What’s The Future of PBS NewsHour? Spencer Michels Shares His Perspective

What’s The Future of PBS NewsHour? Spencer Michels Shares His Perspective

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

PBS NewsHour has recently updated its format with the first all female anchor team, refreshed its website and added a weekend program. How will it change in the next twelve months? Longtime PBS correspondent and San Francisco media personality Spencer Michels shares the long view and asks a key question:

“What can we put on the air that will get people to watch?”

Michels describes how the media landscape has changed dramatically since he became a journalist fifty years ago. As well as anchoring the KQED show “Express” and working on “Evening Edition” with Belva Davis,  Michels has been a PBS correspondent and now also contributes to KQED’s latest news show, KQED Newsroom with Thuy Vu and Scott Shafer.


Before our video interview, Michels shared a poignant memory from his childhood; an experience that helped plant the seeds for his journey in journalism. He recalls being a child in San Francisco during the Second World War.

“I was without my father for the first three grades in school…it was tough,” says Michels. “I still remember the day that my father returned from the war. It was very dramatic. He drove up in a car. I was at school on the second or third floor and there he was. I was eight years old and hadn’t seen him in three years.”

I asked Michels to describe the scene.

“I did run down and I did embrace him on the street. It was an emotional experience…I’m sure there were tears,” says Michels. “After that, everything changed.”

Those three years were formative for Michels, who went on to explore the world during a remarkable career in journalism. After working for PBS NewsHour as a national correspondent for 30 years, he was laid off  last year during a major cost cutting exercise. As weekend anchor, Hari Sreenivasan recently explained to Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, “facts are expensive.” That is, doing intelligent, original journalism doesn’t come cheap, especially in the Bay Area.

PBS NewsHour may have found one answer to the plunge in television viewers  and that’s PBS Digital Studio’s new show “Everything but the News” the brainchild of Steve Goldbloom and Noah Pink.

It’s a tongue in cheek, behind the scenes look at the work of a PBS NewsHour correspondent. The low budget, goofy juxtaposition between Goldbloom and his demanding PBS NewsHour producer, Jordan Smith, is downright hilarious at times. On air Introductions by news heavyweights like Judy Woodruff, Gwen Ifill and Hari Sreenivasan lend gravitas to the whole endeavor. PBS NewsHour hopes it will help to capture the exodus of its audience from television to online streaming and grab more younger viewers in the process. It looks like a winning formula.

At Fresh Dialogues, I’m used to getting Fresh Answers, but as you’ll see in this interview, I also got some unsolicited media tips from a pro. :-)

Michels was too kind to comment on my excessive head nodding, but I will definitely be working on that.


Check out other Fresh Dialogues interviews with Elon Musk, Meryl Streep and Jeffrey Toobin at the Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel.

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