Pakistani-origin journalist Amna Nawaz to join PBS’ NewsHour as anchor

The Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) — an American broadcaster — announced on Wednesday that a journalist of Pakistani origin, Amna Nawaz, will join Geoff Bennett as anchor of the weeknight ‘PBS NewsHour’ show after Judy Woodruff’s near-decade-long run as host ends.

More conventional than commercial TV, NewsHour reports on daily stories along with deeper magazine-style pieces. It was even parodied on a recent ‘Saturday Night Live’ segment as “we’re what your grandma’s talking about when she says, ‘I saw this on the news’.”

Washington veteran Woodruff, aged 75, would be hosting her last show — that she has been hosting since 2013 — on Dec 30.

She would hand over the role to the new anchors at the beginning of 2023 to embark on a two-year reporting project on divisions in the US.

Woodruff tweeted a photo of herself with Nawaz and Bennett.

Nawaz, 43, joined NewsHour as Woodruff’s chief substitute in 2018 and has previously worked at ABC and NBC News.

She has won Peabody Awards for her reporting on the Jan 6, 2021, insurrection and global plastic pollution.

The 42-year-old Bennett joined NewsHour earlier this year after leaving NBC. Prior to covering the White House and Congress for NBC, he used to work for NPR.

“You can’t understate the importance of this moment,” Nawaz was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

“It is an enormous change for an incredible institution that doesn’t do this change often. On that level, I think both of us understand very deeply what we are taking on.”

Bennett said, “There are few places these days that cover the fullness of American life, from hard news to feature stories, the way the ‘NewsHour’ does.”

An attempt to broaden the audience

PBS CEO Paula Kerger said that the hirings are also an effort to broaden the show’s focus beyond Washington news.

“One of the strengths of the public media system is we have these stations all across the country and we have been talking about ways to leverage that,” she said. There are 179 separate licenses for PBS outlets.

The show is establishing an active presence on social media platforms — such as TikTok, Instagram and YouTube — to broaden its audience beyond the estimated two million television viewers.

According to Google Analytics and YouTube, it receives more than a million unique viewers each day on YouTube.

Sara Just, the show’s senior executive producer, said that having two anchors gives NewsHour more flexibility to use them as reporters who can travel for stories.

Since its beginning in 1975, the show has incorporated both single and co-anchors, with only a total of four people having occupied the role.

Robert MacNeil and Jim Lehrer co-anchored for two decades after which Lehrer took it over alone when MacNeil retired.

After Lehrer left in 2011, Woodruff and Gwen Ifill began co-hosting the show in 2013.

Following Ifill’s death in 2016, Woodruff became the only anchor of NewsHour.

Woodruff’s anchoring journey

Recoiling from the word ‘retirement’, Woodruff stated that she felt like the midterm elections seemed like the right time to “retreat”.

“I honestly wanted to step away from the anchor desk at a point where I still have the energy and enthusiasm to do some reporting that really matters to me,” she said.

Her television career had included time at NBC News and two stints at PBS surrounding a stretch at CNN.

Woodruff has been in the industry for long enough to experience blatant sexism and underestimation of women and has been able to overcome it as well.

“If I’d had any role at all in seeing one woman or one person-of-colour — who didn’t have a chance — if they’ve been able to look at the work that I’m doing and have confidence in themselves and their future and help them take the next step, I’m really proud of that,” she said.

Woodruff is being replaced at the PBS anchor desk by a Black man and a first-generation American of Pakistani descent.

She plans to take a week off before getting involved in ‘America at a Crossroads’, a two-year project that would examine the nation’s political and social divisions.

Hoping to deliver suggestions to improve things, she plans to talk to citizens and experts of all categories.

She would report what she regularly finds on NewsHour, building toward a special at the end.

Separately, Nawaz recalled meeting a young woman — who had recently started watching NewsHour — and being told that it “makes me feel so calm when I see you guys come up on the screen”.

She told Nawaz that she felt like she was about to get some information “in a way that I’m ready to recieve”.