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Accolades galore for Jim Lehrer as he opts to exit 'PBS NewsHour'

Veteran newsman Jim Lehrer will relinquish the anchor's chair at 'PBS NewsHour' on June 6. Media analysts credit him for the newscast's 'fact-based,' 'well-reasoned,' and 'civilized' approach.

By Staff writer / May 12, 2011

In a Sept. 26, 2008 file photo, moderator Jim Lehrer discusses the rules of the debate with the audience prior to the start of the presidential debate, at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, Miss. Lehrer said Thursday, May 12, that he is retiring as a regular anchor of 'PBS NewsHour' broadcast after 36 years.

Ron Edmonds/AP/File

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The announcement that veteran PBS newsman Jim Lehrer is calling it quits – sort of, eventually – touched off a wave of appreciation for his unprecedented 36 years at "PBS NewsHour" and provided media prognosticators another opportunity to wonder about the future of TV journalism.

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The nightly "NewsHour," which Mr. Lehrer anchors, will continue after his June 6 departure. Indeed, Lehrer will return to moderate the program's Friday news analysis segments.

Lehrer may not be quite the household name that, say, news anchor Walter Cronkhite was during his day at CBS, but he perhaps has come the closest. Though the audience for "NewsHour" is smaller than for other network TV evening newscasts, Lehrer longevity at PBS and his role as a moderator of 11 presidential debates make him familiar to American TV viewers.

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“Lehrer's main legacy to the American news culture will be the many presidential debates he moderated," suggests Jeff McCall, media professor at DePauw University in Indiana, in an e-mail. "His selection as the moderator for so many of these important political events signifies that both parties considered him a reasonable and dedicated professional journalist – not a pretty-boy TV anchor looking to boost his career or spark sensational side shows.”

Neil Foote, who began his career as a summer intern for public television's "The MacNeil/Lehrer Report" back in 1980, says "NewsHour" is not "the most exciting news program on the air." But Mr. Foote, now a senior lecturer at the University of North Texas’s Frank W. and Sue Mayborn School of Journalism, says "it is a hundred times more solidly informative and with more credibility than anything happening on cable.” And he credits Lehrer for that.

"What is it that Jim does so well? He provides a fact-based, well-reasoned approach to news and events from around the world,” says Foote.

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