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Another Chapter Begins for NewsHour

December 4, 2009 at 12:00 AM EDT
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On the final night of the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, the anchor looks back at the show's 34-year history and ahead to the new PBS NewsHour.

JIM LEHRER: And, finally, tonight, on this December 4, 2009, a finally of our own.

Come Monday, this program will have a new title, the “PBS NewsHour.” That will be the fifth different version of the program created 34 years ago. Now the broadcast and its online component will be linked together in ways we couldn’t even imagine back then.

Linda Winslow is the executive producer and a veteran of the very first season. Simon Marks is the associate executive producer.

LINDA WINSLOW: We can’t any longer afford to think of the “NewsHour” as a one-hour program that people sit down and have a cocktail with and watch the entire program from start to finish. People’s lives have gotten much too busy. And we want to be where they are, wherever they are, whenever they are, which requires a rethink about how we do the programs.

SIMON MARKS: The time is right for this organization to integrate its online and broadcast activities. And that really lies at the heart of what we’re doing here, creating a “NewsHour” that can go into this new era, in which technology is forcing journalistic organizations all over the world to rethink how they do the things that they do.

JIM LEHRER: You will see a new look, new title, new opening, new graphics, as we go about updating ourselves. But, most notably, you will see more of our “NewsHour” team, senior correspondents Jeffrey Brown, Gwen Ifill, Ray Suarez, Margaret Warner, and Judy Woodruff. They will be doing what they do best, reporting and analyzing the top stories of the day.

We have added a new player to the team, Hari Sreenivasan. Hari will anchor a summary of the day’s headlines from our newsroom, and represent our updated online operation on the nightly broadcast.

Our goal is to be the hub of news and public affairs reporting on PBS on all platforms. There will be more collaborations with local PBS stations and with other public television producers, like “Frontline,” plus partnerships with online news sites, like Global Post, an international reporting site, and The Christian Science Monitor’s Patchwork Nation project.

Changing our name is something we know how to do. We began life in October 1975 as “The Robert MacNeil Report”…

ROBERT MACNEIL: Good evening. New York’s Governor Hugh Carey said today…

JIM LEHRER: … and, months later, became “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.”

ROBERT MACNEIL: Tonight, the rise in home foreclosures and the controversy over creative financing — Jim.

JIM LEHRER: Robin, there used to be just two basic ways to buy a house.

In those days, we dealt with one story for half-an-hour.

ROBERT MACNEIL: Expanded from the present half-hour to a comprehensive one-hour program of news and analysis.

JIM LEHRER: That transition to “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” happened in 1983.

Good evening. Yes, said the Soviet Union 12, we shot down that Korean airliner, but we didn’t know it was a civilian plane, and it was completely justified.

Twelve years later, Robin MacNeil retired, and we became the “NewsHour With Jim Lehrer.”

Now it’s time for another title change, as we confront the challenges ahead. But I promise you, one thing is never going to change. And that’s our mission.

People often ask me if there are guidelines in our practice of what I like to call MacNeil/Lehrer journalism. Well, yes, there are. And here they are.

Do nothing I cannot defend. Cover, write and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story. Assume the viewer is as smart and as caring and as good a person as I am. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.

Assume personal lives are a private matter, until a legitimate turn in the story absolutely mandates otherwise. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories, and clearly label everything. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes, except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.

And, finally, I am not in the entertainment business.

Here is how I closed a speech about our changes to our PBS stations family last spring.

We really are the fortunate ones in the current tumultuous world of journalism right now. When we wake up in the morning, we only have to decide what the news is and how we are going to cover it. We never have to decide who we are and why we are there.

That is the way it has been for these nearly 35 years. And that’s the way it will be forever.

And, for the “NewsHour,” there will always be a forever.