How Would You Remake CBS News?

Consider this problem: your evening television news broadcast, once the most respected in the world, is now on the decline.  Your viewership's median age is 60, and is down 25% since the 1990s.  Clearly, your audience is "aging out," and you have a few more years until obsolescence.  This is the situation that confronts CBS Evening News, the broadcast that Cronkite built.  In the New York Times today, four media types explain how they would make the show relevant again

Lizz Winstead, co-creator of "The Daily Show," would essentially repeat her magic on a non-fake scale.  Don Hewitt, creator of "60 Minutes" (the only old-format news show still attracting viewers), would add a minute and a half of commentary by rotating personalities at the end of the show.  Mark Burnett, "Survivor" creator, doesn't offer format, but suggests straightforward, observational honesty would bring viewers back.  Finally, Al Primo, who was an early pioneer in local TV news, suggests a broadcast that interacts with the fluid mediascape (including blogs) and which is simulcast on radio so people can tune in away from TVs. 

To frame the problem, Hewitt captures the central difficulty confronting news now:

When I started in this business, America waited for Walter Cronkite or Huntley-Brinkley to tell them what happened at night. Now, they know what happened. If it's not CNN or Fox News or MSNBC, it's all - news radio in your car.

So, what would you do?

  • LT (unverified)

    While I haven't always been a fan of Don Hewitt, he has a point. Bob Schieffer has a short commentary at the end of Face the Nation. Since people know the "news", bringing back commentary would be a good idea. But it should be like the "And finally.." at the end of Face the Nation-soft spoken and informative.

    It could be like the NBC "in their own words", or it could be a different perspective (like someone seeing world leaders who never speak to each other shaking hands at the Pope's funeral, or a veteran home from Iraq or Afghanistan, now out of the service and free to offer an opinion). Or it could be a proposal by someone which had not been given news coverage.

    But no insults--too much of that already. How about solutions--someplace has tried a new approach to something and it worked (or didn't work but they learned something).

  • (Show?)

    It's interesting, if you read that article, they all have fairly strong points. One imagines that a format that combined elements of each would be pretty amazing. I'd watch it (or listen to it).

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    Back to fundamentals, the vitality of broadcast is live. Early tv and before it, radio, did mostly live content -- that's how sports got 'professionalized': the media maw needed to be fed, live bodies, 24X7

    When tv does live again it will grow, else taped, (read: prepacked for your thought-pill) will stay being not-live (read: dead). It don't matter what lipstick and facepaint is put on the packaged pig, meaning call it '60 Minutes' or 'Evening News' or 'The Blog-Watch Hour' it don't matter the name or topic -- the question is Is it live? If so, you gotta see it, if not you don't. Fundamentally.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    You know, live, like blogging, where another thought can occur, like chatting, with fingers.

    The next sector of society at risk of getting 'professionalized' is daily life itself, assimilated by the media borg if it isn't already.

    The live broadcast model might be in what Al Gore's channel start-up, promoted for this coming August, is talking about doing. Buzzword: Streaming video. Operationally it sounds like mixing tv ("a network feed") from all blogs all the time. Another channel is fiddling with the tag "Earth tv", meaning real time live timezone cams switched in the mix, but viewers have been slow to view comprehending the position in space of earth and where it is noon right now in the world, i.e., live.

  • (Show?)

    Tensk, last I checked, most of the cable shout-shows are all done live - or at least, they're "taped live" (i.e. no editing later.) Live, after all, is much cheaper. Same for the morning talk shows. For that matter, just about all TV news other than the evening news is done more-or-less live-ish.

    Dumb idea.

  • allehseya (unverified)

    They could just cover news that 'covers news' and become heros.

  • Tenskwatawa (unverified)

    My longtime friend Danny Schechter, in his world famous website and blog linked this story today. I thought that meant it was supposed to appear as TrackedBack or something at the bottom of these comments.

    Here's excerpting Danny, today. If you get there later you might have to dig this out of his archives.

    April 11, 2005 -- What's the Next Media Frenzy? Posted by Danny @ 6:48 am | Comments (3) | Print | Email this Post

    BACK FROM BOLOGNA [Note: He was in Italy over the weekend screening his film, "WMD: Weapons of Mass Deception" on media mind manipulation.]

    Meanwhile, the Blue Oregon website is having an open discussion on: "HOW WOULD YOU REMAKE CBS NEWS? "Consider this problem: your evening television news broadcast, once the most respected in the world, is now on the decline. Your viewership's median age is 60, and is down 25% since the 1990s.

    I wonder how he found out about Blue Oregon ....


    Danny finds out about a lot of things. He globe hops and meets everyone. Seemingly people all over the world feed him news and tips and links and information and, gosh, he just plasters it up on the wall without too much editorializing. His blog is where I found the link to find out about Al Gore's new TV channel.

