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

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