Jim Lehrer announced his intention to step away from the news desk a couple of weeks ago. The epitome of excellent journalism, Lehrer had been the driving force behind the PBS Newshour, which had begun as the McNeil/Lehrer Newshour when I started watching it in 1992.
My first exposure to the Newshour was by Paradise High School Government teacher Carol Kirk. We would not watch it all the time, but as the year went on we became more and more used to the “du-du-du” theme song and the Independent Television News reports from around the world. When I did my student teaching, my job was to prep the tape that contained the Newshour, checking the focus stories to see if any were relevant to U.S. Government or Global Studies, and then to write down their point on the tape so it was easily accessible later in the class period. Something I learned while working for Rex Moseley (my Master Teacher) was that at minimum the Newshour created a heightened level of curiosity, and that often led to discussions about relevant events and their connections to our subject matter. I deemed it necessary for my classroom when I started teaching in August 2001.
Students love it. It takes awhile for the “inside politics” to make sense to the kids (like most of us). But when the students learn some of the in’s and out’s of the political game, something as simple as a Sarah Palin book signing in Iowa starts to make perfect sense to them. International events come alive and appear in context with the history I teach. Finally all is presented talking up; meaning the Newshour avoids Lindsey Lohan crap and speaks to you like you are smarter than the average yahoo. Students become connected to Jim Lehrer and when he was gone for an extended period of time in 2009, students became concerned. Ray Suarez is nice, but he’s just not Jim. This year’s kids have barely seen Jim, so their allegiance is pretty much non-existent. Now that honor goes towards the rookie of the Newshour, Hari Sreenivasan. Oh, and the new loyalty is very strong. When Hari took off for two weeks earlier this year, my students insisted that Tweet the Newshour complaining that the substitutes were inadequate. It was pretty funny.
And now Jim Lehrer is off to do other things. Sure he’ll be on occasionally on certain segments (Mark Shields and David Brooks), but the news desk on PBS just won’t be the same without him. Jim brought us the news while making sure that we thought at a higher level for at least a few minutes each day. I’m taking that and running with it.