Over the course of a week, about eight million people (including me) get part of their daily information from The PBS News Hour now presented by Judy Woodruff. This show has an important place in American television journalism.
I welcomed this show when it first appeared in 1976 because of its contrast to what was showing on ABC, CBS and NBC. Their shows were a hodgepodge of events with what seemed an emphasis on unusual happenings in order to keep the viewers’ attention. They were also full of noisy commercials, which sent people to raid the refrigerator, often forgetting to return.
And it’s my understanding that some of the news, even way back then, was actually fake.
In my opinion, The PBS News Hour gave us something much better.
The show started out as the MacNeil-Lehrer Report in September 1976 and from the beginning, it pioneered big changes in TV news. The show was the nation’s first hour- long news program. It was independent from advertisers, so its writers were able to do longer, deeper reporting and the show could exercise its editors’ critical judgements more freely than on the networks.
And from the beginning the PBS announcers seemed more informed and well-read than the “talent” which fronted the network news.
Lehrer and MacNeil
The show did maintain the comfortable two-anchor format. Robert MacNeil reported from New York and Jim Lehrer was based in Washington although they appeared to be sitting side by side (early social distancing?).
The two men shaped the program into what it is today, a solid comprehensive overview of what is happening in the world that leaves us to draw our own conclusions. Today’s anchor is Judy Woodruff, a white woman. The reporter covering the white House is Yamiche Alcindor, a black woman, and, waiting in the wings, being groomed to become an anchor is Amna Nawaz, born in the US to Pakistani parents. The wheel has gone full circle from white men to women of color.