MSNBC wants to make sure viewers know when they’re getting just the facts and when they are getting a little more.
The cable outlet is unveiling a new name for its daytime news programming, rechristening it “MSNBC Reports” instead of the current “MSNBC Live.” The change represents a bid to ensure viewers can distinguish between breaking news content from anchors such as Stephanie Ruhle and Katy Tur and programming that tilts more toward analysis and opinion. As part of the effort, each of MSNBC’s daytime news shows on weekdays and weekends will add the word “Reports” after each anchor’s name. Starting Monday, viewers will be watching shows such as “Craig Melvin Reports” or “Alex Witt Reports.” Chuck Todd’s “MTP Daily,” which airs at 1 p.m., will retain its title to maintain its connection to the popular NBC News Sunday program “Meet the Press”
“The remarkable success of MSNBC’s dayside programming over the past seven years has been built on the unparalleled combined strength of NBC News and MSNBC’s journalism and reporting,” says Rashida Jones, MSNBC’s president, in a statement. “We are doubling down on that approach, and our ‘MSNBC Reports’ rebrand is one part of that effort.”
MSNBC’s move comes early in Jones’ tenure as president, a role she took over in February. While MSNBC is lending new definition to its news schedule, the network depends heavily on what its executives call “perspective” programming, and Jones has added new voices to that roster. MSNBC recently gave Mehdi Hasan, an outspoken anchor who also has a show on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming service, a new hour in MSNBC’s Sunday primetime lineup.
Making sure viewers understand the nature of news programming is sorely needed in the current era, suggests Jeffrey Layne Blevins, a professor and head of the journalism department at University of Cincinnati. “Opinion and commentary programming have become so popular. It’s what’s on in primetime, and people really do need the reminder,” he says. “They need help distinguishing” between news reports and extensions that rely more heavily on an anchor’s opinion or viewpoint. That latter type of programming has become critically important to the economics of TV-news outlets — and the media companies that own them. Primetime hosts like Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow and Chris Cuomo bring in some of the largest audiences, respectively, for Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.
MSNBC isn’t the only cable news outlet that relies on commentary. At CNN, Cuomo and Don Lemon have gained traction with primetime shows that give the anchors more leeway to say what they think about the news of the day. Fox News Channel has in recent weeks added opinion programming to its schedule, including an hour at 7 p.m. The network is expected in April to launch a 11 p.m. weekday program led by Greg Gutfeld that aims to burnish satire and humor, and already has long-running opinion shows on in daytime such as “The Five” and “Fox & Friends.”
Some MSNBC programming will be left as is. As the day turns into evening, the tone of MSNBC’s content tends to simmer, moving to a full boil by 8 p.m. Nicolle Wallace’s “Deadline: White House” and Ari Melber’s “The Beat” in the late afternoon and early evening rely more heavily on voice and analysis, as does Joy Reid’s 7 p.m. hour. MSNBC’s primetime offerings — led by Chris Hayes, Maddow and Lawrence O’Donnell — offer an outwardly progressive lens on daily headlines. “Morning Joe” and “Way Too Early” will also remain unaffected.
While the analysis programs take viewers beyond the headlines, MSNBC executives expect them to be tied to journalism and facts, and expect them to adhere to the standards of NBC News.
One journalism professor isn’t certain MSNBC’s steps can fix the broader issue around ensuring viewers separate traditional journalism from other forms. “Any efforts to move the country toward a greater focus and reliance on fact-based reporting would be a step in the right direction,” says Tim Gleason, a professor at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication who is director of the Ancil Payne Award for Ethics in Journalism. But he cautions: “Any distinction that does exist in traditional news media has been so blurred on cable news and social media that one has to ask if it can be established or reestablished in today’s media ecosystem.”
One MSNBC news program doesn’t require any title change. Veteran NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell has held forth in the noon slot on MSNBC since about 2008, and her show has for years been called “Andrea Mitchell Reports.”