In an interview with The Carroll News, “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd talked about the show’s recent transition period, the challenges involved, the future of Sunday morning political talk shows and offered advice for aspiring political journalists.
The Carroll News: Around the time when you first joined the “Meet the Press” team, the show had dropped in viewership and ratings, and was behind “Face the Nation” and “This Week.” Since you became host, the show went through a lot of transitions, and the team was able to score some of its best ratings. What do you attribute this success to?
Chuck Todd: I’m not counting any chickens, number one.
One of the good things that my boss reminded me of was that Tim Russert was in third place for three or four years before he ascended to number one, so I think they have some patience. I’m pleasantly surprised that we’re already in the game. I say that because it wasn’t a radical format change, but there have been some noticeable changes and sometimes I think that can take the audience a while to get used to. We’re at a place right now [where we’re] hoping to be at in 2016, around the presidential elections. I would hope to stay consistent, and I hope that the ratings match the editorial – that’s the goal, you feel like you’re putting out editorial for an interesting show, and you just want ratings to follow. And so, I still have 2016 as the real goal of having the consistency of where we want the ratings.
CN: What were the biggest challenges you faced during this transition?
CT: I think there’s a couple. Nobody likes to be a story. We’re journalists. We’re here to cover another story – we don’t want to be part of the story. So, it’s no fun being a story. So, that’s a challenge.
Another is that the most surprising thing from doing a daily one hour show to doing a weekly one hour show is that it’s harder to do a weekly one hour show than it is to do a daily one hour show. You would think that that wouldn’t be the case. For a daily show, you can ride the news cycle every day. Part of it is that’s what I’ve done my whole career. Also, I sort of look at it as football versus baseball. Football is once a week, and if something doesn’t go well that Sunday or that Saturday, it eats at you for a week. With baseball or basketball, that next game’s the next day. With a daily show, the next show’s the next day. You get right back at it. And then with a weekly show, you want to look forward as much as you look back. And so, it’s like in writing. A 500-word story is much harder to do than a 1,500-word story. It’s harder to write short than it is to write long. It’s the same thing with a weekly show. It’s hard to get everything within an hour and do it without rushing, or looking like you’re being comprehensive.
And booking. I spend an inordinate amount of time on booking. I wish that weren’t the case. You know, you would want to spend more of your time on reporting. And that’s something I’m still getting used to.
CN: How do you envision the future of Sunday morning political talk shows?
CT: I think they’ll always have a place. When it comes to “Meet the Press,” my challenge is to make sure I’m where everyone’s getting their news. One of the other reasons why they hired me was because I do have more experience in daily news, and more of a comfort level with new technology. My job is to get “Meet the Press” in front of people any day of the week. Eventually, they’ll still look to the Sunday morning program as sort of the showcase for the big interviews. Our showcase for the best stuff that we think belongs on the one-hour show. It’s interesting because your Sunday morning viewers are so much different than your weekday morning news viewer. A weekday morning news program is a disruptive enterprise. Meaning you’re in the middle of getting ready for work or getting the kids ready for school, and the TV is sort of on in the background. To get your attention, the TV has to say, “Hey, look at me!” On Sunday morning, you’ve chosen to view the show. You’re sitting back, you’ve poured your cup of coffee, you may have your tablet in front of you, you may be reading and watching at the same time – but you’ve made that decision to have it on, and there’s fewer distractions around you. We’re not going to change our Sunday morning habits. Sunday morning is sort of a day to rest, relax and recharge, and I think Sunday morning television helps that.
CN: What’s your biggest piece of advice for aspiring political journalists?
CT: Don’t major in journalism. I think journalism is a trade that you learn. And if you want to learn how to cover politics, you want an educational background that’s in history, religion and economics. You have those tools, and you can understand and cover American politics. I was a political science major, and I only did two electives in economics. In hindsight, I wish I had triple the amount of economics. Those couple of classes were more helpful to me than I realized at the time. I’m a huge proponent of a religious education. I feel like it gets caught up in our politics and culture sometimes, but the fact that religion is the basis for so many wars, for so many political disputes that we have that are domestic or international, you have to understand it. It’s not a spiritual education – it’s truly about an academic education. The journalism part is the trade. You learn that by apprenticing, by interning, by working at your college newspaper. Work at your college newspaper, but major in history or economics.
– Interview by Alexandra Higl