Philadelphia’s CBS-3 revamped its morning newscast in April, introducing longtime investigative and consumer-affairs reporter Jim Donovan to the anchor chair along with former “Eye Opener” host Brooke Thomas.
But one of the most interesting additions to the show is a new feature simply titled, “Morning Headlines,” a look at the front pages of many of the Delaware Valley’s newspapers. The feature airs daily on CBS-3 Eyewitness News This Morning, at 5 and 6 a.m. (The Spirit is one of the papers featured regularly.)
Donovan, a news veteran, conceived the idea with CBS-3 Vice-President and News Director Margaret Cronan, but he admits they took inspiration from another source within the corporate family.
“We have the network, “CBS This Morning,” and I’m a big fan of (that) show,” said Donovan. “They do a segment where they look at newspaper headlines from across the country. I thought, ‘We should do that in our region.’ We’ve got all these amazing daily and weekly newspapers that tell interesting stories, stories that quite often don’t get onto the full newscast, but at least should be mentioned in some form or fashion.”
From that idea, Donovan ran with it. When he was asked to take over the morning anchor desk, it was his condition that he write content for it. “I was the one who said, ‘Well, look, I want to do this headline segment,'” he said. That includes not only writing it, but contacting the pool of 50-60 newspapers — 40 of which are weeklies –and gathering all of the information.
Donovan gets in at 2:30 each morning, and usually works on the segment for an hour and 15 minutes. It’s a particular aim to keep coverage diverse by area. “I try to put in one story from New Jersey, one story from Delaware County, one from Delaware itself,” he explains. “We try to do more serious news, a little bit of crime news, and we also like to put something in about the community, maybe a school or community organization.”
Communities are a particular focus for the “Morning Headlines,” as it allows Eyewitness News to look at areas and shed light on stories they might not have had the time or manpower to cover.
Cronan said, “We can’t send a crew to every single story in every single county; we don’t have that many resources. But what we can do, is work with newspapers as partners so that the word gets out.” As she points out, the newspapers have been appreciative of the extra spotlight. “They’re thrilled with it and we’re thrilled with the relationship,” explained Cronan. “There’s a thirst for news, not just in your neighborhood, but in other people’s neighborhoods, especially in this region, which is a region of neighborhoods.”
Although Donovan’s professional background is primarily in broadcast journalism, he speaks of an affinity for newspapers going back to his childhood. “We had three to four newspapers delivered every day to our family home,” he said, “so in the morning, that’s what you did; you read the newspaper while you were eating your breakfast. The afternoon newspaper was delivered to my home. So I am an old-fashioned journalist by heart. That’s where I got a lot of my information, which was supplemented by television.”
Donovan also feels a connection to print journalism in a way, through his long-form investigative work. The longtime face of the station’s consumer and investigative reporting, Donovan still does that daily, on top of his anchor duties. “The problem with investigative journalism on a broadcast stage,” he said, “is not only does it require a lot of digging, but you need video to tell the story. As the consumer reporter, I have to also put together a consumer story every single day for our morning newscast and our 5 p.m. newscast.” He laments there are only so many hours in the day.
It helps that a lot of the newspapers featured in “Morning Headlines” are weeklies, which allow more flexibility. “The stories that we include quite often are from the front page,” Donovan explained, adding the dailies often cover the same breaking news already featured on CBS-3. “It’s the weekly papers,” he said, “that are going out into the communities and covering these amazing events, schools, and civic organizations. The nice thing about the weeklies (is that) I get the front pages a day or two in advance, so I can pre-write them. Depending on if I have a heavy day, I can just hold that for another day.”
It’s a lot for the anchor and news director to put together; and yet there’s room for more.
“We’re continuously looking at expanding,” said Donovan. “Any way that we can collaborate and work with one another, print and broadcast, it really just benefits the consumers.” Cronan doesn’t go into detail, but says of expanding to more papers, “We have and we are. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t have as many partnerships as possible to get the word out. A lot of people still read newspapers and some people don’t, and if the newspapers are carrying stories that we’re not and we can get them out there via television to folks who aren’t necessarily newspaper readers, I think that’s a great win for both sides.”
Paul A. Bennett, publisher of The Spirit and, full disclosure, the father of this reporter, agrees.
“Many people have ‘believed the hype’ that newspapers are dying or are already dead, but throughout the industry we have empirical data that shows how really robust we are, especially community-oriented newspapers,” he said. “The CBS-3 Eyewitness News partnership with us is wonderful validation that what we do is still important and vital in a pretty big way.”
Bennett is quick to point out that CBS-3 has a history of community sensitivity. He pointed to the late 1980’s when he was editor-in-chief of The Philadelphia Tribune and a producer and on-air contributor to The Saturday Tribune with then-Channel 3 personalities Elleanor Jean-Hendley and the late-Malcolm Poindexter.
That show was a mixture of community news and features that blended the strengths of both print and broadcast journalism, Bennett said.
Borrowing a paraphrased line from CBS Morning News anchor Charlie Rose, Bennett said, “The current CBS-3 community newspaper partnership really is a reflection of ‘all that matters.’”