WETA might take over ownership of ‘PBS NewsHour’

October 8, 2013

The parent company of “PBS NewsHour,” the daily news program that dates back nearly 40 years on public TV, may have lined up a new owner.

MacNeil-Lehrer Productions (MLP) has entered into talks to have the public TV station WETA of Arlington take over the company and to continue producing the nightly show, according to a memo to the program’s staff Tuesday from Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer, the former PBS anchors and two of the company’s principal owners.

MacNeil-Lehrer is primarily owned by Colorado’s Liberty Media under a partnership that gives MacNeil and Lehrer editorial control of the company and “NewsHour.”

“We have concluded that the time has come to find a new, long-term home for The NewsHour,” they wrote in their memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post.

They said changing owners now would increase “our fundraising abilities. But the central driving force is that the two of us are increasingly no longer active in the day-to-day editorial decisions of The NewsHour. We felt the need to create a way to insure The NewsHour will always be in steady, professional journalistic hands and minds once we step even further away — to coin a phrase that fits our current happy elder status. For the near future we have offered to remain available to the NewsHour as advisors or consultants.”

WETA is a co-producer of “NewsHour” but does not own it. The program’s studios are across the street from WETA’s headquarters in Arlington.

MacNeil, 82, and Lehrer, 79, wrote that they proposed that “NewsHour” “become a part of WETA,” with the two former anchors and Liberty contributing their ownership stakes.

WETA President Sharon Rockefeller “greeted that offer with delight and enthusiasm,” the memo says.

The talks remain preliminary, and completing a deal “will be complicated and it may take awhile,” the memo said.

Boisfeuillet Jones Jr., a former publisher of The Post who heads MLP, will lead the negotiations for the production company.

Said the memo: “What we can say now with gusto and conviction is that our conversations with WETA will be guided by the need to protect the ways and results of our journalism but also to protect you, the people whose hard work and brains have always made it all work for us, the PBS system and our viewers and supporters.”

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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