Can Bob Schiefer Save CBS News?
Howie Kurtz reports that Bob Schiefer is raising eyebrows by “delivering the news in a conversational style, rather than with voice-of-God solemnity, interjecting his own views and encouraging CBS reporters to do the same.” Goodness, it sounds like Fox News.
As the interim replacement for Dan Rather, Schieffer has managed to change the rigid formula of the nightly newscast. He is delivering the news in a conversational style, rather than with voice-of-God solemnity, interjecting his own views and encouraging CBS reporters to do the same. Often, instead of doing taped reports followed by a stand-up, the correspondents — who tease their stories during the introduction — just chat with Schieffer. “I’m telling them, throw away the scripts,” Schieffer says. “I don’t want to do a rehearsed question and rehearsed answer because people see through that. What I want to hear is what they would tell me in the newsroom, all within FCC obscenity guidelines, of course.”
After a report on prosecutors’ setbacks at the Michael Jackson trial, Schieffer said: “I think they’re going to have a hard time proving this case.” When Anthony Mason reported on Bernard Ebbers’s conviction in the WorldCom fraud case, he told Schieffer: “I would not want to be Ken Lay right now. . . . He may want to rethink his strategy after seeing that it did not save Bernie Ebbers.” White House correspondent John Roberts, after recounting the ethics allegations against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, told Schieffer: “My bet is that DeLay will survive this unless, of course, that Texas prosecutor decides to indict him.”
Executive Producer Jim Murphy, who helped devise the approach, says Schieffer “is a gumshoe who asks tons of good questions like a normal person would ask them. He’ll call reporters in the field and say, ‘Tell me what’s not in your piece.’ ” After Schieffer’s debut, Murphy got a typewritten note from veteran Andy Rooney that said in red letters: “WOW.” Schieffer likens the style to newspaper sidebars or online chats. “It’s just kind of my way, and maybe it’s because I’ve been doing ‘Face the Nation’ for so long,” he says. “We’re trying to deliver the news in the way people talk.”
Early ratings are sketchy since Schieffer took over March 10, but the broadcast is still mired in third place. But on the five nights Schieffer has anchored without being preempted in part of the country for the NCAA basketball tournament, he is down 1 percent from Rather’s last four full weeks, while the NBC and ABC newscasts are down 6 percent and 5 percent, respectively.
Why not? This strikes me as much more enjoyable than pretending that no one has an opinion. Plus, the news climate has changed so much in the last couple of decades. Most viewers are likely no longer getting the news for the first time. Rather, they’re tuning in looking for context. A conversation with Bob Schieffer, who everyone seems to agree is competent and likeable, is much more interesting than hearing someone read excerpts from the newspapers.
Indeed, the conversational style is not only the hallmark of the popular Fox News Channel but also of weblogs. That likely is part of the reason these two venues are gaining popularity.