Year-End #AskNewser: TVNewsers Discuss Overcoming 2021’s On-Air Challenges and How Their Shows Will Evolve in 2022

By A.J. Katz 

For this installment of the year-end #AskNewser, we caught up with broadcast and cable news anchors to find out what they considered their biggest on-air challenges in 2021 and how we should expect to their shows to evolve in 2022. On the broadcast front, ABC News Nightline co-anchor Juju Chang, her ABC News colleagues GMA3: What You Need to Know co-anchor T.J. Holmes, and GMA3: What You Need to Know and 20/20 co-anchor Amy Robach, as well as CBS News’ CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King, her colleague CBS Evening News anchor and managing editor Norah O’Donnell, PBS NewsHour anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff, and Noticias Univision 24/7 Primetime and Despierta América anchor Carolina Rosario are all featured here.

On the cable side, we caught up with Bloomberg News’ Bloomberg Surveillance co-host Lisa Abramowicz, Bloomberg News chief international correspondent for Southeast Asia Haslinda Amin, CNBC Squawk on the Street co-anchor Morgan Brennan, Bloomberg Markets: European Open co-host Anna Edwards, CNBC TechCheck co-anchor Jon Fortt and his colleague CNBC Closing Bell co-anchor Sara Eisen, Fox News’ MediaBuzz host Howard Kurtz and Fox Business Network The Evening Edit host Elizabeth MacDonald.

Here’s what they had to say:

What was your biggest on-air challenge this year, and why? 

Abramowicz: There’s an obvious evolution for the show in that we’ll be tracking the post-pandemic economy and the ways in which the labor market and inflation dynamics have changed. But from a media production standpoint, our show will follow another evolution—becoming more interactive and distributed in different ways on different platforms. I’m hoping to help create more of a presence online, where our best clips and ideas are passed out in short videos and written pieces.

Lisa Abramowicz

Amin: No letting up of the news cycle in 2022, given what we’ve seen of Covid, US-China tension, central bank policy, cryptocurrencies …

I suspect news in 2022 will also revolve round the Metaverse—the world of holograms and avatars. Zuckerberg is all in, Microsoft is set for Mesh for Teams… and I think our shows will be all over developments and its impact on markets … how to play web 3.0, which Metaverse stocks will be all the rage. Speaking of digital, we’ll be tracking CBDCs. The PBOC is putting its digital Yuan on trial at the Winter Olympics … many other central banks are also assessing their own. I see our shows following how it all plays out in the broader crypto ecosystem.

Brennan: The show will continue to be news and markets-driven and, if the past few years are any indicator, that will mean a lot of breaking news and last minute changes—as schedules and templates get torn up in the control room to focus on the story taking center stage on a given morning. It’s one of the things I love most about Squawk on the Street: how nimble, agile and adaptive the entire team is at rooting out the emerging narratives of the day and pursuing them rapidly. Expect to see lots of big interviews, lots of market analysis and ever-increasing coverage of next-gen technologies and budding industries. Case in point: space, which I extensively report on for CNBC and which is, after decades of quiet development and investment by deep-pocketed individuals, achieving milestones and finally beginning to captivate both investors and the public at large.

Morgan Brennan

Chang: In just the last two weeks, with Omicron laying siege to NYC, we had more trouble keeping staff, including myself, able to report for duty. Thankfully, I remained negative but, as a close contact, I had to go live from my living room for GMA, something I hadn’t done since the early days of the pandemic.

Edwards: We are a global business show, so we follow the global business news agenda through pandemics, earnings seasons and central bank cycles. My role on Bloomberg Surveillance: Early Edition is to bring the view from Europe. I get to explain how European markets are already up and trading and we look ahead to the US business day. We will start 2022 no doubt still focused on the spread of the Omicron variant. We won’t lose sight of the human story but will also watch it’s impact on growth, global supply chains and inflation. How global central banks respond to inflation pressures will continue to be a big theme.

