Rome Hartman: BBC's New News Guru
As the executive producer who launched CBS Evening News With Katie Couric, Rome Hartman knows life under the microscope. Although he's a 25-year veteran of CBS News, his seven-month stint as Couric's producer was in danger of becoming the headline on his résumé. Then BBC America came calling. Hartman will create and oversee an hour-long evening newscast launching this fall on the cable channel. The newscast also will air on international channel BBC World. He talked with B&C's Marisa Guthrie about the BBC's news division, the star wattage of anchors and why he's glad to leave the Couric drama behind.
How will the new newscast differ from the Americanized version of BBC World News, which currently runs on public television?
There will be two distinct programs. The PBS 30 minutes will continue, and I will have some coordination role in that and any other BBC broadcast that either originates in or is aimed at America. But my primary job is to create an hour-long daily news broadcast that will air at 7:00 on BBC America and will be a signature and distinctive broadcast on BBC America.
Are the early-evening newscasts antiquated in today's fragmented environment?
It's true that any news organization needs to be working hard in every area and every technology. And the BBC is aggressive and quite skilled across all these platforms. They're putting their news on the mobile devices. Their Website is hugely popular in the U.S. This broadcast has to be part of a very well integrated strategy to meet people where they are and provide information in as many forms and on as many platforms as possible. But I think there are still a lot of people for whom a digest of the day's events is a very useful thing.
What about the anchor?
I think the most important thing is to get somebody who is really an experienced and credible journalist, a great interviewer, a good writer. What made the anchors on the American broadcast networks terrific is that they're just terrific journalists.
But BBC America viewers are less inclined to expect major star wattage in their anchor.
I think viewers of BBC News, whether in Great Britain or America or around the world, expect credibility, professionalism, and real skill and talent. And they want to understand that the person, whether the anchor behind the desk or the correspondent in the field, is well-informed and understands the issues. But I think you're right, there's not quite the level of celebrity that's expected or that has come to pass. I think there are anchors on American television who have reached a level of celebrity that they didn't seek or expect.
I think Katie and Charlie [Gibson] and Brian [Williams] are really good journalists. But American news anchors do attain a celebrity or stardom that's not typical in Great Britain. Whether a BBC presenter or an American anchor, the one thing they clearly have in common is, they want as many people as possible to watch what they do. That's the idea. But there is a little bit of a distinction to be made, you're right, just in terms of celebrity.
You were at CBS for a long time. At the end, you had a job that, because of Couric's celebrity, put you under a microscope.
I have tremendous affection and respect for Katie and for Sean McManus [president, CBS News and CBS Sports] and all of my colleagues at CBS News. I worked there almost 25 years. I'm very proud of my time at the Evening News. What we were trying to do was take a broadcast that had a tremendous tradition and draw as many new people to that venerable broadcast as we could. That's a really worthy goal. We didn't execute it nearly as well as I wish we had. But we also didn't screw it up the way some people seem to think we did.
What do you think of the job new Executive Producer Rick Kaplan is doing?
I think it's a good broadcast and one that I believe will find an ever larger audience. But I've made it a point not to comment about the specifics of anything he's doing. He's got enough armchair quarterbacks. He doesn't need another one.