Hewitt: television news needs opinion

Don HewittIn a wide-ranging interview for a forthcoming AR&D book, long-time CBS producer (and creator) of 60 Minutes Don Hewitt told us that television news is still stuck in “the 1948 Douglas Edwards model” and that it’s not good enough for today. Brushing aside the matter of objectivity as “reciting what happened today” — “something the cable news networks do all day long” — Hewitt said the audience for evening news is hungry for opinion, and we ought to give it to them.

The stories have been told before they get to them. You can’t tell them much at 7PM that they don’t already know. And I’ll tell you the other thing that I never understood: What really sells newspapers are columns and strong opinions. The only strong opinion that any of the three networks ever put on the air is “Meet The Press,” “This Week with Stephanopoulos,” and Bob Schieffer’s “Face the Nation.” Where is all of the opinion the rest of the week? Most people who buy the NY Times turn from page 1 right to the op-ed page. They want to find out what the columnists are saying. There are no columnists on the news. It’s bland. I love strong opinions. I love to hear two guys having it out, whether its Bill Safire or Tom Friedman — you know, with different points of view. Can you name one place where you can find it? Other than Sunday morning?

…Of course (opinion is appropriate in an evening newscast). What’s it doing in a newspaper? Newspapers actually endorse candidates! Newspapers run all kinds of opinions, everyday, and you never find any opinion on television. Unless you get it on CNN, you get it on FOX, you get it on MSNBC. You may not want to get as much of Keith Olbermann as you get; maybe you don’t want as much opinion of Lou Dobbs as you get; but they do it, and they do it very well. There ought to be a roster of great broadcasters with something to say, who appear on the evening newscasts with some provocative thought that gets people in the audience, when the show is finally over, to sit down and say “What did you think of that guy?” “I thought he was full of shit, well I thought he was great!” And that’s what sells newspapers. Newspapers are now being sold by the columnists.

While acknowledging that broadcast news does some wonderful things, he believes the industry is stuck in the past and unwilling or unable to move into the future. “They (broadcasters) have not recognized yet there is this thing out there called the Internet,” he said, “and the Internet is running circles around them. The game has changed and we have not changed with the game.”

Don Hewitt is an original and the interview was filled with gem quotes. Here are just a few:

The thing that is keeping television alive these days is sports.

I don’t know to this day if a doctor on the evening news is a doctor or an actor playing a doctor.

When kids talk to me they say “Hey you invented 60 Minutes,” I say, “Yeah” They say, “You know my grandpa always looked at that show.” And I always want to say, “Shut-up, kid.”

Women have become the stars of television news. Every night there is a great looking, great sounding, knowledgeable, well spoken woman on one or all of the news networks.

The public eye among a new generation is not television. The Internet is the public eye.

Watch for this material in a major, new book that will be released by AR&D later this year. That’s all I can say about it for now.

(Originally posted in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)

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