The official word: Jim Lehrer said today that he will take another step toward ending his 36 years of anchoring or co-anchoring the daily public television news broadcast known now as the PBS NEWSHOUR.
He said, effective June 6, he will no longer be part of the regular daily anchor rotation team, but he will still appear on many Friday evenings to moderate the weekly analysis of Shields and Brooks; syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.
Lehrer said he will also remain involved in the editorial direction of the PBS NEWSHOUR and the program's producer, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions.
The decision announced today is part of the program's latest evolution, a process that began in December 2009 with the successful transition from "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" to the PBS NEWSHOUR. That move created a multi-anchor team that featured Lehrer plus Senior Correspondents Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, Jeffrey Brown, Ray Suarez and Margaret Warner. That team will continue hosting the broadcast on a rotating basis.
The broadcast began in 1975 as The Robert MacNeil Report and went through several transitions to its current form.
Lehrer said his decision was based on:
-- the complete integration of the NEWSHOUR's on-air and online operations, which has been accompanied by measurable growth in the program's broadcast and digital audiences;
-- his complete confidence in the current NEWSHOUR team, both on-and-off-camera, to continue producing the nightly program and its companion website as a haven for "MacNeil/Lehrer Journalism": serious, fair-minded daily reporting steeped in the traditions of the broadcast's co-founders.
In announcing today's decision, Lehrer said "I have been laboring in the glories of daily journalism for 52 years ... 36 of them here at the Newshour and its earlier incarnations ... and there comes a time to step aside from the daily process, and that time has arrived."
MacNeil said of Lehrer's announcement, "It is the most constructive and graceful exit strategy I have ever seen for someone holding a coveted and senior position in today's media. It guarantees a continued place in today's bewildering media spectrum for a program that will stay devoted to serious journalism."
He added that Lehrer's decision to remove his name from the program title helped further establish the PBS identity in the public mind, enhancing the brand name, and it also "recognized the unique freedom and support public broadcasting gave us in creating an alternative form of television journalism and building an audience for it."
Linda Winslow, Executive Producer of the PBS NEWSHOUR, said, "I don't know another iconic television anchorperson who would be willing to take his name off the program he helped create – while remaining on the air. Jim's point in doing that was, 'We're all on the same team.' He wanted to create an enterprise that could be the bedrock for public broadcasting's journalistic future—and I think he's done that."
Lehrer has had one of the most distinguished and respected careers in all of broadcast journalism. He has moderated 11 presidential debates, interviewed every U.S. President since Gerald Ford, and won many of the most prestigious awards in journalism, most recently the Chairman's Award at the 2010 News and Documentary Emmy Awards and the National Press Club's Fourth Estate Award, to be presented in the fall.
"I am grateful to Jim for the extraordinary contributions he's made to public television," said PBS President and CEO Paula Kerger. "Jim has built a talented team and we're very proud to be the home of PBS NEWSHOUR. As Jim begins the next chapter of his career, we are grateful for his ongoing leadership and his continued presence on Friday nights."
"Jim Lehrer and I have been devoted friends and public television colleagues for over thirty-five years," noted Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and chief operating officer of WETA, the flagship public broadcasting station in the nation's capital and the co-producer of the PBS NEWSHOUR. "He and Robin MacNeil conceived and built the highest quality, longest lasting news hour in all of American television. Millions of viewers worldwide appreciate, as I do, Jim's clear integrity and trademark civility demonstrated in every aspect of his life. He has given monumental public service to our nation, defining the highest ideals of intelligent, responsible journalism and establishing a high standard of excellence that serves as a benchmark for the industry. We are also thankful to Jim for bringing together such a talented team to carry on the fine work of the PBS NEWSHOUR, constantly innovating while upholding the exemplary editorial practices for which the program has earned the respect, admiration and trust of the American people."
In October 1975, the half-hour "Robert MacNeil Report," with Jim Lehrer as the Washington correspondent, premiered on Thirteen/WNET New York. Over the next seven years, "The MacNeil/Lehrer Report" (as it was renamed in 1976) won more than 30 awards for journalistic excellence. In September 1983, Lehrer and MacNeil launched their most ambitious undertaking, "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour." The 1995-96 season marked the 20th year of their journalistic odyssey, as well as MacNeil's departure and Lehrer's stewardship of the program as "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." In May 2009, the program title changed to "PBS NEWSHOUR" to reflect the program's expanded role as the hub of news and public affairs programming on PBS both online and on air.
Since the program's rebranding, the PBS NEWSHOUR has enjoyed steady audience growth. In March 2011, viewing figures for the television program were 16% higher than in March 2010, and the program's digital reach has more than tripled.
PBS NEWSHOUR is seen five nights a week on more than 315 PBS stations across the country and is also available online, via public radio in select markets and via podcast. The program is produced by MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, in association with WETA Washington, DC, and WNET.org in New York. Major corporate funding for the PBS NEWSHOUR is provided by Chevron, BNSF Railway, Pacific Life and Intel, with additional support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and public television viewers.