To wrap up the #AskNewser franchise for 2020, last week we spotlighted news network presidents and cable news talent. The third and final installment of our year-end #AskNewser features insights from broadcast news talent.
We caught up with Sunday show anchors Margaret Brennan, of CBS Face the Nation, and Martha Raddatz, co-anchor of ABC’s This Week. We also spoke with morning show talent like CBS This Morning: Saturday co-host Michelle Miller and CBS This Morning correspondent Vladimir Duthiers. A late night newser— Nightline co-anchor Byron Pitts—provided us with his insights, as did a face from the streaming news world: ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis.
Here’s what they had to say about how their shows will evolve in 2021, and the habits they picked up working from home this year.
How do you expect your show will evolve in 2021, under a new presidential administration?
Brennan: I hope that vaccinations against Covid will help us get to a place where it is safe again to bring guests into the studio for face-to-face conversations in 2021. I miss that personal element! Face the Nation will stay focused on the health, economic and accompanying social crises that have hit our country hard and will not disappear on January 20th. I hope that the new administration regularly engages with us and the public around these issues and others that may arise in 2021.
Davis: ABC News Live Prime launched the first week of February, the same week as the Iowa caucuses and just a few weeks before Covid was declared a pandemic. And we immediately began reporting on the stories of racial inequity that started emerging pretty rapidly after the first wave of cases really washed over this country. On a daily basis our goal is not only to inform but gain the trust of our viewers. That does not change regardless of the president in office. Viewers can count on us giving them straightforward news, facts, context, and analysis when they tune in each day, and that will continue to be our mission statement and approach in 2021.
We will continue to speak with and hold elected officials at every level accountable–from Congress to the White House to state and local legislatures. We will continue to go into communities throughout America to tell the stories of those who are directly impacted by the government’s current, changing or new policies, and those who are still struggling because of the aftermath of the pandemic. We will have a keen focus on the first 100 days of this presidency. What’s changed? What’s stayed the same? Are they keeping their promises?
Duthiers: In 2021, I believe that CBS News will continue to do what we have done for 90-plus years— shine a light on the stories and issues that have a profound impact on our lives, give voice to those who have no voice here in the United States and around the world, memorialize those lives lost to tragedy—especially because of Covid-19—and honor the survivors and the heroes who sacrifice every day of their lives trying to make the world a better place.
Miller: I don’t expect our broadcast to evolve or change because of the new administration. There was certainly a lot of news that came out of the current White House but it never changed the way we worked or produced the show.
Pitts: In 2020 our team/family at Nightline shared both fear and exhaustion together, uncertainty together, losses and victories together. We grew as journalists and as people. So in 2021 we know we can demand more of each other, and thus demand more of those in power we cover. Joe Biden and his team wanted this job. We will hold them accountable.
Raddatz: Healthy debate. Unhealthy divide. What matters most. We are going to be focused not just on the Democrats and Republicans, but the debate within each party. How Biden and his team navigate a post-Trump era and the 74 million who voted for him. We want to tell the stories of everyday challenges, from Covid to cyber-attacks that are on minds of all Americans.
What habits did you pick up working from home earlier this year that you’ve brought with you back to the office?
Brennan: I will miss being able to sneak in and kiss and hug my toddler son midday between calls and interviews!
As far as what I want to bring back to the office, it would be maintaining an empathy with coworkers who are trying to juggle all portions of their lives—including kids and dogs and spouses—which has been a humanizing element for most professionals. I think it has also been a good reminder to journalists that our work covering politics and policy is an essential part of helping to maintain democracy, serve and protect people. Our work has felt vital and I hope we maintain that focus.
Davis: I actually never missed a day at work because of the pandemic. Hopefully I am not jinxing myself. But I do have more time at home before I go into the office. And with that time, I’ve been able to have breakfast and lunch with my family (which was previously only an option on weekends). But the family time has actually made me a more effective reporter with regard to the effect the pandemic is having on families. I live it every day—the homeschooling and balance of work and home, and just trying to keep all the spinning plates from crashing down. My mother also had Covid in April. She is a 75-year-old African American woman. So I knew that concern firsthand, and the questions I had personally for my own mother became questions I asked the experts. The concerns of many parents and children are very valid during this time. I hope I am able to ask the questions and convey the information that people at home sitting around the dinner table are still trying to figure out.
Duthiers: The best “habit” of work-from-home was getting comfortable with our editorial producers booking, and interviewing big time newsmakers who were also on lockdown.
Over the course of six months, I was able to interview so many luminaries including RZA, Oprah Winfrey, Rebecca Romijn and Jerry O Connell, Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood, Elmo and 10-year-old, UK-based drumming prodigy Nandi Bushell. Nandi challenged Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl to a drum-off and told me she hoped he would respond. The day after our story aired on CBS This Morning, Grohl accepted the challenge. Doing those interviews live and in person would have taken months of planning and cost thousands of dollars in travel. Not to mention, finding a time for these celebrities to be available.
The habit that I have kept when I returned to the studio—getting my hair cut less frequently. Before the pandemic, I got a buzz cut every couple of days. During the work-from-home period, I started to let it grow out a bit since I was cutting my own hair with my trusty Wahl shaver once every 10 days or so. I didn’t think people would notice but they did. Opinion is split pretty much 50/50—half our viewers are in the “let it grow” camp including my mom, the other half likes my gleaming dome.
Miller: I thrive in an office environment so to be away from my colleagues was a tough one. I had to learn how to connect and be more clear in communicating with my colleagues via email, slack and other applications which are now the tools of our trade. Staying plugged in, is crucial to our performance, but being at home also allowed me to UNPLUG when dealing with the stresses of the day! We spend a lot of time ON; being at home showed me the importance of taking time off and appreciating the ability to balance between the two!
Pitts: I learned the power of new technology. Zoom and Facetime, for example, have allowed us to go almost anywhere at any time. Despite my early suspicions, there is an intimacy these platforms allow us to capture. Also, an old tool gained renewed importance: Facts. As journalists our best tools remain facts and truth.
Raddatz: A sense of calm. Knowing what matters (family and health) helps you focus. Oh—and I am never wearing heels to the office again.