Q&A with PBS NewsHour's Annette Miller and Sandi Fox

September 20th, 2010

Inside Thirteen recently spoke with PBS NewsHour‘s Director of Research and Archive Services, Annette Miller, and Research Librarian, Sandi Fox, to get a first-hand look at how the research department for one of PBS’ most popular (and long running) news programs operates.

PBS NewsHour airs weeknights at 7 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Ms. Miller and Ms. Fox answered our questions via email.

Inside Thirteen: What types of stories generally require the most research?

Annette Miller and Sandi Fox: Special projects, like confirmation hearings for a new Supreme Court justice, quadrennial political conventions, presidential elections, or an overseas reporting trip, require the creation of briefing books for the correspondents. These books contain background research, facts and “factoids” for the correspondents to study prior to the event. It often takes many weeks and numerous staffers to prepare these books.

IT: Explain the role of the Research & Archives Dept. at the PBS NEWSHOUR. How does the department interact with reporters and producers?

AM & SF: The Research Department supports the reporters and producers by providing information and answering their questions. These questions range from background on a news topic to information on how to contact a specific guest to fact-checking and providing statistical data.

The Archives support the reporters and producers by finding and providing video for production pieces. The Archives staff logs all the video shot by NEWSHOUR camera crews and video acquired from outside sources. The staff also maintains a database so that video can be easily located.

IT: What resources do you utilize for research on a daily basis?

AM & SF: We use online and print editions of the nation’s major newspapers and magazines. We research older articles with the help of the NEXIS database. We also make extensive use of websites of government agencies, think tanks, universities, associations and NGOs, and often follow up with phone inquiries. We subscribe to several transcription services and online news providers.

IT: What is the most interesting part of your job, and what is your least favorite part?

AM & SF: The most interesting aspect of the job is working on long-term projects that give us an opportunity to delve into a new subject. For example, when we recently prepared a background book for Elena Kagan’s confirmation hearings, we needed to do basic fact-checking, assemble biographical information, learn about her career and her views on various controversial issues. We had to provide profiles on the Senate Judiciary Committee members. We also had to gather historical information on previous justices and their confirmation hearings, as well as historical information about the Supreme Court.

Our least favorite aspect of the job is when someone calls us to verify information right before air time. It’s often too late to call the office of a primary source and it is difficult to verify the information on such a short deadline. We do our best, but make sure the information is not presented as the irrefutable truth.