There’s been yet another shift in the center seat of a major media news program. PBS recently announced that Judy Woodruff will become the sole anchor of PBS NewsHour, the network’s flagship nightly news program.
The move was not completely unexpected, but had not been formalized. Woodruff has been handling the program for more than a year now, since her co-anchor, Gwen Ifill, died. In making the announcement, NewsHour producer, Sara Just, invoked Ifill, who was a viewer favorite and very well-respected journalist.
“Gwen’s passing was a tragic and shocking event… Our thinking was, ‘Who do we get to fill that role?’” The answer, according to Just, was to not try to find someone to fill Ifill’s shoes. “Rather than try to recreate the magic of the past, we should build for the future…”
And, while Woodruff is the headline, PBS NewsHour does seem to be looking ahead in a variety of ways, including the hiring of a pair of new correspondents. Amna Nawaz, a veteran NBC reporter and ABC digital anchor, will work as both a correspondent and fill-in anchor. Nick Schifrin, a veteran reporter at ABC and Al Jazeera America has been named a foreign affairs and defense correspondent. Schifrin has been working with NewsHour for a few years as a contributor.
Speaking to CNN, Just said the move was meant to give NewsHour a “deeper bench” to help cover the news better and more thoroughly. This is a primary concern for NewsHour, because that’s the reputation the program hangs its hat on. The other for-profit news programs on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox reach greater audiences, but NewsHour is renown in the industry, and with fans, for offering deeper, more in-depth content.
In a media environment dealing with changes in consumer tastes, as well as consumption behavior, each brand has to plant its flag somewhere and build a reputation that differentiates it from the competition. Those who choose PBS over the so-called “mainstream” media often say they do so because they appreciate reporting without the hype.
It’s certainly true that Woodruff offers a different take than many anchors on other news programs. She brings warmth and personality, certainly, but there’s a different air of gravity and gravitas on this program. Many think of NewsHour as a kind of throwback to the days in which most TV media was more trusted and less partisan.
Part of that gravitas and depth is due directly to Woodruff. A media veteran who began her career with a local ABC affiliate in 1968, and cut her teeth reporting on national politics in 1976 when she was assigned to cover Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign. Woodruff worked for ABC, CBS and CNN before coming back to PBS in 2006, and has been a fixture at the network ever since.