All Things Media:

Sara Just: Overcoming Legacy

Sara Just, new head of PBS News Hour.
Sara Just, new head of PBS News Hour.

I never took Sara Just for a masochist. The incredibly smart, able, talented and – by the way – thoroughly nice ABC News senior executive was just named the head of the venerable PBS NewsHour.

In today’s media, venerable is not a good thing.

Venerable is revered. Venerable means gravitas. Venerable means nobody is watching anymore, which, regrettably, is increasingly the case for the NewsHour. There was barely any notice paid to the pronouncement that the revered Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff would assume the co-anchor chairs. And Sara Just is going to save it –- although she coyly is not saying how.

But what is she trying to save?

It is a completely new news ecosystem that seemed to have changed enough already the last few months and then decided it was only just getting started (a cap doffing to Al Pacino’s immortal diatribe in “Scent of a Woman”).

Just announced: Gannett is breaking the newspapers off from everything else. Why? The first Silver Line train to Gannett’s headquarters in Reston must have been carrying a magic vision of the future.

Recently announced: Tribune papers doing something similar. That mess many know about.

Previously announced: Digital First – the force that was going to drive local papers truly into the new age decided to simply shut its doors. Literally out of the blue.

Mashable/Buzzfeed – two distinctly non-general news organizations – deciding that the future is in good old-fashioned journalism and are hiring staffs. The most venerable New York Times slitting its own wrists in a leaked internal memo saying that its digital strategy simply did not cut it.

The oddball Vice Television is beefing up to become one of the major forces in international reporting.

And yet, venerable refuses to give up. About a year ago, the venerable Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism issued a much-promoted report called “Post Industrial Journalism.” Its authors, C.W. Anderson, Emily Bell and Clay Shirky wrote in their opening paragraph: “much of [journalism’s] future is already here and… there is no such thing as the news industry anymore.”

Could they have been more wrong? Once more an incident of venerable over-thinking its own importance.

So, what does Sara have up her sleeve? Nothing short of rejuvenating the term “venerable.” If she succeeds, she will offer a road map for all media trapped by its own history. If she doesn’t, well, don’t let anyone call you “venerable.”

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Fri, 19 Sep 2014 03:48:35 -0400

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