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.
I think if we let that community know that we’re out here and that we’re doing stories on a subject matter that it feels it’s not getting enough of, those people will beat a path to our doorstep. Because the honest to goodness truth is that mainstream news organizations—the twenty four hour cable news—don’t cover science because it’s hard to turn complicated scientific concepts into stories that are engaging and relatable to people. You’ve got scientists and engineers who are not known for their communication skills, you have subjects that are a little bit esoteric at times, and it requires some extra work. It’s a lot simpler to throw on a couple of pundits and have them bat around the Tea Party for eight or ten minutes on cable news. It’s a lot cheaper and it’s a proven ratings winner. It’s the same reason why local news operations chase bodies on the streets instead of going to City Hall and actually covering some bona-fide issues that are more relevant to the people in the community. It actually takes time to do the reporting if you go to City Hall. If you go shoot the body, it’s simple. It’s easy, it’s done, and you’ve filled up your time.
So I’m a little bit of a cynic, as you can tell. There is a whole disenfranchised audience out there that I’ve been trying to reach through alternate means, but it’s nice to have an audience—a smart audience—already there that is going to be watching, and we’ll bring in some more people. Look at the ratings—1.1 million people watch that show every evening. In the cable news universe, you would kill for that number.
In terms of your coverage, I have to ask about a couple possible conflicts here. You are the chair NASA’s Education and Public Outreach Committee and the NewsHour’s new science unit is receiving funding from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Will you be able to cover the U.S. space program or HHMI at the NewsHour?