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News Reports for Ultra-Short Attentions

Mr. Smith, let it be known, does not like verbs. Whenever he finds one, he crinkles his brow in disgust like a man who has discovered a dribble of food on his tie. He taps furiously at his keyboard, moves the cursor to the offending word and deletes it, or else adds "ing," turning the verb into a participle and his script into the strange shorthand that passes for English these days on cable news:

"Amazon.com celebrating a birthday! The Internet company 10 years old."

"Texas! A school bus and two other vehicles colliding in Dallas. The bus rolling over on its side."

"We don't communicate in full sentences anyway," Shepard Smith said as he continued working through his script. "We don't need all those words. And it allows us to go faster."

Jay Wallace, Mr. Smith's producer, said he wants Fox News Channel's "Fox Report" program to seem perpetually as if it might veer out of control. "I want it to be like a train that's about to come off the tracks," he likes to say.
ON YOUR MARK, GET SET. . . Shepard Smith prepares.
ON YOUR MARK, GET SET. . . Shepard Smith prepares.
THE CALM BEFORE THE NEWS Shepard Smith on the set of the Fox Report.
THE CALM BEFORE THE NEWS Shepard Smith on the set of the Fox Report.
News Reports for Ultra-Short Attentions

By WARREN ST. JOHN

Published: March 28, 2004

At 5:30 p.m. last Monday, Shepard Smith, the 40-year-old host of Fox News Channel's "Fox Report," was hunched over his computer in the company's bustling Midtown headquarters, poring over the script for his evening broadcast, and searching for verbs. Mr. Smith, let it be known, does not like verbs. Whenever he finds one, he crinkles his brow in disgust like a man who has discovered a dribble of food on his tie. He taps furiously at his keyboard, moves the cursor to the offending word and deletes it, or else adds "ing," turning the verb into a participle and his script into the strange shorthand that passes for English these days on cable news:

"Amazon.com celebrating a birthday! The Internet company 10 years old."

"Texas! A school bus and two other vehicles colliding in Dallas. The bus rolling over on its side."

"Outrage in the Middle East! A vow of revenge after an assassination and reportedly threatening the United States. Tonight how real the threat?"

Shepard Smith! Explaining to a reporter, why not the verbs?

"We don't communicate in full sentences anyway," Mr. Smith said as he continued working through his script. "We don't need all those words. And it allows us to go faster."

Mr. Smith is all about speed. He typically blasts through 80 or so items of news during his hourlong broadcast, which, with its zooming cameras, swooshing sound effects and Mr. Smith's jokey, frat-boy delivery, acquired while he was a student at Ole Miss, resembles a broadcast of ESPN's "SportsCenter" more closely than it does "NBC Nightly News." He seldom does interviews on his program, fearful that slow-talking guests might gum up the works, and dispatches from correspondents are always ad-libbed, for freshness. During commercials, Mr. Smith obsessively scours news sites on his laptop, looking for any breaking nugget. Jay Wallace, Mr. Smith's producer, said he wants the program to seem perpetually as if it might veer out of control. "I want it to be like a train that's about to come off the tracks," he likes to say.

That formula has been working for Mr. Smith and for the Fox News Channel in a big way. Mr. Smith goes head to head at 7 p.m. with the CNN host Anderson Cooper, the shy-seeming, salt-and-pepper-haired son of Gloria Vanderbilt, who has become something of a news media darling in New York recently, and trounces him. Mr. Smith's "Fox Report" regularly pulls in around 1.5 million viewers, three times as many as Mr. Cooper who does interviews and speaks in full sentences, complete with verbs. Occasionally Mr. Smith has more viewers than all other cable news programs in his time slot combined, including "Hardball" with Chris Matthews on MSNBC and CNBC's "Capital Report." This week, Mr. Cooper's executive producer, Jim Miller, resigned, furthering media speculation that Mr. Smith's competition was uncertain about how to match him.

Jonathan Klein, a former CBS News executive vice president, said that Mr. Smith was winning the ratings battle so convincingly over Mr. Cooper, his main rival, because he was formatting his program for a younger audience used to getting its information on the Web. "They're very used to ducking online between e-mails and calls, and getting news in a very souped-up way that regards quick bursts of new information over fairly familiar stories," he said. "There's a high premium on short and sweet. Shepard Smith seems to embrace that, and Anderson Cooper's show is old-school reflective, chew it over."

Executives and anchors at Fox have never shied away from the chance to take a dig at their competition, and Mr. Smith is no different.

"He seems like a good enough guy," Mr. Smith said of Mr. Cooper. "But I don't know what they're doing. I don't see them catching up anytime soon." He said it didn't bother him that his competitor seemed to be getting more attention in New York than he did, and said he thought he knew why. "I'm guessing the Vanderbilt family is more interesting to write about than the kid who grew up at 410 North Randolph Street in Holly Springs, Miss.," he said.

Asked about Mr. Smith's comments, Christa Robinson, a spokeswoman for CNN, said that Mr. Cooper's program "is attracting new viewers, and we're confident the audience will continue to grow."

Sandwiched between the right-leaning, opinion-heavy programs "Special Report" with Brit Hume and "The O'Reilly Factor," Mr. Smith stands out at Fox as a political agnostic, at least on the air.

homepage: homepage: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/28/fashion/28SHEP.html

... 28.Mar.2004 11:23

this thing here

i'll take the glacial pace of the lehrer news hour any day to the bluster, fluff and smoke of FOX. besides, i can't stand how plastic and creepy the talking heads look on FOX. anyways, the end result being, i'm more informed and less entertained. in other words, i've gained something over those who watch the same hour of FOX...