Sophisticated, urbane and with a compelling intellect, Mitsumi Takahashi remains atop the ratings in the highly competitive business of television news

“I was born in Japan, but we moved to the United States when I was young. My Dad was a mathematician and taught at Harvard. After a couple of years there, he had two good opportunities; one at The University of Toronto and the other at the University of Montreal. He chose Montreal, and that’s how I arrived here.”

I’m in conversation with Mitsumi Takahashi, co-anchor of the CTV News broadcast at 6pm. The program is so popular that it has audiences greater than all other local television news shows combined. And that doesn’t take into account the tens of thousands of bilingual Francophones who tune in daily to watch Mitsumi and her co-host Todd van der Heyden.

The ratings are so strong that the show commands the station’s highest advertising rates.

How did a young woman with a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology become Montreal’s best television news anchor? Here’s Mitsumi’s story…

“When we moved to Montreal, we first lived in Cote des Neiges, and I went to school at Northmount. The building is still there – but it’s not a school anymore. Then we moved to Cote St-Luc and I went to West Hill High School (now Royal Vale).” Mitsumi continues; “We spoke Japanese at home because my mother didn’t want me to lose our language – I still speak Japanese.”

In addition to her school work, Mitsumi studied piano, beginning at age 4. Asked if she liked taking lessons; “No – not at all. But I’m thankful now that my mother insisted, because I now find playing the piano to be therapeutic. It’s a great release from the workday pressures.”

Then Mitsumi was off to Vanier College for CEGEP before attending Concordia where she would graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in 1979.

“My parents always placed a high value on education, and I think my mother was disappointed that I didn’t attain a higher post-graduate level.” Mitsumi muses that this may have played a role in motivating her to return to Concordia as a mature student and graduate with a Masters of Business Administration in 1995. “I felt that I could finally say to my Mom that I have a Master’s Degree.”

While attending Concordia, several of her friends were involved with the campus radio station and Mitsumi joined them – even though journalism wasn’t related to her field of study. “I liked journalism because I’m interested in many different things, and journalism gives you that opportunity. You have to have a broad based knowledge, plus the desire to learn about new fields of work.”

Mitsumi began reading newscasts at Concordia’s student-run radio station; and by the time she graduated she was the News Director. At the same time, she was getting print media experience by working as a reporter for The Georgian, the student newspaper. She garnered television experience by hosting a series of interview programs for Concordia University TV, which was guided by CFCF, which became CTV Montreal. Psychology was a thing of the past…

Looking back on her student days, Mitsumi comments; “School is about as fair a place as you’ll ever be.

If you work hard you’ll get good marks. It’s not always like that in the workplace, where office politics can come into play. Also, there are some really good journalists who may not be good on TV. Not fair maybe – but it’s reality.”

And then came the real world. Mitsumi began her broadcast career at CKGM, then a youth-oriented Top 40 Music station.

“After I graduated, I had the luxury of working as an intern at CKGM – in other words I worked for free. I was living at home and money wasn’t an issue just yet.” Shortly thereafter she moved to CJFM doing radio newscasts and interviews; and was getting paid. “At that time, everybody had on-air names that weren’t their own. Management wanted me to read the news as Lee Taylor. I used to threaten to say that this was Ree Taylor… However, I did my interviews as Mitsumi Takahashi. I eventually embarrassed them into letting me use my real name.”

Mitsumi was diligent in the pursuit of her chosen career path. She seized an opportunity to join the news team at CFCF Television in 1982, where she worked as a news reporter; covering events of the day and honing her skills as an investigative journalist. In 1986 she moved to become co-anchor with Bill Haugland.

“I happened to come into the business when they wanted more women and visible minorities – I filled the bill on two accounts.”

Mitsumi and Bill worked as co-anchors until his retirement in 2006. “Bill and I worked eight hours a day, five days a week for 20 years and we never fought once. Disagreed sometimes – yes. But never a cross word between us.”

Mitsumi is grateful for the colleagues who were mentors, providing encouragement and advice. “I was lucky to be working with people who were 20 years my senior, real pros in the news business. Bill, Don McGowan and Ron Reusch – guys who loved the business and they all taught me so much. It was Don who taught me not to speak to the camera, but rather to the person who was at home in their living room watching us on TV.”

“As co-anchors, we’re very involved in pursuing stories in the newsroom. It’s not the stereotype of the newsreader who doesn’t have a clue about the story – we’re part of the group effort on the stories we cover. It’s partly because of budgets that we have to share the work, but it’s also how we work. At the end of the day, it’s the News Director who makes the final decision.”

Mitsumi is well-suited for a time-consuming and demanding career. She’s well organized and energetic; “I’m a busy person, I like to get things done. She’s in the newsroom by 10 am to prepare for the noon news program, and doesn’t leave until after the evening show finishes at 7pm. “Before I leave the house, I’ve read 6 newspapers in French and English.”

Explaining the show’s ongoing popularity, through different names and co-anchors; “People live locally. Their first concerns are for themselves, their family and neighbourhood. People want to know about their community first – and that’s our niche.”

“There’s so much turmoil in the world, people want a comfort zone – they want familiar faces. Our continuity with our on-air team gives viewers that comfort; and that’s reflected in our ratings – which are a measure of our acceptance.”

Mitsumi cites the example of the Ice Storm. “For 2 – 3 weeks all we covered was Montreal. It’s all people were interested in. We dropped virtually all of our national, international news and sports to focus on the havoc that the storm had wreaked and how we were dealing with it as a city.”

Like the ‘pros’ that she’s worked with over the years, Mitsumi loves the broadcast business too. “I have access to people I wouldn’t normally speak with. You find most of them to be decent, and very often delightful people. I’m fortunate to work with articulate – and often funny people.”

As busy as she is during her work week and daily life, Mitsumi enjoys holidays that allow her to learn and expand her knowledge of culture and different societies. Holidays aren’t spent lounging on a beach. “I can do that for about 15 minutes. I like to do things, to see cultural works and great architecture.” Europe is a favourite destination. So is Japan, where Mitsumi visits yearly to visit her parents. After their retirement, her parents moved back to Japan. “It’s where they’re most comfortable – it always was their home.”

‘Home’ for Mitsumi is the newsroom and television studio. “I’m talking to the person in their living room who’s waiting to hear what we have to say – to give them a comfort zone. Television doesn’t lie. You can’t fake it year after year after year – people will see it soon enough. There’s a certain honesty and fairness to a good news team, and we have some gifted and talented journalists on our team.”

After more than 20 years as a news co-anchor, Mitsumi Takahashi and her team continues to be a favourite for hundreds of thousands of Montrealers every evening.

Mitsumi, Todd van der Heyden and their colleagues can be seen on CTV at noon and 6pm.

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