The minute they cut to commercial Amanda Lang exclaims, “You’re a grouchy man.” Her bright-pink-painted lips break into a wide smile directed across the glass desk in a CBC studio at her co-host, Kevin O’Leary. Earlier, during a Lang & O’Leary Exchange segment called “The Big 5,” about current high-profile business stories, the pair discussed the recent estimate that the paper industry had lost $1.2 billion in 2009. Lang was curious about the results of Stephen Harper’s federal program that funds retraining of forest industry workers laid off during the economic downturn. O’Leary replied, “Of course it isn’t working. It’s a stupid program, Amanda. It’s another waste of government dollars, your tax dollars.” Just after this, CBC’s senior business correspondent informed O’Leary, for the first of what will be a few times during the taping of the episode, that he is grumpy.
Lang isn’t crabby. The 40-year-old broadcaster, who last year shifted from Business News Network to CBC, where she caters to a broader audience, knows her job is to keep O’Leary in line. She is well acquainted with his opinions. In 2003, they began working together on BNN’s SqueezePlay, a biz and politics program aimed at the savvy investor. Last January, when a friend who worked for CBC told her, “They love you over there,” Lang joked, “Well, they’ve never offered me a job.” When news she might be interested filtered over to the Corp, she began discussions with senior CBC executives like general manager Jennifer McGuire, who said the upcoming revamp of CBC News would put more emphasis on business coverage. Lang perked up. Her coverage wouldn’t just reach people wanting to i nvest in RSPs. The point is to satisfy both the business-minded and the average news watcher, says Lang. “It’s a new area to grow in.” The move made her one of the highest-profile on-air business reporters in the country.
Logically, it should be politics she’s covering. By the time she was born in 1970, her father, Otto Lang, had been in Pierre Trudeau’s cabinet for more than a year. Along with her six siblings, Lang lived in Ottawa until she was nine, in a household where the party line was big government and small-L liberal values. Her views have evolved as she has come to understand more about business. Today, Lang subscribes to more conservative economic theories, such as lowering corporate taxes.
Before stumbling into journalism in 1992, Lang studied architecture at the University of Manitoba, although it proved not to be her forte. Still, she graduated and in 1991 moved to Toronto and landed an administrative assistant position at The Globe and Mail. Stephen Petherbridge had recently become editor of the Globe’s newly launched Classroom Edition, aimed at high school students. When Lang suggested she was considering a journalism degree, the former Ryerson professor instead encouraged her to accept a position as assistant editor because he felt she already possessed the necessary skills. “The trick is lateral thinking,” says Lang. “The ability to tie different strands together into a coherent line. It’s just the way my brain happens to work.”
While Lang was freelancing for Report on Business Magazine in 1994, she was hired as a junior reporter at the Financial Post. As part of her training, she took the Canadian Securities Course, reported on companies’ quarterly earnings and got hooked on the treasure hunt for numbers. Sitting in an unused office in the CBC business unit, Lang explains that some of the most fascinating stories she’s done have been about personalities (she’s interviewed World Bank president Robert Zoellick and Gene Simmons). “In a way, there is no difference between the rock star and the CEO. That’s what I love about business. It’s about people and their own personal motivations.”
Despite her impressive resumé, Lang didn’t feel confident when she landed her first on-air job in 1999 for Report on Business Television (now BNN). She had no TV experience and says she’s shy by nature. But when CNN’s anchor and chief business correspondent, Ali Velshi, saw Lang in front of the camera for the first time, he found her performance effortless. “Amanda on TV is the same as Amanda in person,” says Velshi. “She has a remarkable combination of wit, absolute raw intelligence and yet this sense of sort of being a regular, approachable person, and that’s what came across.” He describes Lang as a Renaissance woman with an eclectic reporting style, with the plus that she appreciates the nuances of finance. “She enjoys business the way some people enjoy a fine wine and I’ve always been a little jealous of that. From the day I met her I realized that this really is candy to her.”
Although Lang’s television persona isn’t large and flashy, like Dina Pugliese, co-host of Citytv’s Breakfast Television in Toronto, CNN recognized her business authority in 2000 and nabbed her as a New York Stock Exchange reporter. But by 2003 her former general manager at ROBTV, Jack Fleischmann, gave Lang a reason to return, offering her a host position on SqueezePlay. The combative yet respectful dynamic between Lang and O’Leary is something that the Exchange’s executive producer, Michael Kearns, wanted to preserve, not dilute, which logically resulted in O’Leary’s following her to CBC.
Typing on his laptop after an Exchange taping, O’Leary says part of Lang’s on-air appeal is her attractive appearance, her intelligence and her articulate discourse. He thinks CBC has also invested in a proven asset. “With Amanda you’ve got a proven track record —she can garner an audience and have it stick,” he says.
Back in the studio, O’Leary quickly counters Lang’s grouch crack: “I’m not. The trouble is I have to deal in reality.” He continues in a tone of light mockery, “Thank goodness I’m here. I’m the merchant of truth for you.” Like a school teacher reminding a student of his lesson, she counters, “Just try not to say stupid on TV,” and, in the same breath, launches into the next topic, Canada’s export trade surplus. This business reporter may be talking to a larger crowd these days but she knows how to speak up.