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Even as battles rage, life is sweet for ABC anchor

Charles Gibson is savoring his hard-won position on `World News.'

July 20, 2006|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

HE had just spent four days dashing across Israel, bouncing among hot spots such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the Lebanese border, and Charles Gibson never looked happier.

Nearly two months after officially taking the helm of ABC's evening newscast, the 63-year-old anchor seemed in his element Wednesday as he addressed reporters at the semi-annual television press tour in Pasadena via satellite from Larnaca, Cyprus. During a half-hour question-and-answer session, Gibson offered extensive analysis of Israel's air war strategy and even the role of gerrymandering in American politics, sounding almost giddy as he anticipated the 2008 presidential campaign.

"I love this organization, and to be able to anchor what I consider its signature news broadcast is -- well, I don't want to get Boy Scouty, but it's really an honor," he said, beaming.

Gibson's ascension to the anchor desk comes after more than a year of turbulence at ABC News.

The longtime "Good Morning America" anchor filled in for Peter Jennings after Jennings' lung cancer diagnosis, then was passed over as Jennings' replacement in favor of Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas.

But after Woodruff sustained serious wounds in Iraq in January and Vargas became pregnant with her second child, Gibson emerged as the heir to the broadcast, a job he had always coveted.

On Wednesday, ABC announced that his name was being officially added to the title of the broadcast, even as they truncated it from "World News Tonight" to simply "World News."

Executive producer Jon Banner said that the name change to "World News With Charles Gibson" was a nod to the newscast's expanded offerings throughout the day, including an afternoon webcast anchored by Gibson that ABC said has been downloaded as many as 2 million times a week.

"It's really an acknowledgment of what we've been doing for some six months now," Banner said. " 'World News' is not only on at night, so the name has caught up to the effort we put into it."

All the network evening newscasts have been moving aggressively to expand their digital offerings, hoping to head off the suggestion that a 6:30 p.m. broadcast is an anachronism by producing material that can be accessed any time of day online or over mobile devices. On Tuesday, NBC announced that anchor Brian Williams is launching a video blog to complement his daily online postings. Katie Couric plans to produce a similar blog when she takes over "CBS Evening News" in September.

The recent anchor changes have heated up the competition among the newscasts, although Gibson professed ignorance Wednesday as to the meaning of the ratings.

"I get lost in all of this," he said, nevertheless noting that second-place "World News" recently has been doing well in the key 25-to-54-year-old demographic.

The newly anointed anchor said he was still getting used to aspects of the job, adding that he had forgotten his passport that morning when he was leaving Israel.

"I suspect Peter never did that," he said wryly in a reference to his globe-trotting predecessor.

In fact, Gibson said he was still not sure how much travel he should do as the face of the broadcast -- a different stance than that of ABC News President David Westin, who had originally appointed an anchor duo of Woodruff and Vargas in the hopes of having one of them constantly on the road.

"It's sort of a situation, we'll know it when we see it," Gibson said.

But Gibson said he did not want to overshadow the work of the network's correspondents.

"If I come in or Katie comes in or Brian comes in, does that necessarily increase how good the coverage is?" Gibson asked. "I think probably it calls more attention to the story, but I'm very mindful of the fact that the people who regularly cover the beat know it best, and I don't want to do anything in terms of anchor travel to preempt the prerogatives of those who really know the stories best."

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