So, I’m heartened that they’re willing to take some chances on stories that might on the surface look like, “Hmm, I wonder if that’s going to be interesting television.” I guess they have a little bit of faith in me to make that work for them. So, that puts a little more pressure on me, but that’s what we’re doing right now. I’m going to be working with my long-time producer at CNN, Kate Tobin, who left the day I did at CNN. We’ve actually worked together now for eighteen years, covering any number of science stories. She really knows science, and studied biology in school. I’m of course a history major who is just enthused about it. So we’re a good team, and we are going through our wish list right now, trying to make these big buckets of ideas into stories with a nice little narrative. My production company will actually go out, hire the crews, and we’ll do the production component of it. Obviously, the NewsHour is going to be doing all the script approvals and so forth, and we have the ability to tap into the resources of their staff. So we’re going to be doing a lot of stuff. Everything we’ll be doing will have a very robust web component, as every organization does these days, but the NewsHour is pushing very hard in that realm right now. So, it’s good. I feel like I’ve got a little bit of independence to seek out some of that cool things that interest me, but I’ve got a nice supportive safety net there of people that are going to help make these stories work.
Is the plan to produce one of these eight-minute segments for each nightly broadcast?
No. We have agreed to do twelve pieces for them over the next nine months for this first round, and how those will be released will depend on news pegs. For example, on November 1 they’re going to launch a robot to the international space station on the shuttle, and that’s a great opportunity to do that robotics piece that I’ve been dying to do. So, that is probably going to be the first story out of the gate.
The NewsHour wants us to stay close to the news curve and that’s appropriate, and obviously Kate and I, with all our time at CNN, know how to do that. So, we can’t be too indulgent—off in a corner that doesn’t relate to the news flow at all. But the beauty of it is that there’s a lot of stories that we run into each day, whether it’s climate change, or STEM education, or vaccines, or the BP oil spill—they all have a very compelling and important science component, which really isn’t being told, and that’s the opportunity we have to inform our audience.
Speaking of the spill and your audience, Linda Winslow told The Associated Press that the NewsHour’s coverage of the spill, “proved there was definitely an audience for this kind of story.” And, in the same piece, host Jim Lehrer said, “There’s evidence that we’re delivering a new audience for the NewsHour.” Who do you think your audience is going to be, and can science continue to bring in new viewers?
I’ve been digesting the latest Pew study on media consumption in the U.S. and how people have basically turned news into a kind of social thing that they participate in. It’s fascinating, and one of the things that warmed the cockles of my soul was that when you ask people what they believe is the most underreported story, it is science and technology. That study was talking to people who are actively engaged in news online—which is to say a younger, more participatory audience that expects to be following me on Twitter and Facebook, to know what stories I’m working on, and to have an ongoing dialogue with me.