CBS' Scott Pelley Talks L.A. Viewers, the Young Adult Demographic, and How Social Media Is Changing Journalism

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Thu, Jun 6, 2013 at 5:00 AM
click to enlarge Scott Pelley just celebrated two years as anchor of CBS Evening News. - COURTESY CBS EVENING NEWS
  • Scott Pelley just celebrated two years as anchor of CBS Evening News.

By Kate Stephanus

Today marks the second anniversary of Scott Pelley's tenure as anchor and managing editor of CBS Evening News. Since he's taken over, CBS Evening News ratings have improved significantly -- viewership is up 6 percent in Los Angeles alone. It's the only network news program to add viewers ages 25-54, with a 7 percent increase since Pelley arrived. Long stuck in third place, CBS is now only a tenth of a point away from taking second place away from ABC.

In an exclusive interview with L.A. Weekly, Pelley explains what it's like to be an anchor today, the importance of the young adult audience, and why every journalist needs a backbone.

L.A. Weekly: What have been your biggest successes as anchor of CBS Evening News?

I think our biggest success has been bringing the broadcast back to hard news, covering the most important events of the day every day. We have made big strides in the writing of the broadcast, making sure that it is clear and concise and honest. And we have added some terrific correspondents, too, who have done amazing award-winning work over the past two years. So I would tell you that the quality of the Evening News has never been higher; I think that's one of the reasons the audience has been growing.

What has been the toughest story you've covered so far as managing editor?

Without a doubt, in the last two years, the toughest story was Newtown. The whole nation was shocked by the enormity of that. I certainly was -- it hit me like a ton of bricks when my people told me how many people had been killed in the school. We rushed out the door, jumped in cars and drove up there, and anchored the Evening News from there for several days.

One of the things about Newtown that we have been engaged with at the Evening News are the continuing issues of gun violence and the issues of mental health care in this country, and where we fail in that area. We have been continuing reporting on all of that ever since that happened; we had one of our best stories [Tuesday] night, reported by Seth Doane, about a father and a mother who have a son who is mentally ill and prone to violence, and about all the obstacles that are thrown in their way -- all the things that they have to cope with in order to try to get help for their son and protect their community. These are enduring issues that we're going to keep covering on the Evening News and on 60 Minutes.

What have you done to attract a larger audience?

When Jeff Fager [chairman of CBS News] asked me to do this job, he said, "Look, cover the news. Cover the news; cover it fairly and honestly and clearly. Make the Evening News more like 60 Minutes. If anybody wants to watch it, great, but that is what we are going to do."

And now we have a million more viewers for the Evening News than we did two years ago. We're up to 7 million viewers a night. The audience has really responded to that [change], and I think the reason is that they appreciate the quality. They appreciate that the broadcast is not a waste of their time. Americans are interested in the news; they want to know what's going on. But they need a concise place to see the news and a brand name that they can trust, and I think that's why we've grown by a million viewers in a couple of years.

Turn the page for Pelley's thoughts on West Coast viewers.

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