Need to Know, an Innovative Approach to News Reporting

April 21st, 2010

THIRTEEN continues its tradition of providing groundbreaking news programming with Need to Know on PBS, a new weekly news & public affairs series premiering May 7 ET at 8:30 PM online and on-air. Co-anchored by acclaimed journalists Alison Stewart and Jon Meacham, it features stories on the economy, the environment and energy, health, security, and culture. Stephen Segaller, VP of Content at WNET.ORG, and Shelley Lewis, Executive Producer of Need to Know, spoke with THIRTEEN about this exciting new initiative.

Need to Know offers an innovative approach to news reporting, fully integrating the broadcast and website. What inspired you to create the series?
Stephen Segaller: We wanted to create a newsmagazine that is weekly, topical and inherits the depth and experience of our award-winning series like Wide Angle and Exposé, but also offers something entirely new in online journalism. The result is Need to Know, a broadcast and Web destination that reinforces the intelligence and substance expected from public media.

Describe the relationship between the TV show and the website.
Shelley Lewis: They’re one and the same. We don’t think of it as a website with a TV show or a TV show with a website. We hope and believe that fans of the website will join us on television and fans on television will check us out on the Web.

Will viewers be able to contribute story ideas to the series?
SS: They’ll be able to contribute story ideas, comment on stories, and suggest new directions to take stories we’ve already done.

SL: We’re also hoping to have an area of our website called “The Pitch Room” here Web users can pitch stories to our editorial staff.

What qualities will the two co-anchors, Alison Stewart and Jon Meacham, bring to the series?
SS: They’re both incredibly smart journalists with very different backgrounds. Alison won a Peabody Award for her political reporting on MTV and has become a celebrated multimedia journalist at NPR and MSNBC. And Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer who, as the editor of Newsweek, has to decide what his readership needs to know every week. So they’re very complementary high-octane talent.

Shelley, you’ve enjoyed an eclectic career in network news. What attracted you to public media?
SL: The idea of creating a new kind of journalism that is both Web- and television-based simultaneously was  a challenge I’d never taken on, and the fact that it’s a PBS project is definitely a plus.  It’s exciting to be working with really smart people who value creative thinking.

What makes a story something your viewers and readers “need to know”?
SL: Sometimes the answer to that question is that the story is so incredibly interesting. The challenge is distinguishing between the “need to know” stories and those that only require a short take. I think on a Friday night people want a show that’s provocative, informative, and entertaining—not “ha-ha” entertaining, but entertaining in that it’s engaging and absorbing to the audience and readers.

How important are member dollars to programs like Need to Know?
SS: Member support for all our programming is critical. It often makes the difference between hoping to produce something and actually being able to produce something. In these tough times, we’re more dependent on viewer support than ever before.