COMMENTS: Ben at ABC; Scott at CBS

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The starkness of the contrast in the approaches of the three newscasts cannot account for the ratings rebound seen in the entire annual season, since the changes at ABC became obvious only after the new year and those at CBS are yet more recent. Scott Pelley, formerly of 60 Minutes, took over the anchor chair from Katie Couric in June. His stamp was visible immediately but, still, it was in evidence only in the season's final quarter. At ABC, Sawyer had already been in the anchor chair for a year before her newscast was revamped. The significant changes at her newscast occurred after Ben Sherwood, Sawyer's one-time executive producer at Good Morning America, arrived as president of ABC's news division.

Nevertheless, both Sawyer's and Pelley's changes have now redrawn the competitive landscape in the nightly news timeslot. Both newscasts have made the correct judgment that offering a summary of the major breaking news developments of the previous 24 hours is an anachronism. Both have added more non-breaking feature content, which offers the added advantage of a longer half-life of relevance post-broadcast, when it is available for streaming online to an expanded audience.

That said, Sawyer and Pelley have taken diametrically opposite tacks about what type of stories warrant this extra feature coverage. They have both drawn on their roots, his in a serious weekly news magazine, hers in a news-you-can-use morning show. Pelley has focused on the major abstract foreign and domestic policy issues facing the republic; Sawyer has taken a service approach, addressing the practical daily lifestyle needs of her viewers, while offering inspirational human interest.

The upshot of these two shifts is that NBC Nightly News is now the leader in providing hard breaking news, covering developments within the 24-hour news cycle (2353 min since the beginning of the year v ABC 1730, CBS 2078). By contrast, ABC now devotes more than half of its newshole to the features-interviews-soft-news category (1906 min year-to-date v CBS 1684, NBC 1448).


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