Eisen: I’m excited to be back in person. That obviously starts with being at my anchor desk, but there’s just no substitute to being where news is. Getting back to in-person interviews with the newsmakers who join us, having correspondents on location and taking our show to key conferences and events brings more to viewers. Additionally, I’m optimistic we’ll begin to see what a post-pandemic hybrid future looks like in 2022 and our show will be laser-focused on how companies and sectors are navigating the transition. Finally, we’ve seen a remarkable shift of retail investor engagement and our show will speak to that, be inclusive of the bigger tent of active investors.

Sara Eisen

Fortt: I work on three shows: TechCheck, which I co-anchor; and Squawk Box and Power Lunch, where I have weekly segments. In 2022, I think the big challenge will be using a blended combination of digital and broadcast tools to report the news, engage the audience and tell stories. It might not sound too different from what we’ve been working on all along, but it is—mostly because of the pandemic. It used to be that we could have these separate workflows, depending on whether we were doing broadcast content, digital content or in-person events. The pandemic has forced us to be flexible, prepared to do broadcast work or in-person work from a digital platform at a moment’s notice.

Jon Fortt

Holmes: Our biggest on-air challenge has often been … staying on the air.  Like everyone, we’ve felt the impact of and had to deal with the realities of Covid. Health and safety come first and, because of that, we have found ourselves short-staffed at times. We are people who love our jobs and feel a responsibility to deliver every single day and never want to miss a day of work. That sense of duty lends to our utmost respect for guidelines put in place by our network and the CDC. And though it hasn’t always been easy, we’ve been able, so far, to find a way to keep the show and our team on the air.

TJ Holmes

King: I haven’t seen any on-air challenges, really. We’re in a new location with a new team and all of that is very exciting to me. There is something about being in Times Square that energizes me before I even get out of the car. That’s a new thing for all of us —to be in Times Square; they don’t call it the crossroads of the world for nothing! But there is something very exciting about that, I’m instantly jazzed before I even go to work.

I just said to the team this morning, “Guys, look what we get to do, look where we work. We have Covid testing at our place!” So, I look at all the things that we do have—as opposed to the things that we don’t have—and I think we’re in a good place.

My whole thing is that we just want to grow. We just want to build, and I’m very encouraged to see the [Nielsen ratings] increase. That’s very exciting to all of us. I just feel that we can meet this moment and it is a moment for us.

I don’t want to go back to broadcasting in my home. I was in my house for 105 days, but nobody was vaccinated. I’m vaccinated and boosted. I really do feel confident that I’m covered, but the breakthrough cases are very concerning to me. I say this all the time: We have a front row seat and I can’t wait to see where 2022 is going to take us. We have a new team, we started in September, so this will be our first full year and I’m very excited about that.

Kurtz: Television shows must constantly evolve even when they’re on top, as Media Buzz has been since it launched eight years ago. That’s why I recently added an opening monologue and a fast-moving final segment called “Buzzbeater.” For 2022 we plan to ramp up for the midterms but also broaden our scope to include more analysis of the media and culture, entertainment, and sports. And I’m always on the lookout for new guests who bring a fresh perspective.

Howard Kurtz

MacDonald: I’m hoping the Evening Edit evolves by being more hard-hitting. That comes from doing even more deep-dive research into government and court documents, which means more bleary-eyed 5 a.m. reading. What comes to mind is what reporters at the Wall Street Journal told me when I worked there, they joked that I was like Columbo’s Peter Falk with the naked pictures of people who shouldn’t be in bed together. I guess I kept that ethos, I don’t know. But I did like that TV show. Anyway, I can’t believe it’s my 35th year in journalism, the time flew. Why I’m still hungry for the story, I don’t know. It’s probably the mark of insanity.

O’Donnell: We’re going to double down on investigative reporting and original storytelling. We like to say that the CBS Evening News is hard news with heart. We try to end the broadcast every night with stories of American kindness and stories that inspire. That won’t change in 2022.

Norah O’Donnell

Robach: Our biggest on-air challenge has been staying on the air, physically in the building, healthy! Never before have I had to think about everyone I see, everywhere I go as a potential threat to being able to do my job in studio.

