Celebrating the life’s work of Knowlton Nash

One of the most recognizable personalities in Canadian television, Knowlton Nash inhabits a unique space in news and public affairs broadcasting that has garnered him the respect and admiration of both his peers and millions of viewers.

Right: Veteran broadcaster Knowlton Nash chats with York’s President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden following Nash’s degree ceremony

York University celebrated his life’s work by awarding the veteran broadcaster an honorary doctorate during a private ceremony on June 11 at Glendon College. Nash, fighting an illness, was deeply moved by the University’s gesture. “I can’t tell you how honoured – even daunted – I am with the award of this honorary degree,” he said.

“This is particularly so because, although I took some university courses as a youngster, I quit school to go to work as a reporter and never did graduate from university. But now – tonight – nearly 60 years later, I’m finally getting a degree. Maybe I am just a slow learner,” joked Nash.

He began his career in print journalism at an early age as a copy editor for the wire service British United Press. As a regular correspondent for the CBC’s Washington bureau, he interviewed key heads of state, including a succession of American presidents, and became a familiar face abroad during the Cuban missile crisis and the Vietnam War. He later led the CBC’s news division, but for many Canadians, he is most recognized and respected for his work as anchor of the CBC’s flagship evening news program “The National”, a role which spanned an entire decade.

Left: From left, Lorna R. Masden; Knowlton Nash; and Peter Cory, York’s chancellor

In a style informed by his years in broadcast journalism, Nash kept his Glendon remarks succinct and to-the-point. “Dan McArthur, the founder of CBC News Service back in 1941, said news reporting was a public trust. I agree. It was then and is now,” Nash said.

“A key part of a reporter’s job is to shine light into dark places. In this age of sophisticated spinning, it’s ever more important to reporters to double and triple check facts, for I believe facts are sacred. As reporters we must always keep in mind that old saying, ‘If your mother says she loves you, check it out.'”

Because of that, reporters are often accused of being cynics, said Nash. “But somebody once said, journalists are not cynics, but rather we are just bruised idealists. I like that description.” Idealiism is a good foundation, he said, “for any journalist in our role as a bridge between the governed and the governing. It’s the first step in building credibility with the public, and credibility is the only thing that really matters in this business of journalism, this public trust. The democratic health of society depends upon the quality of the information it receives.”

Nash is a recipient of the Order of Canada and has written a number of books on the history of broadcasting at the CBC.