CHICAGO (NEXSTAR) — Ask the typical American if there’s enough news available on cable television in primetime, and you’ll likely get undisputed agreement that there’s no shortage. No doubt, there are plenty of channels airing news-centered content. But as for traditional, unbiased journalism, longtime newsman Joe Donlon sees a gaping hole.
“I don’t think the arena we’re about to jump into is crowded,” Donlon said. “If you want talk and opinion in primetime, you have plenty of options. If you want news, you don’t.”
When you think about the cable news landscape in those terms, Donlon is absolutely correct. Fox News, CNN and MSNBC’s primetime lineups are dominated by programs built around opinion and analysis — not always facts.
“That’s the void we’re trying to fill,” Donlon added.
Donlon is set to debut September 1 as one of the anchors of a new 3-hour, primetime newscast that will air nightly on WGN America. It’s a project of Nexstar Media Group which owns nearly 200 television stations across the country and employs 5,400 journalists. The new newscast, titled NewsNation, aims to leverage those resource and bring traditional news back to cable television between the hours of 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET.
“I definitely think there’s a place for this. This is what the country needs right now,” said Donlon.
Rob Nelsen agrees. That’s why he moved his family, including an 8-month-old baby, from New York to Chicago in the middle of a pandemic. The 20-year veteran of the news industry jumped at a chance to return to what he learned in journalism school.
“The bedrock of what we’re trying to do is ‘just the facts.’ We want to give you the news,” Nelson said. “This show is not about Rob or Joe’s view of the world, it’s about ‘what are the most important stories of the day?’ You at home get to decide how you feel about those stories.”
One of the unique things about NewsNation will be the location of its studio and team of journalists. Instead of New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, D.C., the program will be hosted from Chicago. Nelsen says he’s seen an East Coast bias in action and is looking forward to creating a newscast from and for Middle America.
“This can balance things out,” Nelson added. “News happens in more places than New York and Capitol Hill.”
Nelson will sit alongside Donlon, co-anchor Marni Hughes and Chief Meteorologist Albert Ramon each weeknight. When viewers tune in to NewsNation, they’ll see a presentation that looks more like what they might see on their local news channels versus cable news powerhouses.
“If you look at primetime cable right now, the format is one anchor giving his or her views of the world, a few scattered guests, a focus on two to three major stories and then a goodnight,” Nelson said. “That’s not what NewsNation will be.”
“I hesitate to be critical of what anyone else is doing because clearly there are people watching,” Donlon said. “If that’s not what you want to watch, there’s really no other choice.”
Every Corner of America
Each night, NewsNation will be able to leverage journalists in 115 American cities where its owner, Nexstar Media Group, operates newsrooms for its local television stations. This gives NewsNation the advantage of utilizing thousands of reporters.
“That’s why Perry Sook decided to go this way. It just makes sense,” Donlon said on Nexstar Media Groups’ reach. “We have all these resources — why not put them together in this platform?”
In 1996, Sook launched Nexstar with one television station in Pennsylvania. Nearly 25 years later, he had grown the company to a position where it owned or serviced 196 television station across the nation reaching 63 percent of television households. When his company purchase Tribune Media in 2019, cable channel WGN America was part of the $7 billion deal. With that acquisition, the idea of utilizing the company’s portfolio of stations into a nationwide newscast was born.
For the journalists charged with leading the NewsNation project, dipping into this level of resources allows for unlimited possibility.
“In the case of breaking news, we have the ability to go straight to it. We’re instantly able to utilize crews and journalists in that region.”
Both Hughes and Donlon noted the handful of “blind spots” NewsNation had where Nexstar did not own or operate a television station. For that reason, NewsNation hired traveling correspondents to help fill those gaps and ensure the entire country is covered.
“There’s no lack of content. Our opportunity is to leverage everything that’s happening in between those major stories everyone will be hearing about. Not only can we highlight great stories that are untold on a national level, but we can highlighting great storytellers and pieces that inspire.”
Hughes said NewsNation has the ability to take an exceptional local story and introduce it to the entire country. Her peers agreed that’s part of what will help NewsNation stand out.
“These are stories that other cable networks in primetime are not paying attention to. They’re not interested in these other things that are going on.”
Anchors with Relatability
Nelson looks back on the day he was offered the job at NewsNation with mixed emotions. Though it was a moment of personal celebration and accomplishment, it was also the Thursday morning it was announced more than 6 million American applied for unemployment benefits at the height of the pandemic.
While he felt fortunate and lucky, he knew so many others were struggling.
“The moment wasn’t lost on me.”
With the anchors of NewsNation, there’s a sense of relatability you likely won’t experience on other cable networks. These aren’t journalists who’ve spent their careers in network news roles. They’ve all worked their way up through small towns across America to earn this opportunity.
Nelson says cable programs can often be “all about me” TV and that’s not something you’ll see from NewsNation.
“What will also make this show stand out is this idea that we’ve spent the vast majority of our careers in local news. Because of that and the fact this show is rooted in local news, I think that we bring a certain authenticity to this show,” Nelson said.
“I hope people feel a sense of connection to that.”
Weather in Primetime
Traditionally, the only time you’ll hear about weather during traditional primetime cable news is during hurricane coverage. That isn’t NewsNation.
Chief Meteorologist Albert Ramon says the program is committed to meaningful weather coverage across the 3-hour broadcasts. What does he mean by meaningful? Weather with out the hype.
“I’ve always tried to be the ‘no hype’ meteorologist,” Ramon said. “My goal is to guide viewers through potential threats and be there in times of great need.”
Ramon pointed to recent wildfires and the derecho in Iowa as events that deserved more coverage than they received from major cable news outlets. With NewsNation, he has the opportunity to take a deep dive into those events and hear from journalists who live in those impacted communities.
“These are weather stories that get lost in the news cycle,” noted Ramon. “We’re going to tell the stories that may otherwise fall through the cracks.”
Diversity of Content
Weather is just one area of emphasis NewsNation hopes to deliver than you wouldn’t see otherwise. With three hours to deliver each night and nearly 200 newsrooms providing content, the door is open to a diversity of stories.
“This will be completely different than anything that exists,” Hugh said.
Hughes noted she and her co-anchors have been able to see the variety of content in action over the past few weeks during rehearsal for the September 1 launch. She said she initially feared there may not be enough strong stories to fill a multi-hour broadcast but that’s been anything from the case.
“If you put us on for 5 minutes, you’re going to get a more thorough and comprehensive look at the country,” Nelson added.
He said NewsNation has the ability to give you more stories in five minutes than you might get in 30-40 minutes from other cable outlets. And without the added opinion, you may feel a little better about everything noting cable news has the ability to get your blood boiling.
“I’d hope they watch us and say, ‘wow, it’s nice that someone isn’t beating me over their head with their opinion,'” said Nelson.
“I don’t want to stress you out,” he added. “I want to inform you.”