Amy Robach

Rosario: I think Covid is still the biggest challenge for me, and for many of my colleagues in the newsroom. It completely changed the way we tell stories and the way we cover certain news events. The pandemic, as we see with the Omicron variant and the rise of positive cases, is far from over and many live interviews cannot be done in the studio as we would like to do them. We have also limited our travel for safety reasons. We have become accustomed to interviewing people virtually and, unfortunately, sometimes the person to person connection is lost. Despite those challenges, I am proud to be part of a team that can still deliver news, on a new streaming platform, seven days a week for two hours live, during a pandemic. We have overcome many obstacles and will continue to do so in order to fulfill our commitment of informing and empowering our community every single day.

Woodruff: The hope is that we’ll tell even more stories about people across the country; the divisions and inequities to be sure; also, how and why some communities are faring well, managing to get things done despite the many adversities.

Judy Woodruff

How do you think your show will evolve in 2022?

Abramowicz: My biggest on-air challenge this year was juggling a pandemic reality on air—three hosts in different rooms with almost all remote guests—and a pandemic-reality at home, kids still scarred from a year of remote schooling and a shut-down world. It was an exciting year in so many ways, but it was important to find humor in the unique challenges of our moment. My co hosts were great with that, and I’m grateful to them.

Amin: It’s been an intense year of covering the Covid-19 pandemic, China’s tech crackdown, market gyrations, U.S. pullout from Afghanistan, inflation inflation inflation. It’s been challenging (and exhausting) just staying on air, adjusting to Covid procedures and responding to constant roster changes as a result of restrictions. When anchors, directors and producers are forced to work from home, the difficulty of TV production climbs several notches. TV was never meant to be done that way! But we managed, adapted and most times succeeded in delivering the product expected by our viewers. Now bring on 2022!

Haslinda Amin

Brennan: There were the trials and tribulations of navigating the “return to work,” be it for field stories and travel, or coming back to the show set at the New York Stock Exchange. But I actually think there is a bigger and more prevalent challenge that I face every day—and perhaps we all do, or at least should, in this industry: operating in the shades of grey when reporting on and analyzing news stories. It’s much too easy to fall into the trap of soundbites and mainstream talking points, especially on live TV where time is a precious commodity. My challenge and goal every day is to try to capture the nuance and think critically about every piece of information, stripped of rhetoric and stripped of politicization. There have been ample opportunities this year, from pandemic coverage and vaccines to so-called Meme stocks and the rise of socially-driven day trading. I suspect there will be many more in 2022 and I am looking forward to that!

Chang: We are always stretching and growing towards streaming, I think we will continue to publish on Hulu and ABC News digital platforms, so that our long-form storytelling has as much impact as possible. Philosophically, I think we need to break through the fatigue that can lead to apathy. We need to push through pandemic fatigue, divisiveness fatigue and reach for import and uplift.

Juju Chang

Edwards: My biggest challenge was, like many people, juggling work and home life during a pandemic. Intermittently presenting TV from home meant being my own producer, camera operator and sound engineer. It was definitely a steep learning curve! Setting the perfect TV backdrop in my living room, with the right balance of plants and books, became a preoccupation and I got emails about my house plants! Like many others I had to find time for home school too. We decided to add into that mix a big building project on our house, which meant for some of the year there was nowhere I could broadcast TV from. Fortunately my co-workers at Bloomberg radio made more space for me in their schedule and I found a corner of a box room just big enough for my radio kit! 2021 has been a year of adaptation and resilience in TV—something tells me that won’t change in 2022.

Anna Edwards

Eisen: My biggest on-air challenge was the month my entire family got Covid. It hit us like dominoes in early September, with someone new getting it every week. Balancing childcare with the kids out of school, with my show, which I was thankfully able to do from a home studio, was challenging. I was also very anxious about my two toddler children and my mother, who was vaccinated, but still got sick. At the same time, it was important to me to continue to be present on air, focus on my work and eventually share with our viewers my experience during an interview with Dr. Fauci, who, in my view, was playing down the risk of breakthrough infections. Besides that tricky period, all of the in-and-outs of Covid have been challenging to navigate, from lack of on-set guests to quarantines, to cancelled shoots and events. When I think about the logistics the whole “Closing Bell” team has had to juggle week after week, I’m deeply proud of the group.

