“CBS Evening News” has long stood for authoritative journalism, delivered just as the sun starts to lower itself toward the horizon. A new project involving the storied program hinges less on the time of day when it is broadcast, and more on the way it is delivered.
Starting today, CBS News will launch “CBS Evening News – Uncharted,” a new digital series that aims to explore important topics in American culture, science and the arts. The goal, said Steve Capus, executive editor of CBS News and executive producer of “CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley,” is to expand the venues available for the original enterprise journalism that is a key facet of CBS News’ corporate mission. The first installment of “Uncharted” will be a five-part look at mental health in America. The report will have no correspondent or anchor.
“You and I and most of America grew up with the ‘CBS Evening News’ on televisions in our living rooms,” said Capus in an interview. “Now, in this day and age, we need to reach people in whatever manner we can on whatever platform we can.”
The move illustrates a growing focus across the TV-news landscape on digital-only content. CBS News has experimented with new programming on its CBSN streaming news service. Elaine Quijano has anchored “Red & Blue,” a 9 p.m. program on politics, while Major Garrett has been spotted weekly hosting “The Takeout,” a streaming transmission of his podcast focused on White House news. Time Warner’s CNN has also let loose with an array of digital brands, podcasts and newsletters, many of them affiliated with political coverage.
The burgeoning digital emphasis reflects distinct shifts in how a younger generation gets its headlines. A 2016 Pew Research study found 81% of Americans get at least some of their news through websites, apps or social networking sites. Among those who get news both on desktop computers and mobile devices, more than half prefer mobile. But Capus said “Uncharted” won’t be set up for people seeking quick flashes of news on their smart phone screen. “So much of the format is short-form, and the conventional wisdom is to put up little 45-second clips and generate a lot of clicks. We want to do something a little bit different, because we think this is the type of storytelling that will be engaging. The pieces are so powerful that I think we will be able to keep people’s attention. People who are really looking for greater depth on these topics ought to have a home for this kind of journalism.”
The first effort under the “Uncharted” banner will be a look at mental health. “State of Mind” will debut May 3 on CBSNews.com, with new episodes released every Wednesday in May. The report is also expected to get a nod on Scott Pelley’s “Evening News” broadcast. Capus said producers are likely to supplement the report with other footage, such as raw interviews.
The reports “focus on both individual stories and also a bigger, 30,000-foot view of what’s happening,” Capus said. “There is a heartbreaking story of a family that has two teenage sons that have been struggling with mental health issues, and a family basically using all of their financial resources to try and get help, and the pain the family endures is striking.”
He credits “a makeshift army of determined producers” for getting the series off the ground. There is no set schedule for more “Uncharted” reports, but Capus said the initiative will be an ongoing one. The evening-news “is a wonderful 30-minute broadcast,” he said, “But there’s only so much we can do beyond that.” Taking reports that have the same quality as the evening presentation to another venue is one way to break tradition.