Winslow of NewsHour sees need for greater investment in public TV’s news programming

Interview with Executive Producer Linda Winslow: Part 3 of 3

Interview by Dru Sefton

This is the final installment of our interview with Linda Winslow, outgoing executive producer of the PBS NewsHour. Parts one and two were previously published.

Current: And now there is Weekend PBS NewsHour.

Winslow: Yes, the executive producer is Marc Rosenwasser, who is a very good man and a very good executive producer.

Current: What has your role been in that show?

Winslow: It is essentially to be a resource for him and a touchstone as far as the MacNeil/Lehrer way to do this, because I’m protecting the brand. That’s the best way to say it.

I have editorial oversight of the content of the pieces that they do. I look at the scripts that they are preparing for their signature stories, and if Marc has a question about anything else, I’m there to answer them. But he is a perfectly good newsman and can make his own decisions. If I see something I don’t agree with, I’ll let him know, but gently.

He doesn’t work for me. The unusual thing about that arrangement is that the weekend show is being produced by WNET, and they have their own budget, staff and mechanics in the way of working. So I’m kind of like the glue that holds this together, I guess is the best way to say it, to make sure we’re all marching together.

There is so much institutional memory and so many things that are like, “We do it this way, not that way.” Not that they can’t be questioned and often are, but it is helpful to Marc to have somebody like me that he can ask, “What do I do in this instance?”

Current: PBS sees the weekend show as a way to experiment with new production ideas. So is there anything that the WETA-based team is learning from Weekend NewsHour?

Winslow: Yes, Marc has good ideas. We are discovering that we are mechanically very different. Our two stations are wired differently, so we can’t, either one of us, do the program that the other one is doing.

They are not doing a live show, whereas we couldn’t think of not doing a live show. There’s a different rhythm and a different style if you’re not live. And I think they are much more interested in the kinds of stories that appeal to a weekend audience, so they are not driven as much by hard-news coverage.

Current: How is underwriting going for the NewsHour?

Winslow: We have gotten a new funder — Charles Schwab — in this past year. Naming Judy Woodruff and Gwen Ifill as co-anchors may have had more to do with that than the addition of a weekend show. Their promotions to co-anchors have been perceived as a huge asset.

Current: Were their appointments as co-anchors at just a natural progression of their careers, or did you determine that you wanted two women as co-anchors?

Winslow: The last two people who would have said they were promoted because we wanted women as co-anchors would have been Judy and Gwen, and I would have been the third. That didn’t even occur to us.

Tom Kennedy, NewsHour

Ifill and Woodruff anchor the NewsHour‘s coverage of the 2012 Republican Convention, an assignment that would lead to their hosting of the daily broadcast. (Photo: Tom Kennedy, NewsHour)

They are both very, very interested in a lot of things, but primarily interested in politics. So it happened that we were covering the election in 2012, and when it came time to do live coverage of the conventions, it was to be the first convention that Jim Lehrer wasn’t anchoring. So it seemed logical to use the two of them as co-anchors. And that’s where the idea came from. They worked so well as a combination and as a team.

And they were just so at ease with each other. It helps that they are friends and trust each other. It’s funny, because it reminded me of the relationship that Jim and Robin have. They never doubted that the other guy was going to cover their back. And these two have the same kind of relationship.

But it took a little while to get it off the ground and to get everybody on board. Ultimately, before Judy and Gwen became co-anchors, we were rotating through five different people. That was partly to try to mask the fact that Jim Lehrer was leaving. He was trying to disappear like the Cheshire Cat, just sort of slowly fade away. I think that arrangement actually helped. It must have worked, because there are still some people who think that they saw Jim on air last week.

But in any event, we reached a point where we and our colleagues at PBS and CPB felt, enough of this. We need to get an anchor person — somebody that the audience can identify with this program.

And that’s when I brought back the idea of Judy and Gwen together based on how well they had done at the conventions.

Current: With you at the helm and them at the anchor desk, is there a sensibility or an approach to the news that women take that differs from a man’s approach? If it were two male anchors and a male executive producer, as opposed to this situation —

Winslow: Which it was for 20 years.

Current: Yes, how is the approach similar and different because the three of you are women?