Fortt: My biggest challenge in 2021 was adapting the way I work for the new reality. During the pandemic I trained myself to do one-man-band, livestreamed, long-form interviews for my Fortt Knox digital series and repurpose them for on-air segments on CNBC. That was the origin of my “Working Lunch” segment on Power Lunch. That work forced me to upgrade my video editing and production skills—and to adopt new tools for managing my time. In the end, it means I’m able to get more exclusive content to our broadcast audience, but it was an ordeal figuring out how to make it work.

Holmes: GMA3 has a personality, a heart, and a mission and I don’t think those things will change.  Actually, I hope they never do.  We are who we are, and we embrace that.  No matter what the news of the day may be, we lean into our what-you-need-to-know roots and the diverse backgrounds, experience and sensibilities of our team.  I think it’s our greatest strength.  I do hope we can evolve into a show that can have an even bigger impact, can do even bigger surprises and even take our show on the road!  It started as a show of necessity and I hope we continue to give people what they need to know as well as be a show they want to see.

King: We have a new team, and I think we’re gelling very nicely. We’re seeing a little uptick in the [Nielsen] numbers, and that’s always very encouraging. It’s a matter of trying to build on that and navigate these Covid waters at the same time.

Gayle King

Kurtz: The biggest challenge over the last year, by far, has been the sheer polarization in the country. Some viewers want us to cheer for their side–Trump or Biden, Republican or Democrat–and rip anyone who isn’t on their team. That’s not who I am. Fortunately, we’ve built a loyal audience that appreciates fair debate and a balanced approach to media analysis.

MacDonald: The biggest on-air challenge this year was doing the show out of the back of a black SUV van with a green screen behind me because of pandemic restrictions. Talking more I don’t think worked in trying to cover up the sound of ambulances and police sirens so they were not heard on camera. Or the cop smacking a ticket on the front windshield. It was also pretty entertaining when the feeds or the teleprompter went down during the live show and I had to ad lib. Nothing like trials by fire to hopefully try to get better, which I’m not sure is the case.

Elizabeth MacDonald

O’Donnell: The biggest on-air challenge this year was reporting during a pandemic and keeping our team healthy. There’s no work from home for correspondents, crews and producers in the field and we could not get our broadcast on the air without their tireless dedication. Their journalism helps inform all of us so we can make the best decisions for ourselves and our families about the news.

Robach: I see GMA3 building on many of our successful franchises like Faith Friday and highlighting local leaders of all ages who inspire us to do better for ourselves and others.  I’ve been really proud of our commitment to inspire as well as inform our viewers during these incredibly difficult times.

Rosario: We are officially launching Univision’s 24/7 news streaming programs in 2022. As co-anchor of the primetime Noticias Univision 24/7 newscast [7-9 p.m.], I know that our goal is to innovate the way we engage and connect with our audience. People want to be informed, but they want to decide how and when. That’s why our live 24/7 newscasts on the Univision PrendeTV streaming platform are crucial. We will make sure to deliver what our audience wants, when it wants it—breaking news, analysis with experts about the most important issues affecting our community, interviews with newsmakers, viral videos and explainers to simplify complex subjects. We will also ensure our viewers have access to the top seven stories we are following on a segment titled “Las 7 del 24/7” (The 7 of 24/7). We live in a fast paced environment and the news reflects that, but we won’t dismiss important investigative reporting, which is at the core of great journalism.

Univision News Anchors Carolina Rosario (left) and Aylen Del Toro (right).

Woodruff: Our biggest challenge was juggling between remote and in-person television. We found our rhythm but it remains challenging as Covid cases surge again. Also how to fairly reflect Americans’ political views in such a deeply divided time.

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