On June 6, 2011, Scott Pelley took over as anchor of the CBS Evening News, his tenure following Katie Couric’s five-year run. The once-dominant newscast had fallen to third place behind NBC and ABC during the end of Dan Rather’s reign, and Couric’s stint saw the broadcast fall to record ratings lows. While still No. 3 among the Big Three, the CBS Evening News With Scott Pelley has seen significant growth since the Texan took over after a long run at sibling 60 Minutes. In the past year, the 6:30 PM broadcast has added 490,000 viewers, the largest annual increase for the network’s evening news in 15 years and the best among the broadcast news rivals since 2002. Overall, the CBS Evening News is up 12% in viewers since Pelley’s debut. Just before his second anniversary in the anchor chair, Deadline spoke with Pelley about the relevance of cable news and why so many mistakes are getting on the air.
DEADLINE: In an age where the news is a 24-hour business, how can a 6:30 PM once-a-day broadcast still give the reach and the immediacy that news stories require?
PELLEY: You know, never in human history has there been so much information available to so many people. But never in human history has there been so much bad information available to so many people. And I think people are looking for brand names that they can trust and CBS News is one of those. The other half of this is that folks are busy. They’re going to work, they’re going to school they’re getting the kids off to school, and they care about the world; they want to know about the world but they don’t have a lot of time to spend on that. So what were offering at the evening news is, within 30 minutes we’re going to tell you about the 12 most important things that happened in the world. And you’re going to get that from the CBS News brand, which you already trust. And I think that’s why we’ve added a million viewers in the last 2 years and why we grew so much this last year in particular.
DEADLINE: You said recently you believe that there’s a crisis in journalism, saying that the house is on fire: there are too many mistakes, things are being put up too fast, it’s too sloppy, and there is too great a reliance on social media.
PELLEY: The country is only as strong as its journalism — that’s the way democracies work. The higher the quality of the information, the better informed the electorate is and the better the government runs. And the American people can always be trusted with the information. What I was talking about in that particular speech is remaining vigilant to those goals. Too often in recent months and maybe over the last couple of years, in the haste to be first with a piece of news, a news organization has gotten it wrong and I was just suggesting that that race to be first is a bankrupt pursuit. It’s meaningless. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone except those of us within the industry. It’s a game that we play on our own control rooms to see who got something first. It has no value whatsoever to the audience and I think a little bit of humility on the part of journalism would serve it and the audience very well, that we should care less about competing with each other and care more about delivering the highest-quality product that we can to the audience. So that’s what I was driving at there. We’re a human institution and, worst of all things, we’re a human institution on deadline. So mistakes are going to get made all the time. At CBS and everywhere else. But the goal should always be to deliver the highest-quality product that we can. (more…)