Executive Producer Linda Winslow Outlines New Program
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LINDA WINSLOW: And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why we can now add “major change agent” to the long list of reasons we all love and admire Jim. Over time, as we have talked about the need to make a transition to the fifth “wind” that he spoke of just now, Jim said — without hesitation — that he wanted to be instrumental in helping us make that transition. Which he has been and will continue to be… As a founding father, as the Executive Editor, and as the most respected journalist in America, Jim has always made the NewsHour his top priority. I am thrilled that he will continue to wear all those hats on the “PBS NewsHour.”
That new title represents the marriage of two of the best “brands” in television. Together, they stand for quality content that is informative, trustworthy, and fair. The combination also acknowledges a fact: without the heritage and SUPPORT of the entire public broadcasting family, the NewsHour would not exist.
As Jim just said, our collective future involves making some changes that better position us to capitalize on the enormous upheaval taking place in the world of news, and in the world journalism as we know it. Changing our title is just the beginning. We are also changing our format. The “PBS NewsHour” will be designed to emphasize the entire team of experienced correspondents that work for us.
Come September, there will be two anchors in the studio. On any given night, one of them will be Jim Lehrer; the other will be Gwen Ifill or Judy Woodruff or Jeffrey Brown. Two of those four people will conduct studio interviews and discussions each night. The others, along with the other major players on the team, will contribute more original reporting from the field, whether the “field” is Afghanistan, where Margaret Warner spent the month of March, or Mexico, where Ray Suarez was all last week. We intend to use the entire team to put more flesh on the stories we cover each day, to make the program better paced, more engaging, and more visual.
Those are all suggestions we heard repeatedly in the course of the CPB-funded audience research that we’ve been conducting this year. Even people who love and respect the NewsHour — and that includes the vast majority of people in this room — have freely volunteered that it needs a makeover more desperately than does Susan Boyle.
So what will viewers see when they tune in the new “PBS NewsHour?” They will see a program that is the natural evolution of the program we are producing right now — wearing a brand new suit of clothes. The opening will be a fast-paced presentation of the day’s top two or three headlines, plus a quick overview of the stories the members of the team are covering. Naturally, there will be a new title animation, along with a new graphic “look” for the whole broadcast (although I give you my solemn oath, we are not tinkering with the music again.) No new sets — sets cost money and take time to build — but more creative use of the ones we have.
We also plan to embrace the one big change that is akin to the elephant in the room: the coming of age of online journalism. Our primary product will continue to be straightforward, informative news reporting and analysis. But, if we truly intend to remain the news brand your audiences regularly turn to for that product, we must stop thinking of the NewsHour as a one-hour program that airs at 6pm Eastern Time.
We must make our content available whenever, and wherever, your audience chooses to look for it. That means finding ways to distribute it — in whole and in part -online, on public radio stations, on podcasts and ipods, on cell phones and whatever digital gizmo Silicon Valley invents tomorrow. That’s in addition to delivering it via your local stations, which still comprise a very powerful distribution system that reaches 98 per cent of all American households.
Fine. Where do we start? Over the summer, we plan to merge our on air and online news operations into one entity in a way that reinforces –and in no way dilutes– our core mission.
Today we are announcing that we are creating a new correspondent position, which we are calling our “Face of the Internet.” We’re looking for an experienced journalist with solid broadcast credentials who is comfortable with both new media and the more traditional kind.
The assignment will be to link our nightly broadcast with our online news operation. He or she will come to work every day, prepared to cover significant news developments for the Online NewsHour; at midday, this reporter will post on the Web site a summary of the day’s news that will be recorded on camera in our newsroom. That evening, from that same position, our new correspondent will report the news summary on the broadcast itself. We are presently developing plans and clearing the rights to make those online news summaries available to local stations for their use in a variety of ways, on any number of platforms.
