Picture a typical weekday evening for many in America. It’s 19.00, you’ve managed to get home from work at a decent hour and it’s time to sit down with a glass of wine and catch up on the day’s news. You haven’t had time to look at anything since glancing at the newspaper headlines over breakfast this morning so you’re in need of some smart analysis of the most pressing national and global stories, a little healthy debate and perhaps a lighter segment with an author or academic whose book you might want to pick up.
Picking up your television remote, you’re exhausted after 10 minutes of channel surfing. A perfectly tanned host on the Fox News Channel is talking about some celebrity scandal amid a sea of bright-red studio graphics, the anchor on MSNBC is shouting over one of his guests and the fresh-faced woman on CNN is turning the latest bit of political news into a cartoon image so easy to digest, it might be intended as a primary school learning aid. You could switch to the Bloomberg network and the comforting, dulcet tones of Charlie Rose but he’s not going to give you a rundown of the latest headlines.
Defeated, you could either piece together your own news programme from online excerpts or simply switch to your local public broadcast network. Supported by corporate and private donations as well as funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – a body created by Congress to oversee the Federal Government’s spending on public shows – the PBS NewsHour runs each weeknight to deliver stories from around the world in a well-paced and civil manner. Free to the viewer and available to 99 per cent of the viewing public, it’s a broadcasting model that many expensive cable news shows could learn from.
Founded in the mid-1970s by Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil, the PBS NewsHour has undergone both name and format changes over the last 4 decades. Originally a half-hour show hosted by the two journalists, it examined a single news story in-depth each night. Today’s hour-long format was developed in 2009 and it’s mix of factual reporting from around the globe, civil discourse between outside commentators and intelligent cultural coverage is a refreshing alternative to the heavily hairsprayed and often antagonistic hosts on cable network news.
Rather than the glossy lipped female anchors on Fox News, the PBS NewsHour is hosted by two women who give the impression they’re there due to their journalistic talent. And, particularly important during an election season, when chairing a discussion between two opposing pundits, PBS NewsHour hosts are careful to maintain civil discourse rather than stir combative argument.
Sadly it seems the PBS NewsHour has lost out to shows with more dramatic idents and louder anchors, as the majority of Americans prefer more glitzy cable news sources for their nightly information. If these networks could take only one thing from the PBS NewsHour, perhaps it should be the last point in MacNeil and Lehrer’s editorial guidelines. Following advice to cite sources and separate opinion from analysis, the PBS NewsHour journalists are reminded of one simple thing – that their job is not part the entertainment business.