The ‘PBS NewsHour’ Debates Its Own Future

By Alex Weprin 

With the news this week that the “PBS NewsHour” would be laying off staff and reorganizing in order trim costs, the show’s future has become a hot topic of debate.

The Baltimore Sun‘s David Zurawik wrote that the “NewsHour” had become a shadow of what it once was:

“Forget the world, they couldn’t cover stories down the street in Washington on their own most nights,” Zurawik writes. “Some nights, when they tried to re-purpose a piece that had run previously by giving a new introduction, it was just plain embarrassing.”


That column drew a sharp rebuke in letters from the “NewsHour,” with Gwen Ifill, EP Kathleen McCleery and MacNeil/Lehrer Productions CEO Bo Jones, both of which the “NewsHour” posted on its own site under the headline “Is The NewsHour” Worth Saving?”

“Is it what NBC, ABC, CBS, FOX and CNN produce on a nightly basis? No. And it never has been. That’s pretty much why I work here,” Ifill wrote. “We skip the stories on the pole-dancing girlfriends and the Arias-type trials. We know there are other places to go for that. But we still stick by our core mission — to provide news and information for people who choose to know more than what their home browser page can show them.”

Today, The New York TimesElizabeth Jensen weighs in. At the end of her piece, Jensen reveals some news about where the program may be headed:

PBS, among other changes, wants the program to choose a permanent anchor or two co-anchors, said the public television employees. When Mr. Lehrer left two years ago, he decided not to name a replacement. Instead, a handful of anchors, including Ms. Ifill and Judy Woodruff, share the two host chairs in constant rotation, further muddling the program’s identity, critics said, and adding to costs.

PBS could choose not to renew the program’s contract and find a new producer. For the moment, PBS is instead investing $3 million in a new program, “PBS NewsHour Weekend,” which is expected to start in the fall, anchored by Hari Sreenivasan, a correspondent on the weekday program and its director of digital partnerships.

Two different companies will produce them. The contract for the weekend program went to WNET, in New York. PBS executives have said they hoped the new program would generate new models to produce a news program less expensively, said the public television employees.