Jim Lehrer: ‘I Am Very Bullish on the Future of Journalism’

By Alissa Krinsky 

Alissa Krinsky
TVNewser Contributor

2010 is quite a year for Jim Lehrer.

There are two personal milestones: his fiftieth wedding anniversary, and the fortieth anniversary of his first TV news job (a 1970 gig with Dallas’ KERA-TV).

And this fall, The PBS NewsHour will turn thirty-five, having debuted in 1975 in its original incarnation, The Robert MacNeil Report.

It’s also the year of Lehrer’s twentieth novel. Super is a fictional murder-mystery about the real-life Super Chief, known back in the day as Santa Fe Railway’s ‘Train of the Stars’.

Being an author is a means of expression for Lehrer. It “gives me a way to go beyond the other part of my life, the journalism part,” he told TVNewser while in Chicago on his book tour.

Lehrer loves writing so much he’s already working on his next book, about his experiences moderating eleven presidential debates. Often called the “Dean of Moderators“, Lehrer will also include reflections from the candidates themselves. In fact, the tome’s working title — Tension City — is a phrase he says was once used by former President George H.W. Bush to describe how Bush felt about the matchups.

The next set of presidential debates will be held, of course, in 2012 — but Lehrer says he’s not sure he’ll partake in another round. “I can’t imagine I would do another one. But I only answer those questions when the time comes, so we’ll see.

“I’ve done eleven of them, and I’m thinking that maybe the time has come to rest on my darts and my laurels and move on. We’ll see. Never say never.”

More from Jim Lehrer after the jump, including his advice for CNN as the cable news wars rage.

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In the meantime, Lehrer, who turns 76 next month, continues to savor his job as NewsHour‘s Executive Editor and anchor — calling it “great fun” — and has made it clear he has no plans to retire. Almost exactly two years after undergoing heart valve surgery, Lehrer says he’s “feeling great”.

He also feels good about The NewsHour‘s more traditionally straightforward approach to presenting the news of the day.

It’s why he supports CNN as it positions itself as a down-the-middle cable news network. “They’ve got to hang in there,” he says, referring to the CNN’s recent ratings struggles. “They’ve got to hang in there.”

“Mainline reporting,” Lehrer continues, “is still critical to the democratic process. You’ve got to find out what is happening before you form your own opinions.”

Bottom line, Lehrer still believes in the news business. “I am very bullish on the future of journalism, generally, and of television journalism, because we are a society that is dependent on information. Thomas Jefferson said…without an informed electorate we don’t have a democratic society. It isn’t a luxury that we have [media outlets]…

“What we’re sorting through now…is this 24-7 deluge” of cable, blogs, and social media. “And we haven’t figured it out yet.”

Lehrer agrees that it’s kind of a Wild West of information. “But look what happened after the Wild West,” he points out. “It became the peaceful West.”