‘It was a monumental moment’: APTN News playing a vital role for 20 years

APTN News is marking its 20th anniversary this week.

On April 16, 2000, what was then known as InVision News, hit the airwaves.

Bruce Spence has been with APTN National News, since day one.

Spence is a senior producer and line up editor at APTN National News and has seen it all.

“It doesn’t seem like that long ago,” says Spence, who remembers that first newscast well.

“Dan David, our first news director had assembled quite a team. There was about 15 of us at the time,” says Spence.

In those days, all of the scripts came in via fax or email and some of the video items had to be sent to what is affectionately known to staff as “APTN world headquarters” in Winnipeg via Greyhound bus.

“Everything was ready and away we went. It wasn’t quite perfect, so we weren’t quite live at that point. So we taped it again,” says Spence of the very first show.

“It was a monumental moment for everybody on the team, studio crew, the brass upstairs, and I think our public,” says Spence. “Just getting that first show to air was the accomplishment. Our top story was about a Mi’kmaq guy who was charged with illegally felling timber in their traditional territory. Maureen Googoo did that story and things haven’t changed much.

“There are still rights that are being trampled on and our people are still fighting for them,” says Spence.

Spence and APTN News Operations Manager Ken Welsh were recently celebrated with a ceremony in the newsroom to mark their 20th anniversaries.

“Ken was one of the original gangsters, one of the original team members. He’s been there, like myself since day one. Ken has been one of the backbones of the whole show, right from the start. He represents the studio crew for me,” says Spence.

“Without the expertise that our studio crew has been able to bring forward day after day and with the journalists doing the same thing, we’ve managed to put a good product out,” says Spence.

Initially, the national newscast aired one day a week, and then gradually moved to two days, then five days and now six days a week.

Spence says it was vital for APTN to include a national newscast in its programming shortly after the network launched in September, 1999.

According to Spence, he knew nothing of the financial trouble the network was in just two years after launching.

In 2002, APTN was roughly $6 million dollars in debt and was days away from having its license pulled when Jean La Rose was brought on board as the new CEO.

“We were just going steady as she goes, damn the torpedoes,” says Spence who adds the news department was just trying to get the show out.

Spence says he hates to say it, but prior to the arrival of La Rose, APTN was being run “almost like a miniature band office” that led to “some tumultuous times for sure.”

Spence believes an important step for the newsroom was organising to join the Canadian Media Guild.

Spence is currently the President of the APTN Branch Executive of CMG.

In recent years, APTN News and APTN Investigates has garnered a number of national awards and nominations.

Spence says winning those awards was a big accomplishment but feels APTN News could have been up for and winning awards and recognition right since day one.

“Our coverage of the Burnt Church lobster wars was pretty good. Whoever heard of Barriere Lake before APTN National News came on the air. There’s lots of natural resource and self-determination issues coming out of there. Even up to the Wet’suwet’en. Those rights stories are very important,” says Spence recalling some of the bigger issues APTN News has covered.

“It’s vital that we have our own network, that we have our own people telling our own stories,” says Spence.