CBS Mornings co-anchor Gayle King participated in the 2023 Adweek Convergent TV Summit Wednesday morning, and expounded on a wide variety of TV news business topics. King joined CBS News in January 2012, and has seen a lot of change over the past 11 years; changes in on-air colleagues, changes in the show’s format and changes in how TV news is consumed in general.
“The news is now 24/7 on steroids,” she told Adweek’s Jason Lynch during the panel. “I could literally go to the bathroom and come back out, and the world has changed. I’m not exaggerating about that, it’s happened a couple of times where there’s been breaking news, and I think it just keeps you on your toes all the time.”
She added, “You have to meet the audience where they are. We didn’t have the big streaming contingent that we have now. That’s certainly been a major difference. Also, you have to be on YouTube, on TikTok, you have to be on Facebook, you have to be on streaming. Before, it was strictly broadcast, but that’s changed.”
That said, King still feels that there’s a place for broadcast TV news.
“I think that as long as there’s a place where people go to bed at night, and they wake up in the morning, they turn on their TVs, they want to know what’s happening, I feel my place is secure in that,” she said.
However, if the network wants to reach young people, a strong digital presence is essential. “But I also know we can’t just rely on that [broadcast],” said King. “The young people are not getting their news on television. I’m amazed at that.”
The veteran TV newser was also asked about on-air chemistry. Referring to herself as “the last man standing,” her CBS Morning show colleagues over the past 11 years have included Erica Hill, Norah O’Donnell, Charlie Rose, Bianna Golodryga, John Dickerson, Anthony Mason. Tony Dokoupil and Nate Burleson have been her on-air partners-in-crime weekdays since 2021. King feels they have a good thing going.
“Chemistry isn’t something that you can plan,” said King. “It really isn’t something that you can make happen. Either you have chemistry, or you don’t. And I think lucky for me, I’ve always been the kind of kid in class that was a chatty Cathy. Teachers said I was that I talked a lot and I tended to be disruptive. I was told that I was a very nosy child, I like to think of it is inquisitive and curious and I still am. So I always have a natural curiosity and interest in whoever I’m working with.”
She added, “I can’t even tell you what it is we have, I just know we have it.”
So, what happens if you don’t have that chemistry?
“I’ve never had a problem getting along with anybody I’ve worked with at CBS, I really haven’t,” said King. “But I think when you know that somebody always has your back. I know that some people’s skill sets are stronger than others, and I know that when I’m sitting at the table, no one’s going to leave me hanging in whatever it is. And I feel the same about them.”
She added, “Sometimes, you may work with a person that, and I’m not talking about myself, but sometimes you may work with a person who is only there for themselves isn’t very collaborative, wants to hog the spotlight. And that’s when you know it’s not working. So well knock on wood for me. I haven’t had that problem.”
CBS This Morning rebranded to CBS Mornings in September 2021, and with Dokoupil and Burleson by her side, the female audience has grown. Part of that can be attributed to story selection. Women are the primary consumers for daytime news and talk programming, and you’re seeing more stories with a female focus. This wasn’t always the case.
“Just this week, we did a story about infertility and IVF. That’s a very female-focused issue and I think we told those stories very well,” said King. “This morning, we did something about menopause and perimenopause. It is something that’s necessary, and it is something that we’re trying take the stigma out of.”
She added, “We are tackling those kinds of issues in a very smart and authentic way. I think that resonates, and I think we make a concerted effort to let women know we are here and are interested.”
King also notes the addition of Burleson, a former NFL player, as a reason the program is also keeping male viewers, despite the increase in female-focused stories.
“Nate adds another layer to the equation in terms of sports,” said King. “His background is sports, and while he’s very good at reporting sports, he’s also so well rounded. So, I do find that we’re spending time on that as well.”
King has interviewed countless luminaries over her lengthy career in TV journalism, but her most talked-about sit-down in recent years was her March 2019 interview with R. Kelly that immediately went viral.
It was Kelly’s first TV interview since he was indicted for sexual assault the previous month. He expressed anger, and denial, started crying, raising his hands, and yelling at the camera during the interview.
“I am not a ‘gotcha’ kind of person,” said King. ” I always very I pride myself on my preparation. I just want to give you the opportunity to tell your story, however you want to tell it. I’m not afraid to challenge you if I don’t think you’re noy being upfront, but I never want to make it about me. It really is. The platform is yours. What is the story you want to tell?”
King called Kelly’s team the day after air to check up on him. A representative apparently told her, “He [R. Kelly] wants to thank you for allowing people to see his passion and his pain,” something that King was surprised by.
“He felt that my questions were fair, it’s not like he didn’t know we weren’t going to talk about that documentary. He wasn’t even upset about that. He just thought that people got to see how he was really feeling. I felt good about that.”
Media reports are linking King to a possible CNN primetime job. CNN chairman and CEO Chris Licht was for many years King’s executive producer on CBS This Morning. When asked, she didn’t confirm but also didn’t unequivocally deny.
“I’m very close to Chris Licht. I like him very much, but on that question, ‘me no speak English,’” she said. “Let’s just say I have two years left on my contract with CBS, and I have no intention of leaving CBS.”
Then, it was time for questions. One audience member asked King about unbiased news reporting and how she approaches that in such a difficult environment.
King said that CBS News “works really hard to stick to the facts and then we let you draw your own conclusions,” she said. “What we need to do is just do our jobs the best we can, and when we make mistakes, we will tell you that. I feel very confident and very proud of the work we do there [at CBS News].”
King also said viewers should “do their own due diligence,” adding, “because if you’re only watching people that you want to broadcast and only have one opinion, and that’s all you listen to over and over again, then your opinions are already shaped.”
King also noted that she was extremely disappointed in how some networks covered the January 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol (but didn’t name names).
“I sat at my kitchen table that day, in the afternoon, and I just got so choked up and so sad by looking at Americans attacking other Americans,” said King. “And then to see that portrayed as ‘tourists out of control,’ or that it really wasn’t as bad as people are saying, that’s just not true. And so that scares me.”
She also brought up the recent legal battle between Dominion Voting Systems and Fox (again without naming the companies involved).
“I look at the lawsuit that’s going on right now, and to hear that you can say one thing on the air and say one thing privately and feeding the viewer something that you know isn’t true. I don’t even know how you can get away with that,” said King. “I marvel that that’s the world we live in today. And that scares me.”
King’s not ready to retire. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“I like the fact that I sit here at 68 years old, Walter Cronkite had to retire at 65. Just think about that for a second,” said King. “I marvel at that. He had to retire at 65 and didn’t want to. I’m not even thinking about retiring, and I love that I work with 20 somethings, 30 somethings, 40 somethings, and don’t feel like the old lady in the room. I don’t feel that way.”