    April 5, 2005 -- On the Frontlines of Freedom Posted by Danny @ 5:52 am | | Print | Email this Post


    PRESS RELEASE: "Set to Launch August 1, Independent Venture Will Be First National Television Network Created For, By and With an 18-34 Year-Old Audience; Google Zeitgeist Data Used to Produce News Feature, 'Google Current.'" Broadcasting & Cable magazine adds: "It will be delivered in an 'i-pod shuffle' model of 15-second to 5-minute units, apparently targeting the short-form attention spans of their demo."
    (Will this be the first ADD TV channel? Stay tuned.) [That's Danny's comment in the parentheses. Yes, ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, but even so his tone is optimistic and not too judgemental ... of course, who among us is entitled to judge mental?]

    SAN FRANCISCO, April 4 /PRNewswire/ — Offering a glimpse of the independent network first announced at last year's National Cable & Telecommunications Association convention, former Vice President Al Gore and entrepreneur Joel Hyatt, joined by executives and on-air talent, revealed this morning that the name of the new venture, formerly known as INdTV, will be Current. The unveiling of the much-anticipated network's positioning, logo and prototype programming reel took place at a press conference in Current's San Francisco headquarters during NCTA '05. The first national network created by, for and with an 18-34 year-old audience, Current will offer 24 hours of programming in a unique, short-form content format when it premieres August 1. Current will invite audiences to move beyond their roles as viewers to become active collaborators, encouraging them to help shape the network's content and fulfill its mission — to serve as a TV platform where the voices of young adults can be heard. 'The Internet opened a floodgate for young people whose passions are finally being heard, but TV hasn't followed suit. Young adults have a powerful voice, but you can't hear that voice on television ... yet,' said Gore, who serves as the network's chairman of the board. 'We intend to change that with Current, giving those who crave the empowerment of the Web the same opportunity for expression on television. We want to transform the television medium itself, giving a national platform to those who are hungry to help create the TV they want to watch.' The participatory model of Current marks a giant leap in seven decades of television. 'Until now, the notion of viewer participation has been limited to sending a tape to "America's Funniest Home Videos," calling an interview show, taking part in an instant poll, or voting someone off an island,' added Gore. 'We're creating a powerful new brand of television that doesn't treat audiences as merely viewers, but as collaborators.'

    I hope it's okay that I cited that four 'grafs deep. I thought it gave most of the sense of the story without having to link over to cherry pick from the who-o-ole thing. I know when I'm in a hurry and there's not time to link over to a story, I might skip it if it is not in-line as I'm reading.

    There are actually quite a few story 'threads' playing out on Another recent one that shows the media reformation happening in newspapers is about the paper in S.Carolina that is getting set up on a website so that every reader is a reporter and everyone's news goes into one big pile. The format is a work in progress. (I think when BlOr blog did a thread on the gnarliness of I may have contributed a link to this S.Carolina paper where the same topic was past discussion and into just doing it; but I don't remember.) Here's Danny's run at it, (probably also April 5, but I lost the exact link somewhere, shouldn't be too hard to find; 'Doug George' is probably one of Danny's tipsters):

    CITIZEN JOURNALISM ON THE MARCH Doug George shared this impressive experiment in citizen journalism as a newspaper in Buffton, South Carolina, offers its pages to its readers:

    Buffton Today 'flips the newspaper model upside down' by Christian Crumlish (Personal Democracy Forum blogs)

    Quoting from A Citizen Journalism Breakthrough: "It's the Buffton Today ( site and newspaper, in South Carolina — user generated material from the get-go, including free classifieds. It comes from an established media company, and the site looks terrific. "'We flip the newspaper site model upside down,' says Steve Yelvington on his blog. He notes: "Everyone gets a blog. Not just staffers, but everyone in the community. LeMonde (France) and the Mail and Guardian (South Africa) are doing this, too. I don't know of others but would appreciate pointers. "Everyone can contribute events to a shared public community calendar. "Everyone can contribute recipes to a community cookbook. "This is big news, folks."


    Golly, TV is reforming, newspapers are reforming. Those employees must be unsure of their futures if their skillset is rusty. Maybe past is prologue, though, so some sense of the beginning history in each of the various media could offer guidelines to the future in each.

    Only the day before, Danny had written a piece on reformation happening in his own stalwart MediaChannel, and it's so young its history and future are the same thing. (That's a joke I wrote.)

    An Appeal for Reader Input Where Does Mediachannel Go from Here?

    By Danny Schechter

    NEW YORK, April 4, 2005 -- After five years as a leader in putting issues of media and democracy on the public agenda, MediaChannel is struggling for its survival because with our public interest orientation we still do not yet have a viable funding base or sustainability. Balancing the demands of fundraising and editorial outreach is always tough.

    We are working hard to keep going, but, to do so, we need to involve our readers and supporters in a discussion of new strategies. A lot has changed in the last five years. What can we do better? We can't rest on our laurels. We need to consider new directions. In an earlier commentary I advocated the promise and potential of citizen journalism and the need for more involvement by all of us in revitalizing our moribund media environment

    That's why MediaChannel is developing what we call a "post partisan" strategy for media change that goes beyond political left/right name calling and bashing. believes it is time for a return to core principles. We want to be the catalyst for engaging concerned citizens in a "post-partisan" effort to get to the core of the relationship between media and democracy. We believe that in order to help nurture more democratic reforms, MediaChannel needs to help encourage a common ground -- beyond partisanship -- upon which Americans can hold diverse perspectives but agree, for example, to challenge media concentration. Example: the NRA and Michael Moore took this same stand!

