Journalist Q&A: Ray Suarez, 'The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer'

Ray Suarez has spent three-plus decades in journalism, with stints at NPR and CNN prior to 'The NewsHour.'

Journalist Q&A: Ray Suarez, 'The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer'

Name: Ray Suarez
Title: senior correspondent
Outlet: The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
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Ray Suarez has spent three-plus decades in journalism, with stints at NPR and CNN prior to The NewsHour. He speaks with Frank Washkuch about healthcare, the economy, and other topics he anticipates covering during the upcoming year.

Describe what you do at The NewsHour.

Suarez: Taking complex issues and news stories and delivering them in a way that helps people understand what is going on in the world.

Is there anything different about reporting for The NewsHour, as opposed to broadcast or cable TV news?

Suarez: The most apparent difference is the luxury of time - and it is a great luxury. At the networks, taped reports have shrunk to a minute and a half, and sometimes even shorter than that. We are able to take that same story and perhaps do a six-minute taped report and then an interview following that for another six minutes.

That's not to say that every story gets or deserves 12 minutes, but when complex things are happening in the news, we have the luxury of time.

What coverage areas do you specialize in?

Suarez: I'd say I'm a general assignment reporter, which is what I've been most of my career. But I am doing a series for The NewsHour now on global health. So I've been traveling around the world, taking a look at efforts to combat some of the biggest killers of people on the planet - malaria, tuberculosis, HIV and AIDS, doctor shortages in Africa. It's been a great ride.

Healthcare is a dominant issue. What angles are you interested in that other outlets aren't?

Suarez: We've had a chance to both have and hold debates on The NewsHour, as well as to interview health economics experts. We are doing it in greater depth and using the time we have to explain what's different about the way we acquire healthcare from the other things we buy.

As consumers, we'd want to know whether we can get a station wagon cheaply, but we wouldn't necessarily call a hospital and ask for their cheapest surgeon if we needed surgery.

Healthcare is a commodity and is a very different animal. I think we've done a good job explaining the tension between the public's desire to not have healthcare be so expensive and its desire not to give up anything that they already have.

You've been at The NewsHour since October 1999. What do all of the technology changes in media mean for you?

Suarez: We can transfer video around the globe, sometimes without even having to hire a satellite. You can do it over the Internet. It has meant that there are new and exciting opportunities in getting inventory from place to place.

There's also a learning curve for all of us. We are trying to learn how to go faster and better take advantage of these wonderful new machines.

Are you interacting with the public more often by using social media?

Suarez: Sure. The expansion of the size of the audience of the Online NewsHour, which is a big part of our operation now, has given me the opportunity to do reporter's notebooks, slideshows, discussions, and previews of reporting I'm doing on the TV program. It also opens up a new front to talk to the audience about what I'm doing for the TV show.

What are you looking forward to in terms of digital development?

Suarez: During the conventions, I was working with the Online NewsHour team to do a lot of online-only material. This opened up a new way of thinking about what we do and how we do it for The NewsHour.

The idea is that The NewsHour is not just a static product that can be only consumed in one hour. It runs around the clock. It is forcing us to play our resources in different ways and think about the things we gather in different ways.

In the old days, you would get a really hard interview and put it on the TV show because that was your strong punch. If you did the interview at 10am, you'd let eight or nine hours elapse until you put it on air. You'd let that audience see it first and then think about how it might have a future life online.

Now we are starting to think about ourselves in a different way, and maybe putting that interview up right when we get it because we don't see one as picking the pocket of the other.

What other issues do you expect to cover in the next six months?

Suarez: Along with my continuing work on global health, I will report from the climate conference in Copenhagen in December as they try to devise a successor to the Kyoto Treaty, one the US can sign on to.

In the years since Kyoto, there has been more movement, research, and people ready to think seriously about a policy response to climate change. Maybe in Copenhagen they will get not only the US, but those two big players of the future, China and India, to agree on a way to take this issue seriously.

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