Lehrer to exit ‘NewsHour’ in June

Will continue analysis and contribute reports, though

Jim Lehrer is stepping down from the main anchor spot on “PBS NewsHour,” effective June 6, after 36 years of occupying an anchor’s chair on the show.

Lehrer isn’t going far: The print and broadcasting vet will frequently return Friday evenings to moderate weekly analysis from columnists Mark Shields and David Brooks.

The 76-year-old journo will still contribute reporting to “NewsHour,” and the program will maintain its multi-anchor format featuring Gwen Ifill, Judy Woodruff, Jeffrey Brown, Ray Suarez and Margaret Warner — less Lehrer, who has been on the program for 36 years.

Lehrer told Variety on Thursday that he sees his departure as the culmination of a long-term plan for the newscast.

“When I made the decision to take my name off the program, that was the first step,” Lehrer said. “There’s a reason you’re not asking who’s going to replace me.”

The 52-year news vet said that his goal over the past few years was to divorce the program from association with any one name. “I think ’60 Minutes’ probably deserves the credit for creating the team approach. But that’s what we’ve done here,” he said.

“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,” said former co-host Robert MacNeil. “It guarantees a continued place in today’s bewildering media spectrum for a program that will stay devoted to serious journalism.”

Lehrer said he hoped journos would learn how to amortize their costs in order to continue to produce news on an ever-decreasing budget. “NewsHour,” he said, has a duty to journalism. “Public broadcasting has a responsibility to fill some of the gaps that are forming in journalism,” Lehrer said, “and I’m damn determined to do that.”

And will Lehrer continue to host the presidential debates?

“I haven’t thought about that — those things are by invitation only,” he said. “Anyone invited to do that has an obligation to do it or to have a good reason not to.”

For the immediate future, Lehrer said, he looks forward to a little relaxation — only a little, though.

“I’ve been doing the MacNeil/Lehrer operation 36 years,” he said. “I need to take it easy. Well, easier.”