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Media – January 2020

| January 1, 2020

CBS Channel 2’s Brad Edwards


When Brad Edwards was asked to be the co-anchor of the 5, 6, and 10 pm newscasts on CBS-2 Chicago in March of 2019, he was a little taken aback. Edwards had been a big part of the award-winning CBS investigative team since 2012, and “anchor” was a whole different ballgame. He knew what he wanted to do and what he didn’t want to do.

“Right out of the gate when I got the offer, I asked the boss two questions. First and foremost, I’m still an investigative reporter, right? I’m not going to go to banquets and emcee and shake hands with soon-to-be-indicted public officials, and handle the cocktail circuit, right? He agreed with me.”

If you’ve stumbled onto the newscast with Edwards at the helm, you’ve probably noticed that he isn’t a conventional anchor out of central casting. Ron Burgundy wouldn’t recognize his old job, and there’s a good reason for that.

“I don’t see myself as an anchor,” he says. “I see myself as an investigative reporter, anchoring. Everything is through that scope. During the newscast, I’m watching the stories, thinking of follow-ups, and [considering] different angles. I’m engaged with the reporters throughout the show. It’s a remarkable thing we’re trying to do at CBS-2. We are actually doing some accountability journalism.”

In fact, doing that kind of journalism is the reason why Edwards agreed to take a stab at this star-crossed position.

“Most anchors who came here probably thought they were the answer,” he admits. “The first thing I did was to buy a bottle of scotch to celebrate—didn’t open it—and I updated my LinkedIn profile realizing that well, you know, this thing has a good chance of not working. Am I really the change needed? The chance I have with this, though, is that this really isn’t just an anchor change. You can’t trick people like that. They are too smart and too savvy to be fooled. But if you do an anchor change with an actual dynamic mission change at the same time—maybe you have a shot. It’s going to take some time to change a generation of viewing habits, in combination with a dwindling market share for local news in general.”

And don’t ask him to analyze why things haven’t worked at CBS-2 Chicago for the past twenty years.

“If I knew, we would fix it. The one thing we needed NOT to do was to do the same thing that everyone else was doing. We did that for decades. When you’re not winning, you can’t just try to replicate the winner and think that things are going to change. It would be much easier to do that ‘here’s what happened today’ show. Press conferences. Press releases. Billboards. Previews. We don’t do that. It is really hard, but it’s really good TV when you do it right. So now, we’re not doing what the others are doing, so let’s see how it pans out.”

If Edwards’ trophy case is any indication (he has won over 80 awards for television writing and reporting), he will bring a slightly different approach to the job.

“Anchor is the gig I happen to be doing—although I must say I really like it. I feel like I’m the viewer anchoring. But honestly, that’s the last thing I think about every day. I first and foremost think of myself as the guy holding the microphone, and the microphone is the apparatus of accountability. I want to reconcile inequities and call out corruption. That’s where you start. But if you can’t tell the story in a compelling way, it doesn’t do any good to have that data. You must humanize the story. You need characters. You need compelling storytelling. That’s where my writing background comes in.”

And Edwards feels that CBS-2 might be the perfect place for that if you delve back into the station’s history.

“Channel 2 was the home of this approach back in the day. Bill Kurtis showed that with the Richard Speck tape. People thought Walter Jacobsen was a joke, but that was novel, original groundbreaking reporting. News shouldn’t be political, but it should take sides. I take sides. I’m on the right side, meaning just, meaning the opposite of wrong.”

He couldn’t believe what he found in Chicago city government when he first arrived in town.

“I said, let me get this straight. You’re telling me that Ed Burke is the finance guy and his job is to get as much money in taxes from the people as possible, but at the same time his side hustle is getting giant business clients so they can get breaks from taxes, and he’s allowed to do that? And people were like, that’s just how it is. I said, um, shouldn’t we be taking a stance on that? I’m glad to see Chicago is beginning to do that. Look at the last election, when “the machine” was beaten by this diminutive lesbian from Ohio. Chicago is ready for a change.”

But are they ready for a change in the traditional news anchor?

“Part of me is holding on to the fact that no matter what happens, we still have the greatest investigative unit—Pam Zekman, Dave Savini, et al. If it doesn’t work out for me as an anchor, maybe I can slide back into that unit. I’d be perfectly happy there.”

-Rick Kaempfer

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