Larry Kramer spent more than twenty years as a reporter and editor for such papers as the San Francisco Examiner and the Washington Post before founding MarketWatch.com, a financial news service, in 1997. This March, he was named president of CBS Digital Media, where he now oversees the development of CBS.com, CBS SportsLine.com, CBSNews.com and UPN.com, among others. On July 12, he announced plans for the renovation of CBSNews.com, which included the addition of a blog meant to illuminate the newsgathering process and a redesigned homepage with on-screen access to over 25,000 free broadband video clips from CBS News.
Samantha Henig: What are the reforms going on at CBS.com versus at CBSNews.com?
Larry Kramer: Well, CBS.com is not news. What I’ve done is, I have three sites, and one after the other we’re doing relaunches. The first relaunch was CBS News, and that one we relaunched a week or two ago. The main change there was the entire CBS News operation was committed to work on CBSNews.com. So all 1,500 people at CBS News now also contribute to CBSNews.com.
That’s a massive sea change for a television news operation, and the reason we’re able to do it, one of the reasons, is [CBS doesn’t] have cable [news]. So whereas an NBC correspondent who files from the field for, say, the NBC “Nightly News,” also files from the field for MSNBC and CNBC, our correspondents don’t have those other outlets. What we did was we created the new outlet — a 24-hour outlet for them — we just put it on the Web. And we argue, and I think convincingly, that if MSNBC and Fox and a number of the news networks knew ten or fifteen years ago what they know today, they might not make the same investment in building a cable news operation, because with the advent of broadband on the Web, the Web is really a much more attractive place to get news, even news video, now.
SH: In terms of the “Public Eye” blog, you have brought on Vaughn Ververs to edit that and, as I understand it, he’s serving as the liaison between the viewers on the outside and the reporters on the inside. Andrew Heyward called him a “nonbudsman” [in an interview with the New York Times]. What exactly does that mean? If he’s not serving the role of an ombudsman, what exactly is he doing?
LK: An ombudsman in most cases actually writes and criticizes the news coverage of the newspaper. So if you look at most ombudsmen, look at some of the papers doing it, they make judgments about [coverage]: “We could have done this better, we could have done that better.” We’re not asking him to do that. We’re asking him to go out and find out what the public is saying about our coverage, and what others are saying, and then we’re asking him to pick the most intelligent commentary he sees out there about how we’re covering the news — and there is a lot of it — or how news in general is being covered, not just by us (like “Why is the press covering the Runaway Bride so much?”), and then his job is to then go into CBS News, and get the opinion of the top management or the correspondents involved at CBS News as to what’s going on with that story, why we’re doing it, and moderate that discussion.
So he’ll post the criticism from the outside, he’ll post reactions from the CBS News people, and he’ll be a moderator. He’ll be like the moderator on “Crossfire.” He won’t be a columnist who’s asked his own opinion. His job isn’t to give us his opinion. His job is to get the intelligent discussion on the outside world exposed to CBS, and have CBS react to it, and let people on the outside throw out their criticism of what we’re doing. So he’s meant to moderate that discussion.
SH: Comparing this to, say, people just emailing the person who made those decisions and asking about it and getting a response from that person, is the thinking that having a moderator will make the discussions go more smoothly?
LK: Well, it will ensure that they’ll happen. You can send an email to somebody, and they have no obligation to answer you. [“Public Eye”] will put a little bit of pressure on CBS to respond to what we think are the most important issues being raised. So he’ll be making judgments for people at CBS about what are the important questions being asked.
SH: And then the people at CBS do have an obligation to answer him?