Variety’s cover story for this week focuses on the leading men of TV’s three major evening newscasts: Lester Holt of NBC Nightly News, David Muir of ABC World News Tonight, and Scott Pelley of The CBS Evening News. The trio sat down for a conversation which ranged from the continued importance of the evening newscast in this age of 24/7 news overload, maintaining ratings despite access to content being easier than ever, and of course covering an unorthodox presidency.
The era of Walter Cronkite or even Tom Brokaw is over. People have Twitter, Facebook, 24/7 cable news, and are more likely to work past 6:30 p.m. Variety’s Brian Steinberg writes this has had a slight impact on ratings:
“The three newscasts overall shed viewers in 2016 — down .64% in total viewership from 2015 and down 2.72% in adults 25-54 — a troubling sign for an election year, when news junkies historically have flocked to their sets.” (Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC saw double-digit viewership increases across the board during this period.)
The anchors are aware of the options out there, but still maintain the importance of their program as a way to cut through all of the noise.
“People often talk about the dying evening news, or the increased competition being bad for the evening news,” said Muir. “But I see it differently. We have all talked about this, but people are looking for a place to cut through the noise particularly in this moment, and at 6:30 p.m., hopefully they’re finding that…our responsibility is greater than ever, given this news cycle.”
Holt recalled the earlier years where the evening news was that one-stop shop, but no longer. “We recognize that people know what’s going on that day, the hits, runs and errors of the day before they sit down and watch us,” Holt said. “This is added value. How can we take these stories of the day, and make them apply to people’s lives and make them understand what is happening, how it’s happening and how it’s going to effect them.”
“We have all talked about how relevant we are in this internet age, that never before in human history has more information been available to more people,” said Pelley. “But it’s also true never before in human history has more bad information been available to more people. One of the reasons that all three of our broadcasts have been growing over these last 6 years or so, I believe, is because people are looking for brand names. They’re looking for people that they can trust, for people that they know worked all day long trying to get the story right, and to make it nice and concise and understandable.”
(Photo: via Variety video interview)