    Here's how we will do it:

    Post-Partisan: When there is public disagreement over the nature of a specific media problem, will present the issue from multiple perspectives, with a number of writers providing reporting and diverse critical analysis that pulls together the best ideas from all sides of the spectrum. MediaChannel reports will focus not on opinion, but instead on uncovering the truth behind the pressing media issues of the day.

    That last part, (one of several types of change he lists), sounds similar to a BlueOregon thread going now, on Good people, Bad ideas. I wonder if there is any cross linkage between the work people are contributing to on MediaChannel and the work people are contributing to on BlueOregon ....


    Oh yeah, I remember. I meant to reword my earlier comments somewhat to try to make them easier to understand. I probably was in a hurry and didn't get my verbs tense so maybe it all was not so much as it was understandable, some. What?

    I was saying designers of the future CBS News (and any other TV show facing being reformationed) might find some guidelines in looking back to the history of television and maybe in its so-called Golden Age in the '50s, before the invention of two-inch video tape recording equipment. (Wow, I played ... uh, worked with that old stuff and it was quite the experiences.)

    Of course, without recording technology it meant that everything was either broadcast live, at the actual moment it happened no matter what time it was in the time zone where you were watching it, (here on the West Coast, Jack Paar on the Tonight Show in New York came on at 8:30 pm, for example, if you can imagine, whether you were ready or not then). Or it was film. I think it was called cinescope or something.

    The early promise was the early promotion and it was said that the glory of television (beyond film) was that it could bring you (meaning, 'the world' you), the news as it happened. One thing that meant was John Kennedy's funeral went on for three days and the country's commerce came to a complete standstill while everyone was reluctant to leave the TV set lest we miss something. Of course, today there is point-to-point worldwide video cell phone 'feeds' so a grandparent in Mexico, say, can watch their newest grandchild just born in the hospital nursery in Moscow, say, so so-called live television may not be what it used to be or it may be what it promised. Like in the '50s when Chester Gould's "Dick Tracy" comic strip had characters with '2-way wrist TV' that was sort of the same thing, old hat.

    I was trying to say plainly that the attraction of television for most people, when you asked them, was in the sense it offered that the picture showed something occuring at that very moment far away somewhere, almost magically transmitted and received, (because, it is said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic), and it didn't seem to matter as much what the something was that you were watching, the content. It could be called, the show could be named, anything at all and be about anything at all -- that was the lesser interesting thing.

    Sort of this same sense is in the chat room and IM experience on the internet today. Not what the participants are saying to each other, their contents, but that they are there at the same time, and alive live. A little bit it is like that with blogs, only different. Right now, off the top of my head, I know it is noon in Tokyo and Perth, but that's just because I have done astrology charts for people born in every conceivable latitude and longitude, (get it? -- 'born':'conceivable' oh, another joke I wrote), all over the globe and just as a sort of incidental side-effect consequence I wound up getting stuck remembering the latitude and longitude of most all major cities and countries everywhere, but I'm sure today's better educated youngsters can go me an order of magnitude or two keener and be able to cite zip codes and area codes within cities and countries everywhere. Not to mention capitals.

    And I have this theory that what I have to say and wind up typing in a blog is a function of time, real time live, and if I submitted something at a different time it would be a different something, the words would somehow be different to get to say much of the same thing some. How? I don't know. It's just a theory. Maybe less than a theory, a hypo thesis.

    All I did to get it was notice changes in emphasis at different phases of the moon at the time I typed something, by going back over the history of things I have written and other have written. Like in April when the sun is in Aries. Short sentences. Hasty words. Only to notice.

    Everything has a history somewhat. Gosh, they used to have election campaigns before the history of radio and television broadcasting began and when you read the speeches and oratory of the candidates then you can really get a strong sense of what a person believed in, and what they stood for, and how their thinking worked, and what they would do for you when they went away to Congress, and they would say 'his word was as good as his bond,' and you could get all that just from the way they put words together, a hundred years later, maybe more. Of course, today we have sound bites and snazzy FX in fly-by broadcasts so we probably have a much more two dimensional (television) or one dimensional (radio) surety of a person, instead of seeing inside in their invisible intangible character and sensibility, so history might not have any guidelines in it about that to go by, if two dimensions is not more than invisible. You're probably right about recalling history in that respect. Dumb idea.

    Roll tape. Tape rolling. On 3, 2, ... take tape.

  • MJ (unverified)

    I think CBS Evening needs two anchors and should shift its timing to 7 pm. Moreover, the feel of the programme is serious and cold. Viewers want to embrace a warm and welcoming on-air look that is inviting. A more contemporary studio would also help. The BBC faced a smiliar problem a few years for their network show and it rebounded greatly after the programme was rebranded.

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