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The Pope

Covering a Once-Every-600-Years Story

Unprecedented in modern times, the Papal departure was covered by a thoroughly modern media. From the complex (multiple live cameras and locations) to the simple (Twitter.)

As Pope Benedict XVI began his final day as the leader of the Roman Catholic church, the broadcast networks produced special reports early this morning, while the cablers went into rolling coverage for much of the morning. CBS broke in for their special report at 10:44amET as Benedict departed for the final time. ABC and NBC followed at 10:53 and FOX at 11:02am. Vatican TV provided a multi-camera, multi-vehicle production which was carried by all the networks. From the Papal residence, through the Hills of Rome to an awaiting helicopter, and the short flight to Castel Gandolfo, cameras followed, anchors commented, priests analyzed. As Norah O’Donnell explained on CBS, “19 high definition cameras carefully choreographed so that we can see this historic moment.”

On cable news, we saw the pairing of Chris Cuomo and Erin Burnett, perhaps a sign of things to come for CNN mornings. (As the Papal departure was unfolding, Jeff Zucker was introducing the new EP of the morning show, veteran producer Jim Murphy). On MSNBC, the news fell in Chris Jansing‘s hour. A veteran of Papal coverage, Jansing will return to Rome for the Conclave. Fox News had Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum anchoring in New York while Fr. Jonathan Morris, who has been with Fox since shortly after Benedict became Pope, gave analysis from Rome.

By 11:50am, the broadcast networks had returned to regular programming and by Noon the cable networks moved on to the other news of the day.

And as he was being driven away from the Vatican for the final time, a Tweet was sent from @pontifex, the Pope’s Twitter account:

Pope Benedict Coverage: NBC

Savannah Guthrie will be live from Rome tomorrow morning for NBC’s coverage of Pope Benedict’s final day as head of the Roman Catholic church. Guthrie will anchor special reports at 5amET and 6amET before co-anchoring “Today” from Rome and another 45-minute special beginning at 10:45amET.

NBC News’ anchors and correspondents, including Richard Engel, Anne Thompson, Claudio Lavanga and NBC News Vatican consultant George Weigel, have been on the ground covering Pope Benedict XVI’s final days.

Before the Smoke Clears, Covering the Conclave

In the best of times, covering the election of a new Pope is no picnic. When it follows the first Papal resignation in nearly 600 years, you might need a few ‘Hail Mary’s.’

“There are so many moving parts to the story, you can’t really cover it all,” says CBS’s Allen Pizzey, based in Rome since 1989. “Access is limited, and the Vatican is a very secretive organization.”

Says NBC/MSNBC’s Chris Jansing: “It’s not like we know that Obama or Romney is going to be elected. It all happens behind closed doors. This is a complicated organization at a very complicated time, when many are calling for change.”

Pizzey, 66, a “non-religious” Anglican from Canada, and Jansing, 56, a devout Catholic from Ohio, were both shocked when Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he would step down Feb. 28, citing ill health. Pizzey and Jansing had covered his election in 2005.

“Never a dull moment in the Roman Catholic Church,” Jansing says. “The idea of a Pope resigning was stunning. Popes don’t resign. It used to be they got sick, and it didn’t take very long before they died.. .. This represents a sea change in the way we view the office.”

In retrospect, Pizzey says, “the signs were there, but we didn’t read the symbolism the way we should have.” Based on the information he has since gathered, the Pope “decided some time ago that if he couldn’t do the job the way it should be done, he didn’t want to do it.”

Pizzey labels the decision as “a lesson for a lot of CEOs.”

Adding to the story’s difficulty factor, neither Pizzey nor Jansing covers the Vatican as a full-time beat. He travels to hot spots throughout the world; she anchors her own weekday show on MSNBC and reports for NBC News.

Part-time Pope-ologists “will never infiltrate the machinations of the Vatican,” Pizzey explains. He gets intel from European journalists on full-time Vatican duty. “It’s a relatively collegial atmosphere,” he says. “Not like something you’d experience in the States.”

By church canon, the conclave to elect the next Pope is supposed to begin March 15 in Rome. Given that Benedict is still living, however, it may start earlier, according to the Vatican. A total of 117 cardinals from around the world will gather.

To Jansing, a lifelong Catholic, the Vatican holds special significance. (Her first visit “was extremely emotional,” she recalls.) In 2004, she arranged for her mother and her sister, who was

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Who’s Going to Rome to Cover the Pope?

Fox News’s Shepard Smith will soon be on his way to Rome, reporting from the Vatican on the resignation of Benedict XVI and upcoming Conclave and election. Senior Foreign Affairs Correspondent Greg Palkot will be there tomorrow while Amy Kellogg should be on the ground by this afternoon. Smith, Palkot and Kellogg all covered the death of Pope John Paul II and election of Benedict in 2005.

NBC News correspondent/MSNBC anchor Chris Jansing, who also covered the last Papal transition will be leaving this afternoon for several days of reporting/anchoring and will also cover the election of the next pope. In a Media Beat interview, Jansing told us covering the death of John Paul II and election of Benedict was the most fulfilling assignment of her career: “It was just an extraordinary global event and also had some personal meaning to me.” Jansing will join NBC Rome correspondent Claudio Lavagna already on scene. Richard Engel will also report.

CBS has Allen Pizzey in Rome and London correspondent Mark Phillips will be joining him.

“GMA” Weekend Anchor Dan Harris, along with David Wright, Jeffrey Kofman, and Nick Schifrin will be reporting from the Vatican. Wright covered the 2005 transition. ABC’s Cokie Roberts, whose mother served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, will provide a historical perspective.

