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Judy’s Notebook: Changes at the NewsHour

It was just a week ago that PBS President Paula Kerger announced that my colleague and good friend Gwen Ifill and I would become co-anchors and managing editors of the NewsHour. And that our longtime teammates Ray Suarez, Margaret Warner and Jeffrey Brown were being given major areas of responsibility — overseeing, respectively, National Affairs, Foreign Affairs and Arts, Society and Culture. All this, while our own Hari Sreenivasan moves to New York to anchor the Weekend NewsHour, in addition to continuing his contributions to weekdays.

Ever since the announcement, it’s been a blur of excitement around our studio and office building in Arlington, Va. We’ve been overwhelmed by happy responses from friends and viewers around the country. Much of the reaction has centered on the fact that we’ll have two women at the anchor desk, with comments like “a milestone,” “history-making,” “pathbreaking,” and simply, “good for women.” Others have written the changes are “a great day for journalism,” “giving hope for the survival of journalism we all love,” and even helping make sure “the country will be better informed.”

It would be easy, with all these puffy messages pouring in, for us to take it all personally, to let it go to our heads. Fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet, and of course we realize that any folks who don’t like what’s happening are likely holding their fire for later. Plus, I go home every night to a family who reminds me not to get carried away with myself. But these messages do serve to remind methat the NewsHour is a treasure, and that we who work on it have a responsibility to handle it carefully.

We speak a lot around our shop about respecting the core ideals that led Robin MacNeil and Jim Lehrer to create the program in the first place back in 1975: they were driven by the idea that the country needed a place on television for a thoughtful, civilized examination of the main news stories of the day, always keeping in mind that the audience wants to be as well-informed as possible so they can make up their own minds. Today, the audience is still watching us on TV, but also on laptops and smartphones, at all hours of the day and night; and they’re almost as likely to hear about a story we covered online as they are by sitting in front of a television set.

The delivery systems for news have changed dramatically. And we feel more pressure than ever now to keep our reporting and analysis interesting, to sprinkle in fun when appropriate and to be mindful of the ever-shrinking attention spans that we’re told define the public of 2013. But we also feel an imperative to listen to our inner compass, which is centered on the news and ideas that the American people most need to know in order to make informed decisions about their community, their country and the world. That has been, and will continue to be our true North, whether our on-air faces are those of MacNeil and Lehrer, Hunter-Gault, Ifill, Sreenivasan, Suarez, Brown, Warner or Woodruff.

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