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CBS News’ ‘On Assignment’ Visits Guam Air Force Base as North Korea Conflict Intensifies

Vladimir Duthiers has moved from helping Anderson Cooper navigate Haiti to assisting a nation eager to learn about the growing crisis in North Korea.

In tonight’s 10 p.m. eastern broadcast of the fledgling series “CBSN: On Assignment,” Duthiers will examine a topic that has started to weigh on many minds in recent days: how the U.S. military might grapple with a North Korean that has grown increasingly antagonistic, prompted in part by statements from U.S. officials. Duthiers in July gained access to U.S. military bases in Guam, South Korea and Hawaii.

While the topic is in the center of the current news cycle, Duthiers and his producers began to ponder how to tackle it as the Trump administration took over from its predecessors. “President Obama had stressd to President-elect Trump that North Korean was going to be the greatest foreign policy challenge of his presidency – perhaps even the greatest challenge of his presidency overall,” Duthiers recalled in an interview.  “We realized what we really wanted to do is look at h ow America was prepared in the event of a conflict with the North.” He spent about two weeks in July traveling to the bases in relatively short order.

Producers at CBS News hope the report draws more notice to the “On Assignment” series, which is CBS’ attempt to draw more notice to some of the enterprise reporting that is becoming more a part of its CBSN streaming-video outlet. “This has become one platform for CBS to be able to do some long-form storytelling, but to do it in a modern immersive way,” said Mosheh Oinounou, executive producer of the series, which is in the third week of a four-episode run.

This isn’t Duthiers’ first trip overseas. He has explored volatile suburbs around Paris and Brussels in the wake of terrorism for documentaries shown first on CBSN. All the while, he has anchored the daily CBSN breaking-news stream and contributed to traditional TV shows like “CBS This Morning.”

He pivoted to TV news after spending two decades on Wall Street. While working as an unpaid intern for CNN after going to journalism school, he made an impression on Anderson Cooper, who later enlisted Duthiers (and his facility in speaking Haitian Creole) to help him with production duties on a long sojourn to Haiti in 2010 to examine the results of a devastating earthquake there. He later secured a position as an international correspondent for CNN, working out of Lagos, Nigeria.

“On Assignment” is meant to burnish the notion of so-called “experiential journalism,” the type of you-are-hear reportage that has also become a staple of Vice Media’s HBO programs or ABC’s “Nightline.” While the format is gaining more traction as traditional news outlets vie for the attention of a generation of viewers more accustomed to kinetic video on their smartphones, Duthiers pointed out anchors have been doing this stuff for years. “I’ve seen clips – Walter Cronkite was doing the exact same thing during the space race of the 1960s,” said Duthiers. “He’s literally in this harness and spinning, upside down, as he tried to experience what it’s like for an American astronaut to be weightless.”

CBS hopes the idea will prompt viewers to tie themselves down to CBSN, no matter the format. “We are trying to break down the fourth wall, and be really transparent with the viewer about what we are seeing, what we are feeling,” said Oinounou, the executive producer. “And take them along for the ride.”

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