Thursday, May 12, 2011

Anchor Away

Lehrer is Leaving

Another national TV news anchor with Texas connections is stepping away from the daily grind. PBS’ Jim Lehrer, 76, announced Thursday, May 12, 2011 that it was time to turn the daily broadcast over to his colleagues, although he will still remain involved behind the scenes.

"I have been laboring in the glories of daily journalism for 52 years ... 36 of them here at the NewsHour and its earlier incarnations ... and there comes a time to step aside from the daily process, and that time has arrived," Lehrer said today. He promises more details during the Thursday night broadcast. His last day on the air will be June 6th.

No, Lehrer is not a Texan by birth, but he grew up here and cut his journalistic teeth here. Born in Kansas, he went to junior high school in Beaumont, high school in San Antonio, and Victoria College before getting a degree from the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri.

His first journalism job was with the Dallas Morning News and then the now defunct Dallas Times Herald (a better newspaper in my estimation). He made the jump to television news when KERA TV (PBS) inaugurated its first newscast in 1970.

It was a game-changer. Called “Newsroom”, the broadcast focused on one story for a whole hour. One story. There was no glitzy set with a skyline or something behind him. The show actually originated from the KERA TV newsroom.

It also introduced a new and ground-breaking way of telling stories on TV. Lehrer would debrief reporters on the anchor desk. It was largely unrehearsed and thorough.

Lehrer will continue appearing on Friday NewsHour broadcasts moderating the political discussion with New York Times columnist David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields, a feature that goes back to the old “Newsroom” days in Dallas.

KVUE TV (ABC) used to use that debrief technique during its 5 o’clock newscast in the 1980s. Nowadays there and elsewhere, the emphasis is more on story-count more often than not—cramming as many stories in to the news hole as possible.

An hour for one story? Yes. It was compelling stuff too. It caught many journalists’ eyes and imaginations—mine for one. The concepts at KERA also caught the eyes of the creators of PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).

PBS evolved from Educational Television and WNET in 1973, and it was in 1973 that Lehrer teamed up with Robert MacNeil to create the MacNeil/Lehrer Report for the fledgling not-for-profit national network in 1975. The formula was highly successful.

He embraced his Texas roots, speaking at Texas State University several years ago in support of one of his long list of books. Did you know that Lehrer is a prolific published novelist? According to the PBS news release, he has 20 novels, two memoirs, and three plays to his credit.

Lehrer says he’s stepping aside because his confidence in the NewsHour team. The NewsHour has always been a team thing. It will be interesting to see if one of the team members emerges as the main anchor.

© Jim McNabb

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

"And That's The Way It Is ..."

Texas Anchors

Scott Pelley becomes yet another in a long line of Texans to sit in the CBS Evening News Anchor chair. In fact, the connection to Texas is rather striking.

Think about it. The venerable Walter Cronkite has his Austin/University of Texas ties. He defined the term “anchorman” with his pioneering work at CBS for 19 years. He was the original. CBS Evening news was only 15 minutes long at the beginning. When he stepped away in 1981, he was regarded as America’s “most trusted” man.

Dan Rather was his immediate successor. Dan Rather, a native Texan, went to Sam Houston State University.

Before he inherited the CBS Evening News Anchorman position (instead of Roger Mudd), many of his major news assignments were on Texas soil, including Hurricane Carla in 1961, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas in 1963, and his March, 1973 Houston news conference confrontation with President Richard Nixon. Rather anchored for CBS 24 years. Rather has a home in the Austin area, and his daughter, Robin Rather, is an Austin environmental activist.

After Rather and before Katie Couric, came interim anchor and native Texan Bob Schieffer who was the face of the CBS Evening news for about a year, starting in 2005. Shieffer was born here in Austin, February 25, 1937, but grew up in Fort Worth where he graduated from TCU. Many lobbied for Shieffer to be the next anchor instead of Couric in 2006. He actually grew the audience for the platinum network that had sunk to #3.

Now, after five years, Katie Couric is stepping down, and Scott Pelley is stepping up June 6th.
Pelley was born in San Antonio July 28, 1957. He attended Texas Tech and started working in TV news in Lubbock.

I remember him most from his time spent as a reporter and anchor for WFAA (ABC) in Dallas from 1982 to 1989, roughly the time this writer was working for the KVUE TV (ABC) here in Austin. He was a good guy and a real pro. You knew that he was bound for bigger things. He had the voice, the looks, the brains, and the talent. He made the jump from Dallas to CBS in 1989.

Will he lead CBS back to its former glory? He has the professional credentials. Further, he’s a Texan. The Texas connection worked in the past. It might work again. “And that’s the way it is,” as Mr. Cronkite would say.

© Jim McNabb, 2011