It’s not too hard to come across opinion and misinformation on television and the internet in 2020. What may be a little harder to track down these days is truly unbiased national news.
Nexstar Media Group launched a nightly primetime newscast this past week that promises to do just that: stick to the facts.
In a primetime cable lineup full of opinion and analysis, NewsNation promises to go back to the basics and simply deliver the news. The team behind this 3-hour broadcast says they’re up to the challenge.
“What appealed to me about the mission of NewsNation was that we wanted to build a newscast that allowed people to decide for themselves,” anchor Marni Hughes told me during a conversation on Zoom.
Hughes made the transition to the Chicago-based newscast from a job as an evening news anchor in Seattle. She says the opportunity to go back to the fundamentals of journalism on a national scale is exciting, but she understands the program is opening itself up to scrutiny by labeling itself unbiased.
“It’s a huge challenge,” Hughes said. “We aren’t going to shy away from controversial topics, but our job will be how to smartly convey that story.”
One of her co-anchors, Rob Nelson, agrees it’s a challenge. He joined the NewsNation team from a successful job in New York City. Nelson says the mission of the program played a huge role in his decision.
“By telling the country we’re just the facts, we’re putting a huge target on our backs. Every little thing we do – everything is going to be scrutinized through the idea this is unbiased. This has increased the stakes, tremendously.”
The unbiased approach to news is one he truly believes in. And Nelson isn’t worried about fulfilling that mission noting it’s all about what he learned in journalism school: stick to the facts.
“The fact we’re promoting ourselves as a balance-not-bias newscast is not extraordinary,” Nelson said. “It’s a return to the fundamentals. We live at a time where the fundamentals sound extraordinary. It’s returning to something basic and simple that’s been lost in this genre of news.”
Nelson says this program is designed for the people who watch cable and say, “shut up, tell me the news and don’t tell me how to feel.”
“There is a strong group of people in this country who don’t want to be told how to feel about the news,” Nelson added. “I do think there’s some resistance out there. “
Joe Donlon, another co-anchor of NewsNation, agrees that boldly proclaiming the mission of the broadcast will attract attention but says executing the mission isn’t rocket science. Donlon points to the fact NewsNation is built by more than 100 journalists who come from local newsrooms.
“This is what we’ve been doing for years on the local level,” Donlon said. “I think this focus makes us better.”
Donlon and Hughes spoke about the training the newsroom has gone through ahead of the September launch. Various experts have hosted seminars for NewsNation’s journalists ranging from trends focused on how inherent bias can slip into a story to dissecting news articles and finding problematic portions that can be viewed more as opinion than fact.
When the new project was announced, Nexstar CEO Perry Sook said the show would hire rhetoricians to monitor the work for anything that could be viewed as bias. During recent rehearsals, Donlon experienced their impact first hand.
“I’ve been impressed with how things are being flagged. There was a story I had written that someone flagged and led to a debate and that ultimately made the story better,” Donlon said. “They’re looking at every word.”
“Everyone has an opinion but it doesn’t belong in what we do,” Hughes added. “You have to check yourself at the door. That doesn’t mean we can’t have smart discussions.”
The journalists behind NewsNation say the team is focused on the mission and plans to fulfill the promise they’ve made to viewers. They understand their credibility depends on it.
“If we can do that out of the gate, this will be a great start for us,” Donlon said.