Next- generation NewsHour hits Web, TV in September
At age 75, Jim Lehrer is creating a new incarnation of his NewsHour, propelling it into the multiplatform media world that he said is “exploding all around us.”
“Rather than fight this,” he told pubcasters at the PBS Showcase in Baltimore, “we’re not only going to be a part of it but also take a leadership role.”
Changes coming in mid-September include a yet-to-be-hired newscaster who will report for immediate consumption on the Web and the scheduled broadcast, alternating co-anchors, more collaboration with stations and other news media, and a new title animation and graphics.
The broadcast and online newsrooms also will be merged, as in the case of NPR.
Lehrer, who is part-owner as well as host and executive editor of the show, also announced its new name. “Hear ye, hear ye,” he proclaimed. “PBS NewsHour.”
“It represents a marriage of two of the best brands in TV,” Executive Producer Linda Winslow told the crowd. And, she added, “many in this room have said that NewsHour needs a makeover even more desperately than Susan Boyle,” the dowdy British woman whose powerful voice made her a worldwide phenomenon.
NewsHour senior correspondents sharing the co-anchor seat will be Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff and Jeffrey Brown. Two others, Ray Suarez and Margaret Warner, will mostly report from the field.
Though Lehrer has had heart problems and his founding co-anchor Robert MacNeil retired from the show 14 years ago, Lehrer made it clear he was not about to depart.
“It’s true that I began to think of such an awful thing,” he told the gathering in the ballroom of the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront. But about a year ago he had an aortic valve replacement that left him feeling 10 years younger.
Nevertheless, the new format with the added newscaster and co-anchors appear to have Lehrer carrying less of the program.
Winslow expects the show will emphasize its news team instead of a single anchor, which “may evolve into the next iteration of the program.”
The web-related format innovations were Lehrer’s idea, Winslow told Current. “He was very clear he wanted to see more interactivity.”
Precisely how to achieve that hasn’t been decided.
“What we’re working on now is trying to come up with an organizational structure that doesn’t create divisions but marries them,” she said.
That’s tricky, she said, considering there’s a river — actually just a flood-prone, concrete-lined creek — between the offices of the broadcast producers in WETA’s old studio building in Arlington, Va., and the online staff in another building a few blocks away. Plus, there’s no extra money for hiring.
Lee Banville, Online NewsHour editor, said who supervises a story will be determined “more by the news we cover and not where we put that coverage.”
Some reports, as usual, will come from station-based reporters, but budget limitations are forcing changes in station relationships. For some 20 years the show has had reporting contracts with stations in Los Angeles, Oregon, Minneapolis and Chicago. Now just Chicago remains, along with the show’s own Denver production unit. “We couldn’t make a regular commitment to the others,” Winslow said. The show now has a “cordial but not contractual” relationship with former partner stations.
Banville and Winslow envision the next-gen NewsHour as a more continuous, seamless operation. The Online NewsHour will offer a new video news summary at midday, delivered by the newscaster in the newsroom. That may be updated throughout the afternoon. Rough drafts of scripts may be posted, or audio-only reports.
“We want to have a lot of flexibility,” Banville said.
The producers plan to clear rights so stations can distribute NewsHour segments on various platforms.
The program continues to find “surprising success,” Banville said, with the social-media network Twitter. Some 10,000 users follow tweets of headlines, links and promotions. Banville is also exploring how to use YouTube and Flickr to build a following around correspondents in the field.
Notions about the broadcast format are still percolating. “Just this morning we were talking about how much time to allot the lead segment before we go to the news summary,” Winslow said.
“We have this summer to fiddle with all this,” she added.
Some things are certain. There will be no new sets, since the show built new ones less than two years ago. And, Winslow added, “We took a solemn oath there would be no tinkering with the music.”
Current photos by Steve Behrens
Web page posted Jan. 19, 2010
Copyright 2009 by Current LLC