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‘PBS NewsHour’ is expanding with its first West Coast bureau

‘PBS NewsHour’ is expanding with its first West Coast bureau
Judy Woodruff is the anchor of "PBS NewsHour," which will soon have a full-time bureau on the West Coast. (Frank Carlson)

“PBS NewsHour,” public television’s nightly national newscast, is adding a full-time West Coast bureau aimed at providing more timely coverage for viewers in the region.

The program produced by Washington, D.C., PBS station WETA will unveil plans Wednesday to open a dedicated newsroom and studio based at the Arizona State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication in Phoenix. The studio will provide live updates for the West Coast feed of the broadcast.

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The launch of the operation, called “PBS NewsHour West,” will give the program the ability to keep up with the seemingly nonstop news cycle where stories often can break in the evening. The program has never had a West Coast location since it was launched nationally by PBS in 1975 as “The Robert MacNeil Report.”

Sara Just, executive producer of “PBS NewsHour,” said the bureau scheduled to open later this year will better equip the program to stay on top of developing stories that occur after the full broadcast is fed live to stations at 6 p.m. Eastern time. The program has only been done live for the West Coast when it covers major planned events.

“We’re not a 24/7 news operation, so updates have been a challenge,” Just said. “We’re excited to have the opportunity to more regularly and smoothly add more information. We’re also expecting the team to be a really active reporting unit that will cover the region for the national broadcast and for our digital and social platforms as well.”

Most PBS outlets in the eastern half of the U.S. air “PBS NewsHour” live. But the broadcast airs three hours later on KOCE Los Angeles, and four hours later on KPBS in San Diego — which in the current highly dynamic news environment created by the Trump White House can seem like an eternity.

“We want to be current,” added Judy Woodruff, anchor of “PBS NewsHour” since 2013. “This has come along at a perfect time.”

PBS is following the lead of other network news divisions that freshen their broadcasts for West Coast affiliates to better compete with cable news channels that are live throughout the day.

“In this news cycle, a single tweet can change the story at any hour,” Just said. “So we want to be able to bring people the latest news and with ‘PBS NewsHour West’ we’ll be able to do that more easily.”

Woodruff said the bureau will also enable the program to be more competitive in covering the 2020 race for the White House, which already has two West Coast-based contenders, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. The earlier date for the California Democratic primary in 2020 will also make that contest more pivotal in choosing the party’s nominee.

“PBS NewsHour West” will have a staff of six — all new hires — including an on-air correspondent who will serve as an anchor when breaking news warrants. The bureau will be responsible for coverage of stories in the western U.S., where 21% of the program’s audience resides.

The additional resources are being funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. ASU already provides the studio facilities for Arizona PBS, which provides public TV programming to the state. Students at ASU’s journalism program have also produced segments for “PBS NewsHour.”

“PBS NewsHour” has an average audience of 1.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen data, and had 52 million users visit its web site in 2018. The program has long had a reputation for providing longer in-depth stories and more conversational interviews than typically seen on commercial network newscasts.

“PBS NewsHour” is also the rare newscast outside of the Fox News Channel to earn praise from President Trump, who publicly complimented a report on North Korea he saw several months ago.

But Woodruff noted that Trump has yet to accept repeated offers to sit for a one-on-one interview on the program. “I have asked regularly,” she said. “(The White House) is very aware of the invitation. We’re hopeful that it’s going to happen.”

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‘PBS NewsHour’

Where: KOCE

When: 6 p.m. Mon. - Fri.

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