Jim Lehrer On Leaving ‘PBS NewsHour’: ‘I may not be here physically, but I will always be here’

By Alex Weprin 

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Earlier today Jim Lehrer announced his retirement from the anchor chair at “PBS NewsHour.” Lehrer has been a journalist for 52 years, 36 of them for the “NewsHour” and its earlier incarnations, making him the longest serving anchor in broadcast television.

TVNewser spoke to Lehrer this afternoon about his decision to step aside. The anchor says the move has been in the works for a while, with the hope of minimizing the drama that so often happens when a prominent anchor announces they are leaving.

“I am very much at ease about it, and it is very much my decision,” Lehrer told TVNewser. “That is also unusual, [laughs] usually someone else makes the decision when it is time for an anchor person to go.”

The only thing I cared about was that when I did go, I didn’t hear the crash of porcelain over my shoulder, as often times happens in these kinds of things–particularly in television as you know. Some anchor type announces he or she is going to go, and there is all kinds of speculation as to who will take the persons place. In this case, I spent 18 months, almost two years paving the way for this. We changed the name to “PBS NewsHour,” took my name off, developed my team. There is no speculation as to who will take my place, the team will take my place,” he added.

Lehrer says that with the for-profit broadcast networks struggling, the need for solid journalism on the public airwaves becomes that much more important, and he expects the “NewsHour” continue filling that void.

“The need for what we do and how we do it has never been greater,” Lehrer says. “As the commercial world continues to contract, and have its problems, it is not only a natural opportunity for public broadcasting, it is our responsibility to help fill in some of those gaps in serious journalism. From my point of view the future of serious journalism in public broadcasting could not be stronger.”

Lehrer says he has been especially proud of the way that he has combined the “NewsHour'”s broadcast and online departments, forming a more cohesive whole. “It took a while, there was culture problems,” he admits, adding that it has grown tremendously since they started reworking the program’s online strategy.

“Our online presence is really something,” he says. “The way it crosses back and forth between the broadcast and the online is very unique. It is something I am very proud of.”

As for the future, while Lehrer will not be appearing nightly on the program, he will still have a regular presence there. He also cites his book projects and his six grandchildren as reasons why now was the right time to go, while also ensuring that he would be keeping himself busy.

“I will be on most Friday nights, and I may do other things from time to time. I will always have editorial input into the program,” he says.  “As I told the staff today, I may not be here physically, but I will always be here.”