NBC's new boss faces challenges

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 8, 2013 at 8:47 am •  Published: October 8, 2013

In a memo to staff following coverage of the Western wildfires, Turness made it a point to say that "we were not content to film at a distance."

Having someone new come into an organization that already has veteran leadership can work both ways: It can invigorate or grate on people who have their own ways of doing things. NBC is in that shakeout process now. Turness hasn't brought anyone with her from England to NBC News and hasn't announced any major personnel moves.

"What they've been doing is clearly not working very well," said Beth Knobel, a Fordham University journalism professor who used to work at CBS News. "The sooner they figure out why, the sooner they can make the changes they need to turn things around."

"Meet the Press" is facing new competitive challenges. For the three months that ended with September, "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos beat NBC in both viewers and the 25-to-54-year-old age demographic that is key for ad sales in news programs — the first time that had happened in a quarter-year in 16 years, the Nielsen company said.

Before Turness arrived, NBC had replaced Betsy Fischer Martin, the long-time executive who ran the show, with Rob Yarin. Host David Gregory had the difficult job of replacing the popular Tim Russert, and it will be up to Turness to decide if that's the right choice moving forward.

It's been a difficult time for Williams, NBC's lead anchor. NBC canceled the "Rock Center" newsmagazine that he had built after a year and a half on the air. Williams' flagship "Nightly News" broadcast consistently wins in the ratings, but lost viewers in the past year while its two rivals gained them.

"Nightly News" is often caught in the middle between more thematically consistent shows at ABC and CBS, said Andrew Tyndall, a news consultant who studies the shows. The first half of "Nightly News," with the help of NBC's strong reporting team, is frequently the best news summary on the air, Tyndall said. But the show can lose focus dramatically, and segments like "Making a Difference" are showing age.

"There's not much need to watch the "Nightly News" after the first commercial," Tyndall said.

After starting at "Today," Turness often wraps up her day in the "Nightly News" control room.

Turness told staff members in a memo last Friday that a blueprint is being drawn to "enable us to deliver our brands most effectively on every major platform and device," and promised a town hall meeting to explain what this will mean.

"Sometimes going outside of the box turns out to be a winning strategy," Knobel said. "It's not like they went out and got someone without a real news resume. This is a woman with serious news chops."

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EDITOR'S NOTE — David Bauder can be reached at dbauder@ap.org or on Twitter@dbauder. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/david-bauder .