October 28, 2021

‘NewsHour’ Appoints First Female Anchor Team

The PBS “NewsHour,” which was co-anchored for decades by the two men who created it, will soon be co-anchored by two women.

PBS announced on Tuesday that Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff would take over the nightly newscast in September, putting an end to the rotating anchor format that has been in effect for several years. Ms. Ifill and Ms. Woodruff will also share the managing-editor responsibilities for the program.

The appointments are another milestone for women on television and in journalism, seven years after Katie Couric became the first female solo anchor of a network nightly newscast. PBS noted in a news release that “this will mark the first time a network broadcast has had a female co-anchor team.”

The co-anchor arrangement harks back to the 1970s, when Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil founded the nightly newscast that was later named “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour.” The two men jointly presented the program until 1995, when Mr. MacNeil retired. Mr. Lehrer continued to anchor it until 2011, when he retired. Their company, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, remains in charge of “NewsHour,” and they were involved in the discussions that culminated in Tuesday’s announcement.

“If Gwen and I can be the team that Jim and Robin were, we will consider that a success,” Ms. Woodruff said in a telephone interview.

Asked what advice the two former anchors had given them, Ms. Ifill said in a separate interview, “They told us to stick close together and to stay friends.”

Ms. Woodruff and Ms. Ifill already are close, having crossed paths in Washington, where they both live, countless times, and having “appeared on endless panels together discussing women in journalism,” as Ms. Ifill put it.

Ms. Ifill, who is black, said that she and Ms. Woodruff were mindful of the broader significance of their appointment.“When I was a little girl watching programs like this — because that’s the kind of nerdy family we were — I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color,” she said.

“I’m very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that’s perfectly normal — that it won’t seem like any big breakthrough at all,” she added.

Ms. Ifill, 57, a veteran of newspapers including The New York Times, was a Washington correspondent for NBC before becoming the moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week” and a senior correspondent for “NewsHour” in 1999. Ms. Woodruff, 66, was the chief Washington correspondent for “NewsHour” in the 1980s. After a dozen years at CNN and some outside work, she rejoined the program as a senior correspondent in 2007.

Tuesday’s announcement was, among other things, an admission that a rotating anchor format is not preferable for an extended period of time. At the end of 2009, as Mr. Lehrer approached retirement, Ms. Ifill, Ms. Woodruff and three other correspondents — Jeffrey Brown, Ray Suarez and Margaret Warner — started to take turns anchoring the “NewsHour” with him. After he retired, this format remained in place, with two of the five in place each weeknight. “It was a way to give each of them a chance,” said Linda Winslow, the program’s executive producer, praising the lineup of “really powerful people.”

But the arrangement made production of the “NewsHour” unwieldy at times, and it confused viewers, at least some of whom expect to see the same face or faces every night.

Last year Ms. Ifill and Ms. Woodruff were chosen to anchor PBS’s coverage of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. “You never know until you’re elbow to elbow how well it’s going to work,” Ms. Ifill said. “It worked really well for us. We sat next to each other and had a ball.”

They teamed up again on election night. Ms. Winslow said “NewsHour” producers and PBS executives noticed the campaign-year anchor work, and “it just struck us that we were able to promote our product better when we had identifiable anchors.”

And “it wasn’t, to be frank, an unattractive feature that they would become the first female co-anchor team of a nightly newscast,” Ms. Winslow said.

The anchor change became final last week. It might have happened sooner, but “NewsHour” faced a serious financial shortfall earlier this year that resulted in a round of layoffs and the closing of its two bureaus outside the Washington area, where the program is produced. Ms. Winslow said the changes at the anchor desk were unrelated to budget issues.

Mr. Brown, Mr. Suarez and Ms. Warner will remain with “NewsHour,” now as “chief correspondents,” each with an area of expertise “that will also help define the program,” Ms. Winslow said.

In interviews, Ms. Woodruff and Ms. Ifill seemed realistic about the challenge ahead: to not just maintain the nightly audience for “NewsHour” — about one million viewers tune in each night, according to Nielsen — but to somehow expand it.

“This show is not going to be overhauled — we think it’s a treasure the way it is,” Ms. Woodruff said. “But we do want to do some tweaking. I think we have the freedom to do some experimenting.”

Both journalists said they envisaged opportunities for more fully integrating the Web and social media into the program, as virtually all news programs have sought to do in recent years. “We want to go where the viewers are,” Ms. Ifill said, “not think that they’re going to come find us.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/07/business/media/gwen-ifill-and-judy-woodruff-to-co-anchor-newshour.html?partner=rss&emc=rss