Our “Face of the Internet” will return at the end of the nightly broadcast to explain what resources are available online, and to promote related material available on other nationally produced Web sites at PBS.org, as well as on local station sites. I’ll come back to this point in a minute because we’re going to really need your help to make this work.
We plan to redesign our Web site, to make it easier to navigate and find what you came there to see. We also intend to “push” PBS NewsHour content in ways limited only by our imaginations. The full program is now available in the new PBS video player, as well as on our site. That’s a necessary first step, but it’s just the beginning. We are deep in conversation now with a variety of platform providers to ensure our material is as widely distributed as it deserves to be.
This would be the time to point out that what we have to offer all these different platform providers is pure gold: solid, responsible, in-depth video journalism that seems to be in increasingly short supply in this 24/7 world. They say they are eager to help make the “PBS NewsHour” brand of journalism available wherever and whenever potential news consumers exist.
Another very big part of our game plan: more collaboration with other PBS producers, both local and national. I’m not just saying that because “collaboration” seems to have become a buzz word in the public media world. I’m saying that because we need each other.
In the current financial climate, who among us can ignore the advantages of sharing resources and information whenever possible. The NewsHour has already demonstrated its commitment to doing this — big time. During the Presidential campaign, we launched a series of programs we labeled “The Big Picture” which has now morphed into the “Spotlight City” project. It involved sending a small contingent of NewsHour producers to a number of cities to connect with local staff people to produce a week’s worth of programming, plus a number of community events. So far, Vegas PBS, WQED/Pittsburgh, KNME/ Albuquerque and KETC/St. Louis have helped us produce outstanding coverage of the issues that affect their communities and, by extension, the rest of the country. A number of other stations have generously assisted us on less elaborate productions: New Jersey Public Television, Twin Cities Public Television in St. Paul, AETN in Little Rock, and KCET in LA all hosted Big Picture events.
This year we have aired a number of excellent segments produced by KCET’s local program, “SoCal Connected,” along with many other stories or excerpts of stories supplied by a host of local public tv producers, including our long-standing partners at WTTW/Chicago and Oregon Public Broadcasting. We are about to co-produce many more with the help of a CPB grant for collaborative coverage of the economic situation.
The PBS NewsHour will constantly be looking for stories that add humanity to our broadcast, and your stations are a very good source for those stories. We intend to keep reaching out to you for your help, both on air and online, and to offer news services to your own local Web sites.
On the National program front, we recently aired our first collaborative venture with Frontline, an excellent Lowell Bergman report on the Nigerian bribery case against Halliburton and its KBR subsidiary. I’d like to thank David Fanning for making that happen. He also engineered our plan for tonight’s broadcast: extended excerpts of Martin Smith’s tough interview with one of Bernie Madoff’s original accountants, in advance of Frontline’s own take on the Madoff story.
For months we have been collaborating with WNET’s “Blueprint America” project to produce a number of very timely stories about the country’s aging infrastructure problems. In addition, we are in the process of co-producing a series of reports with NPR, focusing on how the economic situation is affecting the young people known as GenNexters. Judy Woodruff is the correspondent on our pieces, as well as NPR’s.
I could go on, but I think it’s obvious that when we say the “PBS NewsHour” will have room in it for contributions from the entire public broadcasting family, we mean it. That’s another reason we like the new title so much.
So there you have it — that’s the game plan. Before I conclude, I’d like to share one more thing that we learned from our audience research. The NewsHour actually has two audiences: the fiercely loyal, or semi-loyal crowd of viewers that watches our program regularly, and the growing number of Internet users who visit our Web site. They aren’t the same people — and rarely do they cross-over. That’s in spite of the fact that 40 percent of our viewers come to the broadcast already knowing what the news is each night, and 70 per cent identify themselves as heavy users of the internet. Figures like that have convinced us there is an enormous untapped market out there for our kind of journalism.
Our challenge, ladies and gentlemen, is to grow both audiences and make them aware of the quality and variety of content available to them …. on the “PBS NewsHour.”