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CBS's Scott Pelley anchors his first political convention in prime time at RNC

TAMPA — Outside, the talk of the moment centers on Hurricane Isaac hitting the Louisiana coast as speakers take the stage at the Republican National Convention.

But on this Wednesday afternoon, three hours before he'll lead the CBS Evening News, anchor Scott Pelley sits in CBS News' makeshift newsroom at the Tampa Convention Center, typing out a story on the anonymous author of a book detailing how the now-retired Navy SEAL participated in the killing of Osama bin Laden.

While everyone else considers the optics of politics and weather, Pelley is focused on how to introduce a sliver of an interview with that author — a talk planned as a major exclusive for 60 Minutes next month that the anchor will reveal a bit of in advance, in part because the Associated Press has broken a story on the book's content.

"The thing I'm learning about this managing editor job is you have to get used to juggling multiple stories at once," said Pelley, taking a bite of a salad before rushing off to record promotional spots for Tampa CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10 and his own network before preparation begins in earnest for the 6:30 p.m. newscast.

Viewers likely didn't notice while watching CBS's primetime coverage of the RNC on Tuesday, but that night marked Pelley's first time covering a political convention as a news anchor.

Pelley, 55, hadn't ever worked before as a news anchor when he took over the top job at CBS in June 2011, replacing Katie Couric as lead anchor and managing editor of the program. On his watch, the program has emphasized its hard news roots, playing to Pelley's four-decade career as a street reporter.

On Tuesday, he led a tight broadcast, with little time for analysis alongside co-anchor/wingman Bob Schieffer, as headliner speakers Ann Romney and Chris Christie filled most of the 10 o'clock hour with their speeches, coordinated with the kind of onstage precision most rock bands would envy.

"What struck me was how little time we had to do the things we aspired to do," Pelley said a day later. "We had been working for weeks, (assembling) interviews with people who lost their homes … to take the audience outside the convention and listen to the voices of average Americans. But Mrs. Romney and Mr. Christie filled up all the time."

Some journalism experts have said that was exactly the point – to stage-manage the primetime speeches so tightly that TV newscasts have little time to interpret or analyze one message before the next one comes along.

And on Tuesday, so much of that coverage happened in another venue: online.

Like their rival broadcast networks, CBS is broadcasting only three hours of RNC coverage in prime time — one hour each night. But Pelley and his crew actually begin their coverage at 8:30 p.m., streaming the footage of CBS.com before and after the prime time window. (On Tuesday, they finished up just after 11:30 p.m.)

Pelley insists he is energized by the extra platforms. "You can just have hours of great material and the heartbreaking thing about journalism are the things you have to leave out," he said.

"The thing about the Internet is that a lot of that great content, which would have been shipped off to a warehouse in New Jersey, is now actually getting out in public."

CBS's Scott Pelley anchors his first political convention in prime time at RNC 08/29/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 10:45pm]
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