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Jumping From Print To Tv Journalism

January 31, 1985|JAY SHARBUTT | Times Staff Writer

It's not unusual when a newspaperman exits the print world to try his hand at TV. It is a bit unique, though, when two newspapermen do that simultaneously and join the same network news program--which by sheer coincidence is run by a former newspaperman.

But Jon Katz, executive producer of the "CBS Morning News," says he didn't hire Peter J. Boyer, Atlanta bureau chief for the Los Angeles Times, or Terence Smith, a New York Times correspondent in Washington, because he prefers print reporters.

It was simply a matter of getting the best reporter for a particular beat, he said--Boyer as the show's media reporter and Smith as its Washington correspondent. The two will report for work on Monday, although they won't necessarily appear on the air right away.

"We didn't set out in either case to find a print person," said Katz, who before joining CBS News in September, 1982, was managing editor of the Dallas Times Herald and before that editor of the Baltimore News-American.

Boyer got the nod, Katz says, because he is knowledgeable about the media, having reported extensively about television, first for the Associated Press in Los Angeles and then The Times. Boyer became the newspaper's Atlanta bureau chief in November, 1983.

Smith has covered Washington for seven years for the New York Times. Before that, he was the newspaper's bureau chief in Bangkok, Saigon and Israel.

He was hired, Katz said, "because we're anxious to do a lot of explaining and interpretation of Washington stories, also because we're anxious to break some stories."

"The (network) morning news programs tend to cover Washington through official spokespersons," Katz added. "That's OK, but I think there's a danger in doing it that way. I thought we needed someone who could explain, analyze and interpret in understandable terms, and he (Smith) met all those requirements."

Smith is not new to the tube. He occasionally has appeared on the two-hour "Morning News" as a guest, Katz said, "and I think he communicates very clearly on television." Smith also has occasionally been a guest on PBS' "Washington Week in Review."

Boyer's only prior on-air work was the media commentary he did for National Public Radio's "Morning Edition" when he covered the TV beat for The Times. But Katz doesn't think Boyer will have any problem adapting to television.

"You need, first and foremost, a clear writer and gatherer of information," the producer said, adding that Boyer is that.

The Smith-Boyer hiring was part of Katz's recent efforts to revamp the perennially third-in-ratings program--he has been its executive producer since last March--to make it competitive with NBC's "Today Show" and ABC's "Good Morning America."

The most-publicized part of the revamp occurred in December with the signing of Phyllis George, for a reported $750,000 a year, to co-anchor the show with Bill Kurtis. George, formerly a CBS sportscaster, began on the "Morning News" on Jan. 14. She succeeded Diane Sawyer, now with "60 Minutes."

Unlike Sawyer, George has no hard-news credentials. Because of this, her hiring by CBS News stirred up considerable controversy and criticism, all of which Katz considers unfair and unwarranted.

Be that as it may, he said he's now concentrating on building up his show's own on-air reportorial staff, getting a full-time crew instead of having to borrow correspondents who normally work for other CBS News programs.

"We intend to bring our own national-beat staff to the 'Morning News' and we intend to do enterprise stories and be an electronic news magazine," he said.

No other new on-air regulars have been hired yet, Katz said, but four will be joining the program soon to cover pop culture, life styles, medicine and science.

He says the newcomers are "probably all going to come from television, but we've spent a lot of time on this, and we'll be taking the best persons we can find."

(He mentioned in passing that two TV news reporters--Forrest Sawyer and Faith Daniels--have been hired as the new co-anchors of CBS' one-hour early morning news program that airs each weekday before the "CBS Morning News."

(Daniels, now at WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh, will start her new job in March, while Sawyer, of WAGA-TV in Atlanta, will join the network some time in the spring, CBS said Tuesday.)

There has been speculation that if "CBS Morning News" fails to get out of third place in the national Nielsens, the network may well take the show away from CBS News and see if the CBS entertainment division can come up with a better alternative.

"No one has suggested to me that that's what's at stake," Katz said. CBS News, he added, "has sunk a lot of money into the new format and Phyllis, and I don't think they'd do that if they weren't in it for the long haul.

"Maybe I'm naive, but I get no feeling that there's an ax hanging over us."

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