Jim Lehrer, who has reported the news of the day for more than 50 years, became part of it May 12 when he announced that he will step away from the weeknight anchor desk at PBS NewsHour in June. A big Washington Post story the next day, dominating the feature section, lauded him as “one of America’s most respected newsmen.” It estimated that come June 6, when Lehrer cuts back to once-weekly appearances, he will have anchored some 8,000 broadcasts “and a few zillion newsmaker interviews.”
This week (May 19) Lehrer turns 77. “I feel good about this,” Lehrer told Current May 13. “I thought I might have second thoughts, but no. This was my idea, I planned it, I worked out a way to do it.” That planning began about three years ago, Lehrer says.
They busted down newsroom walls, adding some space but much more humanity, doubling the number of desks, adding new editing stations and a fixed camera for quick shirt-sleeves standups. The broadcast and website now carry the PBS NewsHour title and they come from the same combined staff.
Jim Lehrer, co-founder and host of PBS’s NewsHour, spoke April 12, 2005, at the PBS Showcase meeting in Las Vegas, where he accepted the PBS Be More Award. At one point, he refers to CPB’s appointment of a pair of ombudsmen, announced a week earlier. Thank you. It is always a pleasure to be among the professionals who make up my public television family, and have done so for more than 30 years. There are indeed many familiar friendly faces in this room, but few that would have been in a comparable place when I began my life in public television.
Two decades ago, Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil gave public television a kind of news program that contrasted greatly with the aims of big-network journalism, and the distinction has grown year by year with the decay of the network news divisions. Contributing Editor David Stewart, retired director of international activities at CPB, profiled Lehrer for a forthcoming book on the major programs of public TV. In 1970, on a steaming summer morning in Dallas, I walked into a large room of the public TV station KERA and met Jim Lehrer for the first time. He was seated alone at the end of a long rectangular table, its surface strewn with daily papers, reporters’ notes, overflowing ashtrays and half-empty mugs of coffee. He was studying a clutch of wire service stories, shirt sleeves rolled back, tie pulled away from his unbuttoned collar — the city editor from central casting, I remember thinking.