Rethinking evening news occupies CBS
Storytelling is the key for network executives' plans.
LOS ANGELES TIMES
NEW YORK -- Faced with a mandate to remake the network's nightly news broadcast, CBS News President Andrew Heyward has commissioned staffers to come up with specific approaches that would favor more of a storytelling style over the traditional format that generally recaps the news of the day.
Heyward told correspondents and producers, who he's pulled in to help develop the project, about the new concept for the "CBS Evening News" in a meeting held at the network's West 57th Street headquarters just over a week ago, and again in a smaller gathering last Tuesday, a CBS News executive confirmed.
"We're experimenting this summer with new interesting ideas for how to tell stories in a more interesting and compelling way," said Marcy McGinnis, senior vice president for news gathering.
The news president asked the staff to gather additional material as part of their current assignments that can be used to experiment with various styles of storytelling. He plans to present the sample idea to CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves in the coming months, with the hope that details about the revamped nightly news broadcast could be announced by the fall.
Heyward's project is one of the first indications of how CBS might restructure the evening news, which has long lagged behind NBC and ABC in the ratings and has been under even more scrutiny since veteran anchor Dan Rather stepped down in March following a much-criticized report he did last year on President Bush's National Guard service for "60 Minutes Wednesday."
The network has used Bob Schieffer, another veteran staffer, to temporarily fill the anchor spot while it ponders a new format for the program.
Moonves has made it clear that he wants CBS to rethink the approach of the broadcast, which -- like other network news programs -- has steadily lost viewers in the last decade.
Thus far, news executives have been vague about their plans. At a CBS affiliates meeting in Las Vegas last month, Heyward told station representatives that the broadcast was undergoing a "process of evolution."
He told them that the revamped newscast will rely heavily on a team of correspondents and put less emphasis on "a dominant anchor surrounded by a bunch of people you don't know and don't care about."
In the recent meetings with the staff, Heyward said that he hopes to develop a new version of the show that plays to the network's strengths -- an experienced team of correspondents and its ability to do "great storytelling," according to two editorial employees in attendance.
"What people walked away with was that we still have a commitment to news -- we just have to package it differently," said one of the employees, who did not want to be named discussing internal conversations.
The new broadcast Heyward proposed would dispense quickly with the news of the day and focus on deeper investigative and feature stories, modeled after the kind of storytelling done on "60 Minutes," arguably CBS' most successful news program.
He also said that the newscast could provide a measure of "transparency" by providing viewers with a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes production. An assistant producer could use a hand-held camera to film a correspondent making calls, for example.
The new "Evening News" could also include more on-screen graphics to give viewers a quick sampling of facts about a subject, Heyward suggested.