Q&A: Jim Lehrer on the launch of "PBS NewsHour"

December 4th, 2009


PBS NewsHour premieres Monday, December 7 at 7pm on THIRTEEN

This week sees a flurry of changes at The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer — the broadcast program and website are relaunching as the PBS NewsHour. NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer previews the changes to the program in the video below, and answers questions about what these changes mean to the way NewsHour does business.

Jim Lehrer

Q. How does the new PBS NewsHour fit into what you and Robert MacNeil originally envisioned?
The goal of “MacNeil Lehrer journalism” has always been to give our audience the news beyond the headlines – more in-depth reporting, thought-provoking analysis, engaging newsmaker interviews and more international news.

We plan to continue that mission, only expand it. Originally, the program was created to supplement the evening network news programs. Now, each week night we will be a key on air and online destination for a deeper dive into the most important news of the day presented in a thoughtful and objective way. Our goal is to be THE source for the best journalism available anywhere, anytime – on line, on air, morning, noon or night.

Q. So, why change? And why change now?
The explosive growth of cable news, the internet and a 24-hour news cycle has led to huge changes in the media industry. Newspapers are going out of business, blogs and talks shows proliferate. Serious news is on the decline. Our change is a coordinated response from The NewsHour and PBS to lead the way in providing Americans with the serious news and information they need. We have both an opportunity and an obligation to respond.

The new program title reflects our expanded mission — to be the hub of public affairs programming on PBS. In addition to our own reporting, the PBS NewsHour will showcase the best reporting in public television both online and on air.

Q. What will viewers see that’s different?
Our correspondents will be more prominent. Each night one of them will co-anchor the program with me. They will also report more, especially from the field.

Plus, we will introduce a new member of the team who will deliver the daily news headlines on the NewsHour broadcast AND provide online news updates throughout the day. This correspondent is just one example of our attempt to create a seamless connection between the web site and the broadcast.

By taking greater advantage of the Online NewsHour web site, we will be more responsive and more versatile. You know, we’re fortunate to have a really talented team of journalists. They have a wealth of knowledge and skills. Our expanded operation means viewers will be able to see more of what they have to offer.

Q. What are your thoughts on new media and technology?
The NewsHour has been available via podcast and on Facebook and Twitter for some time now. But in the end, technology is just a tool to deliver stories. I don’t care if you get your news on TV or on a pink iPod, it’s the information and the story that matters and it’s important that information comes from a source you can trust.

Q. How does The NewsHour fit into the current media environment?
Ironically, by adamantly adhering to our principles, we’ve become more distinct. Now more than ever, The NewsHour is needed as a trusted, independent source of news and civil discourse.

Q. What do you hope to offer new NewsHour viewers? Web site visitors?
In addition to the work of our own talented team of journalists, The NewsHour will feature reporting from PBS’ many award winning public affairs programs like Frontline and NOVA, as well as reporters from local PBS stations around the country. The PBS NewsHour is also collaborating with other trusted media partners: NPR, Climate Central, Global Post, and Time Magazine just to name a few.

The Online NewsHour will have many new features. I mentioned the video news summary. We’re also going to offer viewers more insight into our editorial thinking. Our daily news blog will include discussion of how we plan to cover the top stories that night on the broadcast. And when our correspondents are out in the field, they’ll post video dispatches online, again, to constantly update viewers on the stories they are following, as they happen.

Q. What are you doing outside of The NewsHour?
I love to write; it’s what got me into the news business. But my writing is not limited to news. I also enjoy fiction and make it a habit to write every morning. My 20th novel is due to be published this coming April.