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CBS looks to Jeff Glor to give 'CBS Evening News' a digital boost

| Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, 9:57 a.m.
The 'CBS Evening News' got a new face and an additional run time starting Monday, Dec. 4, 2017.  Jeff Glor took over as the broadcast's anchor replacing Scott Pelley and his sub for the past several months, Anthony Mason.
The 'CBS Evening News' got a new face and an additional run time starting Monday, Dec. 4, 2017. Jeff Glor took over as the broadcast's anchor replacing Scott Pelley and his sub for the past several months, Anthony Mason.

As a youthful looking 42, Jeff Glor is the youngest anchor of "CBS Evening News" since Douglas Edwards first sat in the chair in 1948. It's not all they have in common.

Edwards was a veteran radio journalist who was asked to move over to television when it was still a young, emerging medium. Glor has a mandate to lead the flagship evening newscast into the digital future.

The assignment comes as the evening news format is fighting to remain vital in an age when smartphones can provide headlines and video instantly.

CBS will be courting digital viewers by re-airing "CBS Evening News with Jeff Glor," on its streaming channel CBSN at 7 p.m. Pacific time after it airs on the network's TV affiliates across the country. The anchor will also do newsmaker interviews and his program will produce reports that will air everyday on CBSN, whether they make it onto his 30 minute broadcast or not.

CBS News executives believe Glor is the right anchor for the challenge. His 10-year stint at CBS News includes being lead anchor on CBSN, when the service launched in 2014. His ascension to the seat once filled by the legendary Walter Cronkite sends a message about the priority on digital news content.

"Our entire newsroom needs a jolt of a new reality," said Steve Capus, executive producer of "CBS Evening News." "Our output is being consumed a lot of different ways and if we think about it too narrowly, we're missing a big segment of the audience."

As for creating content for other platforms, Capus said, "It comes natural to Jeff."

CBS in particular can use an infusion of new evening news viewers. Nielsen data shows the broadcast is averaging 6.4 million viewers in the 2017-18 TV season, down 6 percent froma year earlier. That compares with 8.7 million viewers for "ABC World News Tonight with David Muir," which is up 3 percent over last year; and 8.3 million viewers for "NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt," a 1 percent decline.

Network evening newscasts - fixtures of television since the late 1940s - have been fighting the perception that they are the horse-and-buggy of the digital news age as devices and cable news networks bombard people with information all day.

But they are still seen as a prestigious platform for a TV news division and remain a valuable business. Their combined audience of 23.4 million viewers is off slightly year-to-year and ad spending on the three networks in 2017 is running ahead of 2016 — up 1.5 percent to $332 million through September, according to Standard Media Index. The data indicate that demand for the ad time on the programs is still solid, most likely because a vast majority of viewers watch them live and are sitting through the commercials.

Any changes to "CBS Evening News" will happen gradually. While the network is intent on courting more digital news viewers, it does not want to alienate longtime fans.

When the network hired Katie Couric away from NBC to be the anchor of "CBS Evening News" in 2006 — the only time in its history it went outside its own talent roster to fill the job — it also tinkered with the format and viewership plummeted.

Some of the audience was restored during the "CBS Evening News" tenure of "60 Minutes" correspondent Scott Pelley, who held the job for five years until May, when he went back to the news magazine full time. (Anthony Mason took over on an interim basis.)

But even when a broadcast is losing viewers, as "CBS Evening News" was under Pelley, an anchor change can disrupt viewing habits.

"For CBS the change is a gamble," said Tom Bettag, visiting fellow at the University of Maryland's Merrill School of Journalism and a former network news producer. "With Pelley at the helm, 'Evening News' had a clear identity, that of being a class act, where the newsies go for news. It was a natural fit with the enormously successful '60 Minutes,' 'CBS This Morning,' and 'Sunday Morning.' Jeff Glor is an unknown quantity. The question is whether the choice of a significantly different anchor necessarily means a change in the tone of the broadcast."

CBS News President David Rhodes said he is well aware of the risk that comes with change. But the network's research shows that "CBS Evening News" has lagged behind ABC and NBC because it has not been able to distinguish itself from its competitors.

"I feel like we're producing a better news report each evening but rightly or wrongly a lot of the audience thinks that all the shows are the same," Rhodes said. "As long as the audience thinks they are interchangeable the competitive situation will stay what it is. They are asking, 'What's my incentive to change if everything is the same?' "

Glor does not have the name recognition of other TV news stars because he never shows up on gossip websites or the New York tabloids. These days that can be seen as a plus. His transition to the anchor chair comes as the network searches for a replacement for veteran journalist Charlie Rose, its "CBS This Morning" co-host who was fired last month over sexual harassment incidents that allegedly happened at his now-canceled PBS talk show.

Known for his versatility, Glor not only filled in for Rose on "CBS This Morning" but also served as a substitute host on his PBS talk show. In addition to covering major breaking news at CBS, he has filled in on the anchor desks and done long-form pieces for "CBS Sunday Morning" and "60 Minutes Sports" for Showtime.

For an anchor charged with giving his news division a digital boost, Glor's office at its Manhattan headquarters has a low-tech look, thanks to the shelves and stacks of paperbacks and hardcover books. A voracious reader, he also keeps downloaded digital copies of many of the titles on his iPhone for when he's on the road reporting for the network.

"It's like oxygen for me," the Buffalo, N.Y., native and married father of two children said as he scrolled through dozens of e-book covers on his iPhone during a recent interview. "I'll pay for a book twice. I like supporting authors."

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