In 1973, one of journalism’s great partnerships was born when Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer teamed up to cover the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaigns, formed to investigate Watergate. The unprecedented live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of Senate hearings earned the two journalists the first of what would be many Emmy awards. It also forged a lasting friendship between two seemingly disparate individuals with a shared commitment to serious long-form journalism.
After the Watergate hearings, MacNeil and Lehrer went their separate ways. But the value of unembellished, straightforward news coverage made a lasting impression on both men. Two years later, MacNeil set out to create a news program that, much as the coverage of the Watergate hearings had done, would examine a single topic at length and in-depth. It was a format he and Jim had discussed during their Watergate days. So, MacNeil asked Lehrer to join him, first as Washington Correspondent, and soon after as co-anchor of the “MacNeil/Lehrer Report.”
The program earned some of journalism highest honors, including a Peabody, a DuPont and several Emmys. Originally, the Report was intended to function as an addendum to the nightly, network newscasts, but eight years later MacNeil and Lehrer sensed a growing appetite for more expansive coverage of the day’s news. So, in 1983, the program became “The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour,” covering multiple topics as the nation’s first hour-long, national, nightly news program.
Since its inception, the NewsHour’s name has changed as first Robert MacNeil (1995) and then Jim Lehrer (2011) left the anchor desk to pursue other projects. One thing will never change, and that’s the NewsHour’s commitment to serious, long-form journalism. In 2010, the program was recognized with the prestigious Chairman’s Award at the 31st Annual News & Documentary Emmy Awards for its “significant and distinguished contribution to the craft of broadcast journalism.”
Now called the PBS NewsHour, the program is consistently named the most trusted news program in the country (Public Policy Polling) and continues to earn some of journalism’s highest honors. It is co-anchored by Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff who continue the MacNeil/Lehrer journalistic legacy both on air and online via a robust website and multi-platform digital offerings.
NewsHour Productions LLC
Through their many years of editorial partnership, MacNeil and Lehrer were approached with offers from the networks. Instead, they found greater value in journalistic independence and the freedom to focus on journalism instead of ratings.
In 1981, they decided to form their own production unit: MacNeil/Lehrer Productions (MLP). Soon others wanted to join the partnership, including Gannett’s Al Neuharth and, for a short time, MLP was MacNeil-Lehrer-Gannett Productions. The partnership with Gannett lasted five years. In 1994, Liberty Media became a partner in MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, with MacNeil and Lehrer always maintaining editorial independence and control.
In 2014, the partners of MLP, including Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil, contributed their ownership of PBS NewsHour and other assets to NewsHour Productions LLC, a new wholly-owned non-profit subsidiary of WETA. Upon announcement of the transfer, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, president and chief executive officer of WETA, observed that: ““WETA is the natural long-term home for the PBS NewsHour. The NewsHour team has been our partner for more than 35 years, and we are thrilled to welcome them into this new, closer relationship. Together, we will uphold our unflinching commitment to excellence in journalism, producing the program every night with the same high standards our viewers expect and deserve.”
Under WETA’s ownership, the mission of NewsHour Productions LLC is to carry forward the commitment to serious, long-form journalism throughout all its activities.