For the host of Fox News Channel’s Shepard Smith Reporting, the impressive new command center set, with all parts working in concert, is both old and new. The new is incredible: The extraordinary set is a veritable industry-tech toy shop. The old is memorable: The intimacy of the place harkens back to Smith’s early days in the business. Here, he talks about that and more with Multichannel News news editor Mike Reynolds. An edited transcript follows.
MCN: What was the transition to the new set like?
Shepard Smith: It was hard, because these people were all producing programs while spending many hours a day learning new systems. And it wasn’t a couple of days or a couple of weeks either; it went on for a long time. Nerves were frayed and hours were long.
We have three different main systems that have been combined. Getting them to all work with each other and learning all the idiosyncrasies of each one of them was painstaking and complicated and frustrating. And then it finally all came together, and now it’s great.
MCN: How much of an advantage is it to have everybody in the same room?
SS: It hasn’t been like this since I worked in a tiny newsroom in Panama City, Fla., 24 years ago, where everybody doing the news was in one room. There were fewer of us than this, but we had a really good line of communication with a ticker machine over there and ashtrays in the room. It was a different world. And we’ve come back to that because people working together with computers on the side — not speaking to each other through computers — is just so much better. It’s just better, quicker, smarter.
MCN: Does this become the way of the world for everyone? I’m sure it’s not inexpensive.
SS: This was many, many millions. I think that this could very well be a prototype. I think that others — in fact, I know they have from speaking to people around the country, my friends who are in the business — they are all trying to employ some of the techniques that we use. I don’t know who wouldn’t.
But having the luxury of this many information specialists at your fingertips is not something that most newsrooms are. This does not make money; this costs money, and that’s the reason you’re not going to see it a lot of places.
[Fox News chairman and CEO] Roger [Ailes] knew, as we were beginning discussions on this, much more than a year ago. In the early stages, we would talk for hours about this, and he was very well aware that this would pay for itself in getting it right and in credibility and in news chops.
And it’s extremely important to him. There is no question that this is a lot of money, but in my opinion, people enjoy watching it. But our primary job is to get the news to people. And we have the biggest audience. So when it breaks, they get it.
MCN: Give me a sense of the fervor when all hands are on deck.
SS: Emails and calls start going out, and it all happens very quietly… But I can tell that something’s happening just from the buzz. And then while a guest is talking, I can kind of look over there and fi nd out what’s up. I can look at their BATS and say, “All right, this is coming out of North Dakota and something bad has happened.”
MCN: The newsgathering edge aside, what’s cool about this setup?
SS: There’s always been that “voice of God” person who sits on television and tells you about things. Now they get it, that there are really a lot of people who are doing this. There are only a few us working here, but there are 2,000 of us [at Fox News]. When I look smart, that’s the reason, because I am not.