, and I think that this is going to change the way that other newsrooms do their job,” she contends. “I think that what we’re doing will make people step up, will make everyone better. That’s my hope.”

“We offer a dialogue that has been lacking,” she continues. “Whether your stand is Liberal, NDP, Conservative – I’ll take you to task. I’m a voter at the end of the day and I expect these people to work for me. People in this country deserve that directness. It’s amazing how much feedback we get from viewers hoping we can take their message to the air and I think that’s our job here – to speak for those people and get those answers. It’s not this vast NeoCon conspiracy. There are lots of left-leaning people who still have questions, who still want politicians to be accountable. We speak for them as well.”

Sun News Network frontliners often talk of greater obligation to speaking uncomfortable truths than to pandering to the status quo. That’s abundantly evident in the programming and the personalities. Neelam Verma (of Rogers’ Bollywood Boulevard) hosts the network’s early morning news program First Look from 6am-8am. Free speech advocate and political provocateur Ezra Levant (The Source, 5pm). Sun Media’s Parliamentary Bureau Chief David Akin (a Gemini-winning journalist who’s also a highly infl uential political blogger) and celebrated defence analyst Mercedes Stephenson host the political show Daily Brief at 6pm. Economist/ political commentator Theo Caldwell (The Caldwell Account, 7pm) will also be hosting a prime-time program on the new 24-hour news channel, as will Emmy-winning talk show titan Charles Adler (Charles Adler, 8pm) as well as Sun Media’s senior parliamentary reporter Brian Lilley, whose prime-time news roundup program Byline airs at 9pm.

Visit sunnewsnetwork.ca for more.