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American Journalism Review
The Courage to be Serious  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  Features
From AJR,   March & april 2011

The Courage to be Serious   

As Jim Lehrer steps down, its a good time to praise the muted, issue-focused approach of PBS NewsHour. Posted: Thurs, May 12, 2011

By Rem Rieder
Rem Rieder (rrieder@ajr.umd.edu) is AJR's editor and senior vice president.      


He's not the hippest guy in television news.

It's probably safe to say that Jim Lehrer had never heard of Common until the rapper's White House visit became the subject of fear and loathing on Fox News.

There's nothing glamorous about Lehrer, who announced today that he is stepping down as anchor of "PBS NewsHour" on June 6.

In an era of high-decibel shoutfests, of partisan warfare, of birther-like distractions, of short attention spans, of Charlie Sheenamania, Jim Lehrer is something of an anachronism.

And a very welcome one.

As Baltimore Sun TV critic David Zurawik told Lori Robertson when she wrote about the "NewsHour" a decade ago in AJR, the program "really is a sort of island of sanity in the madness of television news."

I'm not sure even its most devoted fans would describe the "NewsHour" as great television. But with its stubborn, old-school determination to give serious consideration to serious issues, it is a valued member of the TV news lineup. And the stolid Lehrer has been a vivid symbol of its approach.

Fortunately, Lehrer, 76, who has anchored or co-anchored the program for 36 years, isn't going very far. He'll continue to moderate the Friday night back-and-forth between New York Times columnist David Brooks and syndicated columnist Mark Shields. He'll also remain involved in charting the program's direction.

And the "NewsHour" itself isn't likely to change very much. Since December 2009, it has employed a multi-anchor approach featuring Lehrer and senior correspondents: Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, Jeffrey Brown, Ray Suarez and Margaret Warner. That fivesome will continue to preside over the newscasts.

So as Lehrer steps back, it's an appropriate time give props to the longtime anchor and his colleagues for their fine work.

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