Nachman the niche-maker

News veteran sets out to find a place for MSNBC between CNN and Fox News

Don't call MSNBC "America's NewsChannel" or "fiercely independent" around Jerry Nachman. The channel's new editor-in-chief isn't interested in MSNBC's latest rebranding campaign.

"I'm not going to work for a slogan," said Nachman, a New York media vet who has been editor-in-chief at Rupert Murdoch's feisty New York Post
and ran WNBC(TV) and WCBS-TV New York.

Nachman aims to make MSNBC more "smart, spontaneous and thoughtful" and is eyeing NBC's broadcast talent. He signed on last week as MSNBC's top editor and vice president, a new position, and he'll anchor a weekday afternoon show.

He compares the current cable news war—in which Fox News dismissed MSNBC as "irrelevant" and CNN lashed out at MSNBC's use of its international footage—to the news-radio business. CNN, the "grandfather" in Nachman's view, is the all-news format, while Fox News Channel's the upstart news-talk alternative.

Exactly where MSNBC fits, he isn't sure.

"We've been outflanked, for sure. But there's a huge middle ground out there that seems unoccupied," said Nachman, whose radio credits include general manager for WRC(AM) (now WWRC[AM]) Washington, formerly owned by NBC, and reporter for WCBS(AM) New York.

He believes MSNBC needs to strengthen its authenticity. He admires Fox News star Bill O'Reilly because he repels the traditional television template. "He's successful because he's being himself," Nachman said. "Give Fox credit, they let people do what they are supposed to do."

With MSNBC a distant third to Fox News and CNN, network execs are trying to "turn the aircraft carrier around," said President Erik Sorenson. NBC News officials have recently shown renewed interest in its cable outlet, co-owned by Microsoft.

Phil Donahue joined MSNBC last month to host a soon-to-launch show to compete head to head with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and then CNN's Connie Chung.

Nachman's appointment was expected after Donahue arrived. "He'll have responsibility without the administrative headaches," Sorenson said, noting that Nachman should give MSNBC an editorial rudder: "What is the angle, the headline? What is our angle on the story?"

Sorenson pursued Nachman after seeing him in guest appearances on MSNBC. "We're breaking the rules," Nachman warned. "A good guest does not necessarily make you a good host."

Nachman's own afternoon show, slated for a summer launch, will be a news-analysis program. He returns to New York after five years in Los Angeles, where he was a staff writer for NBC's canceled UC: Undercover
and executive producer of Politically Incorrect With Bill Maher
during the 2000 election season.