Linsey Davis is helping to tie things together at ABC News.
You might not see the string during one of her recent hours on the Disney unit’s ABC News Live. On Tuesday evening, Davis’ “ABC News Live Prime” took viewers to Russia to examine how the government was cracking down on citizen protests and spent time looking at Congress’ effort to devise pandemic relief and hold an impeachment trial. Senator Tim Kaine visited for a conversation that wasn’t broken into quick soundbites. In a quarter hour, Davis had taken viewers through just three stories — unheard of in modern linear news. “Thanks for streaming with us,” she told viewers.
Few of the anchors who lead news shows on live-streaming services or social-media outlets are typically part of a TV network’s biggest broadcasts and special reports. Since 2019, however, Davis has appeared alongside George Stephanopoulos and David Muir to help anchor presidential debates, election coverage and other critical news events, placing a spotlight on the company’s streaming efforts at a time when rivals are also working furiously to lure new viewers to their own broadband offerings.
“I offer a different and unique perspective,” says Davis during a recent interview.
She has learned what appeals to the digitally savvy consumer, and she also offers the perspective of a person of color at a time when the nation is grappling with how people from different backgrounds treat one another. There are only a handful of Black women who anchor important national news moments, and Davis may have reason to appear during more of them. On Monday, ABC News announced she would take over as the anchor of the Sunday broadcast of “World News Tonight,” while maintaining her live-streaming duties.
In an era when most traditional TV-news programs try to keep the length of stories to a minimum, Davis anchors an effort that moves in opposite fashion. “We have time to really peel back the onion, and dive a bit deeper into the day’s headlines,” she says of the two live-streamed hours she offers on weekday evenings. Giving five or ten minutes to a topic is not uncommon, and producers place emphasis on giving newsmakers time to offer more than a quick hit.
“Honestly, the cables do their own thing. They are set up to have talking heads and contributors. That’s their format, and they’ve had a lot of success. We are going to go in a different direction editorially,” says Seni Tienabeso, executive producer of ABC News Live, in an interview. “We’re talking to stakeholders, newsmakers, politicians, artists, but we are also doubling down on content and storytelling. We are trying to expand that out. People want to see things for themselves. They want to see stories.”
The news operation is placing more emphasis on getting its stories to people when they want it, not just at traditional moments in the morning and evening. But that doesn’t mean building out distinct teams for each type of delivery, says James Goldston, the outgoing president of ABC News. “Streaming is absolutely essential to the future of ABC News, and I think our plan is not to have a separate kind of streaming arm,” says Goldston, in an interview that took place before he announced he planned to depart the Disney unit in March.
ABC News says the streaming operation has thrived amid a heavy news cycle. Viewership of its streaming content on its own platforms doubled that of December, and hours streamed were up 47% over the past month. “You have seen the quality of the bookings, the quality of the work all building over time,” says Goldston. “We see these shows becoming a sort of more discursive companion to ‘World News Tonight.’””
There are already other plans in the works. ABC News mainstays like “World News Tonight” and “20/20” have been making their way to Hulu, Disney’s streaming-video hub. And the company recently announced that Jonathan Karl, its chief Washington correspondent, will launch “a new interview-based show” for ABC News Live.
In the meantime, Davis and the streaming crew have been working to create segments TV-news aficionados don’t always get. She convened four Black female U.S. mayors for a conversation about issues facing American cities in a roundtable that lasted 23 minutes. And her show featured a virtual roundtable with four former heads of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
As pandemic conditions improve, says Tienabeso, producers hope Davis can at times “get out of the chair a little more” and take viewers to meet people in different parts of the country.
Traveling is how Davis got the journalism bug. She was recognized at an early age for her ability to communicate. Her classmates voted for her to give their graduation speech in high school. But she initially worked toward a psychology major at the University of Virginia, and then took a few journalism classes while doing a semester overseas. “I want to do that,” she thought to herself, and then steered toward the industry by getting a master’s at New York University.
Her increasing duties have spurred her to augment her information diet. She is often engrossed in two big binders of materials that producers help her prepare. “She reads them and then a day later, she’s suddenly an expert on the most arcane stuff on page 34,” says Tienabeso. She also had time to create her own material. After writing two children’s books, Davis is about to publish a third.
She hopes viewers appreciate her efforts to be part of the mix. “I think there’s a lot of coverage that if you don’t have someone at the table who looks like me, you end up missing a lot of important conversations,” she says. Davis will have more opportunity to talk in days to come.