'NewsHour' criticism misses the mark [Letter]

In response David Zurawik's column, "A 'NewsHour' filled with reruns and PBS promotion — not so much the news" (Dec. 19), I have to respectfully disagree. I worked at the NewsHour for two years, from 2011 to 2013, and had been an avid viewer long before then.

I watch the NewsHour every night, but I don't watch "Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly," so the Fred de Sam Lazaro piece examining abortion in El Salvador was reporting that I certainly would not have seen otherwise, and am glad I did. This practice of airing segments that appear on other shows within the same network is common. ABC World News often fills their airtime by showing snippets of "Nightline" before the evening broadcast of that program, and all the other major networks do the same thing. Would you consider parts of those news programs "phantom newscasts?"

To Mr. Zurawik's criticism that the segment on Rebecca Eaton and Masterpiece was merely self-promotion for PBS, Masterpiece, particularly Downton Abbey, is viewed by over 10 million viewers an episode. In this world of reality television, is it not a worthwhile story that a historical drama series is garnering as many, if not more viewers than those shows? If a network had, hypothetically, the highest rated television program in its history, would it not report on it on its news program?

Regarding the final segment produced by WNET, my guess, even though I am not affiliated with the show anymore, is that the producers simply wanted to promote the weekend edition of the show by showcasing some of the work that has appeared on it. All other evening network newscasts promote their respective networks' morning shows all the time, showing clips of interviews both past and present. On Sunday, Dec. 22, the NBC Nightly News promoted both Sunday Night Football and the previous night's episode of Saturday Night Live during the broadcast. Do they deserve the same criticism for showing those clips when they could have reported on an additional news story or two of the day?

Anybody who works or has worked in live TV production knows that rundowns of shows can change with a moment's notice. Guests can cancel at the last minute, and sometimes the simplest solution is to run a piece that had already been run before. CBS TV's 60 Minutes often runs encore segments on the same night as new segments.

What are the realities of filling an hour long, live news program? As with any production, sometimes a guest drops out at the last minute. Sometimes the news changes and adjustments have to be made with the timing of the show, which can lead to segments getting dropped. So yes, it can be difficult. And often times, it doesn't matter how much money a program spends, or how many people are on staff. The same technical mistakes that happen on the NewsHour happen on all the other network newscasts.

By having an hour-long news program, NewsHour producers can spend twice as much time on the most salient topic of the day than the other networks. If that, in turn, leads to problems some days in filling space at the end of the broadcast, I think it is well worth it.

When other networks are spending five of their 23 minutes to talk about phantom snowstorms, as many of them have done in the past few weeks, I don't think it's the end of the world, nor is it deserving of Mr. Zurawik's unbalanced criticism for the NewsHour to run a few segments twice that actually seek to educate and inform the public.

Jason Villemez, Severna Park

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