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Broadcast News Chiefs Vow Deeper Coverage in 2020 Election

Walter Cronkite Media Broadband
Cronkite: Glasshouse Images/REX/Shutterstock; Illustration: Variety

As the United States steels itself for a new presidential election next year, TV-news viewers will still get horse-race stories – but, also, say three of the industry’s top executives, a lot more.

The heads of CBS News, NBC News and ABC News jointly vowed Thursday that their outlets would cover the 2020 election in deeper, more nuanced fashion, and said they would all have more staffers on the ground around the nation to chronicle more precisely the actions of President Donald Trump and how Americans react to them. None of them were willing to say they would back away from coverage of rallies or the latest polls about who’s up and who’s down, but all three suggested they had taken steps to collect more information from around the country.

“We may have more journalists deployed in the field than at any other time in this news organization,” said Noah Oppenheim, president of NBC News, speaking at a “Future of News” conference organized by the Financial Times. Oppenheim said NBC News had begun to hire journalists from local papers around the U.S., and to assign them to cover the region with which they are already familiar. He said NBC News was eager to report “the things that move the needle,” which are generally “what this president is doing and how people react to them”

“You can only tell those stories with boots on the ground,” he added.

Oppenheim appeared with CBS News President Susan Zirinsky and ABC News President James Goldston.

Goldston said he felt the TV networks “kind of owe it to the audience” not to let a narrative overtake reporting. Many people were surprised Trump won the 2016 election, he said, and a win by Hillary Clinton became “a really deep-seated kind of assumption.” Letting that happen would represent ‘a great disservice to the audience,” he said.

Zirinsky said journalists have also become more inured to being criticized by the White House. “Ignore the noise” and focus on the story at hand, she advises CBS News personnel. “At this point, it’s gotten easier to ignore it,” said Oppenheim.

The three executives also discussed new ways their outlets are bringing news to the world. CBS, said Zirinsky, has broken down silo between TV and digital news operations and is working to show off its newsgathering capabilities throughout the day. NBCUniversal has plans to develop “an international news channel with a global footprint,” said Oppenheim, that could make use of Comcast’s recent acquistion of European satellite -broadcaster Sky PLC as well as NBCU’s stake in Euronews. The new outlet could use both NBC and Sky branding, he suggested.

Goldston, meanwhile, took time to spotlight “The View,” the late-morning talk show that has gotten newsier since coming under ABC News’ aegis in 2014. “That show has become a different kind of politics show,” he said, with political candidates eager to come on the program and talk to hosts like Whoopi Goldberg, Joy Behar and Meghan McCain. “They go in knowing they don’t always have the easiest time.”