'CBS Evening News' Gets a Revamp: Norah O'Donnell Talks Her New Anchor Gig

Ileane Rudolph
Q&A Clarke L. Smith/CBS

It may seem like most people get their news from the internet, but 23 million Americans still tune in to the broadcast evening news shows each night. So there are a lot of viewers at stake when one of them hires a new anchor.

Third-place CBS Evening News recently did just that, tapping CBS This Morning cohost and 60 Minutes correspondent Norah O’Donnell to help make the broadcast more competitive. Her new gig makes her only the third woman to solo anchor a nightly news show, following CBS’s Katie Couric and ABC’s Diane Sawyer. “I’m honored and humbled by the responsibility,” says the veteran newscaster, who served as a national correspondent and weekend anchor for NBC and MSNBC for a dozen years before moving to CBS in 2011. “It’s this incredibly important time in journalism. Truth and facts matter now more than ever.”

O’Donnell begins her new assignment on Monday, July 15, with multiple shows dedicated to the moon landing anniversary, including a discussion about the future of space exploration with (below) Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Caroline Kennedy, whose father, President John F. Kennedy, initiated the space race. O’Donnell gives us the scoop.

Norah O'Donnell, Jeff Bezos, and Caroline Kennedy (CBS Evening News)

You’re taking over the anchor chair once held by Walter Cronkite at a time when CBS is lagging in the ratings. How are you planning to win back viewers?

Norah O'Donnell: We all carry smartphones and have the headlines by 6:30pm, so the show has to, and will, provide context, depth and clarity. [CBSN and CBS All Access will stream each episode nightly at 10/9c.] We’re doubling down on investigations, on breaking news and [landing] the biggest interviews from around the world. My vision is that we’ll win by having the most trusted broadcast in America, delivering what you need to be an informed citizen. I want this to be appointment television. And the news won’t be boring. I don’t do boring.

In addition to your new role, Gayle King was promoted to lead anchor on CBS This Morning, and the network has its first female president of news, Susan Zirinsky. Is any lingering bias against newswomen in authoritative roles finally dead?

Yes! It’s a new era in journalism and at CBS News. All three broadcast morning shows are run by women, and Evening News is run by two women of color. Zirinsky is a transformative leader, and she’s instituted a new culture of care, compassion and winning.

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In November, the show is moving from New York City to Washington, D.C. Why?

Moving the broadcast to Washington allows us to cover this 2020 election like no other election in our lifetime. Every major issue has a nexus with Washington, whether it’s healthcare, climate change or agricultural prices. In my heart, I’m a reporter, and I’d like to be able to walk the halls of Congress and bump into people and find out what’s going on.

In a divided political climate, millions of people believe mainstream news is fake anti-Trump propaganda. How can you reach those skeptics?

You don’t hear the president calling CBS News fake news. When I was named coanchor of CBS This Morning, I went to Washington to say hello to the president and meet with members of the White House. Our job as journalists is not to judge; it’s to listen, and that’s been my hallmark. Truth and civility in journalism are under attack. We have to rise to the occasion in terms of being a respected news organization. That’s what sets us apart.

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What will you miss about working with the CBS This Morning team and what are you personally looking forward to?

I’ll miss getting ready with Gayle at 5 a.m. in the makeup room, swapping stories about what’s in the paper and what happened the night before. Being able to make my kids [twins Grace and Henry, 12, and Riley, 11] breakfast is what I’m really looking forward to—in addition to the professional work.

CBS Evening News With Norah O'Donnell, Premiere, Monday, July 15, 6:30 pm ET, CBS