The long-running “PBS NewsHour,” which has its roots in broadcast-TV coverage of 1973’s Watergate hearings, is preparing itself to tell stories in some very new media frontiers, which include places like TikTok and YouTube.
“We have been thinking about the pace of the show. It is completely different from our commercial competitors. It is slower. It is more calm,” says Sara Just, the show’s senior executive producer, in a recent interview. As people interact with video programming in new fashion. executives are considering ways to make “NewsHour” relevant to new generations while keeping die-hards in the fold.
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“Are we moving too slowly? Can we move more quickly? Can we get in more stories?” asks Just. “We don’t want to change and go to 30-second stories, minute stories. We have the luxury of time. But those are definitely things we are think about, and evolving as people’s viewing habits change, and those are going to be the things we experiment with.”
Amna Nawaz and Geoff Bennett take to the “NewsHour” desk Monday night for the first time as the show’s official new anchors, succeeding Judy Woodruff. In doing so, they open a series of new chances for the program to be consumed. Executives at PBS and WETA, the Washington station that produces the show, appear keen to find new connections with viewers in digital venues, while keeping ties to the crowds that sit down with the linear program every night.
While the linear broadcast of the show garnered an average of nearly two million viewers in the third quarter of last year, the show’s average monthly audience on digital venues topped 25 million, with social reach encompassing more than 13 million. Little wonder, the , that Bennett and Nawaz will be charged with doing a lot more than just relaying in-depth reportage in primetime.
“We are aware that there are audiences who consume the news in very different ways,” says Nawaz, in a recent interview. “It’s our duty and our responsibility to meet that audience where they are.”
PBS is not alone is trying to navigate a jump from capturing the large daily audiences who tune In for linear evening news to aggregating the digital viewers who seek out clips and segments at times of their own choosing. The venerable “CBS Evening News,” anchored by Norah O’Donnell, is played once each evening on the network, and is also made available via CBS News’ streaming platforms. But there is also a separate evening streamcast led by John Dickerson. ABC and NBC also offer their traditional evening news programs, “World News Tonight” and “NBC Nightly News,” but have launched 7 p.m. programs led by Linsey Davis and Tom Llamas.
“I know people who interact with the program mainly by watching clips on Twitter, or they look at content created for social media on TikTok or Instagram,” says Bennett. “The core commitment, the promise we make to viewers to cover the news as a public service, that doesn’t change. But what transforms over time are the platforms they watch and the ways in which people can find the program.”
“NewsHour” audiences won’t be shocked by the new anchors. Nawaz has filled in regularly for Woodruff, while Bennett was the show’s weekend anchor. Bennett has experience covering national politics, while Nawaz has traveled the globe, even serving as bureau chief at NBC News’ Islamabad bureau.
Bringing a duo back to “NewsHour” — Woodruff has been the sole anchor since her on-air partner, Gwen Ifill, passed away in 2016 — gives the show new flexibility, says Just. One of the pair can stay out in the field while the other stands ready to lead the linear newscast. “We can have more of an anchor presence in the field, without feeling the need to rush back by 6 o’clock,” she says. “That’s definitely something we are going to look to take advantage of.”
Viewers won’t see it right away, but WETA is building a new studio to house “NewsHour.” Supply-chain issues have delayed the process, but executives believe the show will be in a new facility within a year’s time, says Just. “The building we are in, where ‘NewsHour’ has been for forty years, is going to be torn down,” she says. “We are moving to a new newsroom and studio control room in an extension of the main WETA building.” A new set and graphics are likely to be unveiled at that time, she adds.
The TV version of “NewsHour” remains important, but “NewsHour” in the future won’t just be about TV. “We both feel a very real sense of duty and responsibility to the audience that does sit down with us every day,” says Nawaz. Even so, she adds, “we know not everyone gets the news that way.”
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