CNN’s Rome-based correspondent Ben Wedeman will cover and will be joined by Jim Bitterman, Max Foster and Jose Levy for CNN en Español are all en route.

Greg Burke: TV News’ Man In The Vatican

TV news correspondents, anchors and producers are booking their tickets for Rome, planning around the clock coverage of the election of the next Pope as the Cardinals gather for Conclave. This time, however, one of their own is on the Vatican side of things.

Greg Burke, who until last Summer was Fox News Channel’s Rome-based correspondent, is now working in the communications department of the Vatican. “You’re always going to have some news out of the Vatican,” Burke told TVNewser last year. He wasn’t kidding.

Burke made the TV news rounds this morning, calling in to talk to his old colleagues at “Fox & Friends,” as well as “‘CBS This Morning” and NBC’s “Today.” Expect to see and hear him quite a bit on U.S. TV over the next few months.

After the jump, a video interview TVNewser conducted with Burke, where he talks about his love of Italy and Rome.
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Papal Aides, Media, Everyone But God Caught Off Guard By Pope Benedict XVI Resignation

The news of Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation caught even his closest aides off guard leaving the world media scrambling to confirm the news. The Pope announced in a meeting of Vatican Cardinals today, “After having repeatedly examining my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.” The pope will resign Feb. 28.

CNN went with the news at 6am as “Early Start” went on the air. John Berman and Zoraida Sambolin reported the news confirming with CNN sources in Vatican City. HLN’s Robin Meade reported the news at 6:01 as did “Fox & Friends,” citing “a wire service.”

MSNBC was hesitant to report the news at first but then at 6:04 Joe Scarborough reported the Reuters flash: “We weren’t sure whether we were going to go with [this] or not because Reuters has gotten some information wrong before on the pope. Mika, why don’t you confirm.”

“Pope Benedict is going to be stepping down as head of the Catholic church,” said Brzezinski.

The broadcast networks all produced special reports in the 6am hour. NBC’s Claudio Lavagna and CBS’s Allen Pizzey reported from their networks’ Rome bureaus by the 7am start of the morning shows. “Good Morning America” did not have a correspondent in Italy, but spoke to an American priest in Rome.

Network Plans for Pope John Paul II Beatification

While the U.S. networks have big plans for next Friday’s royal wedding (or hadn’t you heard), a mere 48 hours and 1,100 miles away in Vatican City another big event will unfold: the beatification of Pope John Paul II. Beatification is the first step to Sainthood.

  • FNC will carry the Beatification Mass beginning at 4amET Sunday, May 1. Jamie Colby and Eric Shawn will anchor the Mass from New York while religion correspondent Lauren Green will report from Vatican City. Rome-based correspondent Greg Burke will report and FNC analyst Father Jonathan Morris makes a return to Rome to contribute.
  • MSNBC’s Chris Jansing who will be covering the royal wedding, travels from London to Rome Saturday morning and will begin appearing on MSNBC Saturday. Jansing will anchor live coverage of the Beatification Mass beginning at 4amET. She’ll be joined NBC’s Vatican analyst and author George Weigel and Vatican Art Historian Liz Lev. Jansing covered the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI in 2005.
  • CNN/U.S. and CNNI will broadcast the Mass Sunday with Jon Mann anchoring. Jim Bitterman will be the correspondent at the Vatican and author John Allen will provide analysis. CNN en Espanol will cover with Jose Levy.
  • ABC’s David Wright is the correspondent for TV and other platforms. ABCNews.com will live stream the Mass with ABC News San Francisco-based producer Ariane Nalty reporting. (Interesting note: Nalty’s brother is Monsignor Christopher Nalty who worked at the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy. Ariane’s father-in-law is Charles Zewe a former correspondent for CNN).

Jansing Back in NYC, Covering Papal Visit

JansingMSNBC_4.20.jpgNBC’s Chris Jansing is back at MSNBC headquarters anchoring coverage of the Papal visit of Benedict XVI. Jansing began anchoring at 1pmET today, leading up to the mass at Yankee Stadium. Jansing covered the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Pope Benedict XVI three years ago this week. (full disclosure: I was with Jansing for five weeks in Rome, when we both worked for MSNBC).

Earlier this year, Jansing moved west to report for NBC News based out of the Los Angeles bureau.

Pope: Black Or White Smoke?

blacksmoke.jpgFor a while around noon, no one knew if the smoke was black or white. An e-mailer said CNN had an especially difficult time: “CNN repeatedly reported that the smoke from the chimney was black and there was no new Pope. While everyone seemed unclear on the color, because it was confusing, CNN seemed determined that it was not going to change color…I know it was a confusing time, but don’t you think they’d handle it better?” Also:

> What’s Happening At CNN: “A CNN source describes the naming of the new Pope as ‘mass confusion’ as it was apparent news organizations were having difficulty determining what color the smoke was.”

> B&C: “Fox, which called the Pope’s death prematurely, waited until the confirming bell began to ring before posting the ‘We have a Pope!’ graphic.”

Pope: Network Return To Soap Operas



> The visuals from St. Peter’s Square are outstanding. Who cares if it’s a free commercial for the Catholic church?

> FNC has cut the crawl and changed its chyron title to “Habemus Papam!”

> On NBC, Brian Williams acknowledged several times that he was anchoring the special report from makeshift studios in Oklahoma City — the NBC affiliate KFOR — while covering the 10th anniversary of the bombing.

> NBC was the first network to return to local programming, at 1:06pm. ABC signed off at 1:13pm. “For Peter Jennings and all of us at ABC News, I’m Charlie Gibson. Good day.” CBS “network coverage will end at 1:28:51pmET,” Newspath says.

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