Jim Axelrod on Newtown and Anchoring the Saturday ‘Evening News’

By Alex Weprin 

As we reported earlier this month, CBS News has tapped Jim Axelrod as the permanent anchor of the Saturday edition of the “CBS Evening News.” His first official day on the job was last weekend, when he anchored from Newtown, Connecticut. We spoke to Axelrod this week about the media coverage in Newtown, and what he has in store for the Saturday “Evening News.”

Axelrod, who has young children himself, said that Newtown was one of the hardest stories he has ever covered.

“I have been to Afghanistan after 9/11, I have been to Iraq, I have walked across bridges with lots of dead bodies, but I have never been to a place where the sadness was as palpable and overwhelming as Newtown,” Axelrod said. “This is the first time ever in my career I had a Red Cross staffer walk over to the tent where all of the CBS personnel was, and ask ‘Hey, if you guys need to talk, we are here.’”

Axelrod noted that it was a challenge to balance reporting on the tragedy, and respecting the community that lost so much a week ago.

“We want certainly to keep people informed, but at a certain point, we need to be respectful, and allow this community to mourn,” Axelrod said. “They are not going to mourn with 300 television cameras on the sidewalks.”

It is incumbent upon us to make sure that we are striking the right balance in terms of keeping our viewers informed but we have an even greater responsibility to make sure we are interfacing with this community in a respectful and dignified way,” he added.

As for the evening newscast, Axelrod’s mantra seems to be “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” At some point the former White House correspondent for CBS hopes to be able to take a look back at the week that was, or interview a newsmaker in a longer segment. But whatever happens, Axelrod will take his cue from the “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley.”

“Scott’s leadership, what they have done Monday through Friday has been a wonderful thing for the entire news division to watch. To establish this prescient, very serious, sober reporting that gets back to the best traditions of CBS,” Axelrod says. “I kind of feel like there is this very nice solid house being built Monday to Friday, and we just want to build a nice little addition on Saturday.”