PBS Ombudsman: ‘An Abdication of Duty’ For PBS to Not Carry Breaking News on the Weekend

By Alex Weprin 

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler looks back at the shooting in Tucson, and how his network didn’t get around to covering it until Monday evening.

Getler points out the challenges PBS has: it is a loose group of independent stations, much more decentralized than the for-profit broadcasters. Still, is there truly no way that one of television’s most popular news shows, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, couldn’t do a special edition on Saturday or Sunday?

There are no doubt impressive-sounding reasons, financial or otherwise, why there is no PBS NewsHour, or something similar, on Saturday and Sunday evenings. But it has always seemed to me like an abdication of duty that also has the side effect of sending regular PBS viewers to other networks.

The weekday evening NewsHour is one of PBS’s flagship programs and Jim Lehrer is among journalism’s most respected figures. So it just seems inconsistent with a commitment to news and public affairs, and to promoting the NewsHour and Lehrer as something special and unique — as PBS officials do publicly to emphasize the importance of public broadcasting — that some new formula can’t, or won’t, be found to serve the public on Saturday and Sunday as well.

Getler also examines PBS’ coverage of the memorial service Wednesday.

Much as viewers saw with the for-profit broadcasters, many of the local stations opted not to carry the memorial:

However, as noted, stations could opt in and out at the local level. Before the event, the guidance we had was that President Obama was scheduled to speak earlier and more briefly than occurred; this might have accounted for difficulties in local coverage of the speech. The complete coverage was also made available online on pbs.org.

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