Kathleen McCleery, deputy e.p., left, and Winslow prepare for the final night of live NewsHour coverage of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Jared Soares, NewsHour)

Kathleen McCleery, deputy e.p., left, and Winslow prepare for the final night of live NewsHour coverage of the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. (Photo: Jared Soares, NewsHour)

Winslow: There are differences based on the facts that we are interested in different things, and now that we have the keys to the kingdom, we can sit there and look at the men straight-faced and say, “No, I don’t want to do a story about the basketball playoffs. I’m not interested in that, just as you weren’t interested in that thing about natural childbirth that we proposed four years ago.”

But other than that, I think our news judgment is the same as anybody else’s news judgment would be. It’s the features and the things that we like — we like to encourage people to explore. There is a bit of a difference there. I hesitate to say that it’s a male/female thing, but women tend to want to have the whole group come together and agree on something. Whereas the men in our past used to just convene the meeting, issue the order, and off we would march. Our way delays things.

But in terms of style, the fact that Gwen is a woman is important, but the fact that Gwen is a person of color is also extremely important. And it’s very important that every newsroom have as much diversity as it possibly can for that reason. That is what leads to a well-rounded newscast or a well-rounded magazine program with a bunch of stories that are very, very focused on all of humanity.

Current: What are your concerns for public broadcasting and public-affairs programming as you prepare to retire? What are some of the things that you remain concerned about or that you would like to see, other than the fact that there should be more public-affairs programs?

Winslow: I don’t know that there needs to be more public-affairs programming in terms of frequency, but I think there should be more money for it. For the reason we were just talking about — what happens when you have to keep turning to outside funders. It’s so important that PBS and CPB put more money behind the production of quality public-affairs broadcasts.

I think the people at the top, the people who run PBS and CPB, are dedicated to news and public affairs. They recognize that it’s an area, as is children’s programming, where PBS can be truly distinctive and fill a need for the American public. I don’t understand why it is so difficult to commit more money to it. But there have been a number of opportunities, such as the Bettag report that proposed a way for PBS’s various news programs to collaborate in producing and distributing news coverage.

That was an opportunity to be built on, and nothing happened. And if you commissioned another such report today, five years later, I think you’d find even more support for getting together and pumping more money into the existing vehicles and sharing the wealth, which is what we keep preaching at the NewsHour.

We would like to see public radio and public television get married someday, and we would like to see public broadcasters of all stripes — local stations, Local Journalism Centers — we would like to see them all find a common cause.

With the right resources, the NewsHour is already positioned to be a platform for all of this. Those entities that I worked for in days of yore — the national programming centers that pushed out the programming — we’ve come full circle, and now there is certainly an abundance of talent at the local level. The NewsHour is a vehicle that could absorb output from local producers and bring it to some national prominence. That would let everybody in the country see in one place how much the system has to offer in news and public affairs.

  • altfactor@hotmail.com

    What PBS should do is have the live feed of “Newshour” be from 8 to 9 P.M. Eastern time weeknights (8 to 8:30 P.M. Eastern time on weekends), and strongarm member stations to carry it live (in the East; at 8 P.M. Pacific and 7 Mountain on tape or updated feeds).

    It is time that American television gets a live, prime-time national broadcast network newscast every night. Most other countries have them.

  • https://flipboard.com/profile/DarwinEvolved David Gregory

    Putting Ifill and Woodruff was/is a mistake- as was importing them from commercial media in the first place. Public media used to have a distinctive voice and what NewsHour now has is Villager-think and Beltway Conventional Wisdom. A Conservative, a NeoCon and a Center-Right pundit (Third Way) pretending to be a progressive is not balance.

    Progressives are not welcome or regularly heard from on the right leaning, beltway-vision NewsHour.

    • MarkJeffries

      Please explain to me why public broadcasting should be the far-left wing version of Rush Limbaugh. Would you be happy if the new theme of the “Newshour” was “The Internationale” and Lehrer signed off the show with “WORKERS OF THE WORLD, UNITE! LONG LIVE THE DICTATORSHIP OF THE PROLETARIAT AND THE RAILROAD OF BOB AVAKIAN!”

      • https://flipboard.com/profile/DarwinEvolved David Gregory

        It should not be the far left version of Limbaugh. It also should not be center to hard right and pretend to be balanced.

        i would remind you that 5 million more citizens voted for Democratic House candidates than Republicans last time- yet we still have a significant Republican majority in the House. That is not reflected in the editorial tone or guest selection on NewsHour.

        I would also remind you that that very Republican majority would like to defund public broadcasting in the USA. Despite this, we see right wing think tank staff like clockwork on the NewsHour.

        BTW- liberal does not mean communist any more than conservative means fascist, so cut the hyperbole.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT