Chris Jansing Aims to Spotlight MSNBC’s Hard-News Roots
Chris Jansing is accustomed to doing marathon stints in front of the camera for NBC News and MSNBC. In the aftermath of 9/11, she sometimes found herself reporting or anchoring for seven hours or more. “I lived on tater tots for, I think, two months,” she recalls in a recent interview. “It was the one thing that could fill me up and wouldn’t ruin my lipstick.”
Her latest assignment will require her to be on air only for two hours a day. But it may prove just as challenging.
In an era when cable-news anchoring stints are usually doled out 60 minutes at a time, Jansing is taking on more. The new edition of her “Chris Jansing Reports” at 1 p.m. expands to two hours, and her widening territory comes as MSNBC’s identity is increasingly tied up with a growing spate of opinion and “news perspective” programs. Her show, she says, isn’t that. “We are going to respect your trust, your interest, your time,” she says. “We are going to give you the top stories of the day, but we are also going to give you something else.”
NBC News anchors like Lester Holt and Savannah Guthrie typically get more scrutiny and spotlight, but Chris Jansing has carved out her own presence. She is often on the roster of anchors who get called on to come in and guide viewers through moments of crisis. She anchored a report in 2020 on the murder of George Floyd that appeared on both NBC and MSNBC simultaneously (and a glitch by NBC that interrupted the broadcast and forced a restart of the portion of the MSNBC broadcast is the stuff of recent viral legend. “Things happen,” says Jansing).
“There has been enormous change at MSNBC over the years, but Chris has been a reliable constant,” says Lester Holt, the “NBC Nightly News” anchor who co-anchored hours of breaking-news coverage alongside Jansing at MSNBC. “There is a lot of talk programming. At its core, MSNBC is still a news channel, and putting Chris on makes an important statement about that.”
Look for Jansing and her producers to, over time, explore new concepts. “We will start to look at, ‘Are there ways we can go that aren’t typical for what gets done every day on MSNBC?’” she says. She hopes her second hour can serve as a home for stories that take viewers beyond the day’s immediate headlines and politicos’ hot talk and get into deeper dives on important topics. She has already pitched NBC’s corps of correspondents on some of the chances her program might provide. “There is an opportunity for us to expand the view of what is news and what’s important for you to know about,” she says.
Her executive producer, Marti Hause, recently led Craig Melvin’s MSNBC hour, which often required the anchor to travel for his duties for NBC’s “Today.” Jansing, who visited Washington during before President Biden’s State of the Union speech and has covered several Olympics and political races, is likely to do the same. “People will be seeing me on the road more often,” says Jansing.
A two-hour stint in today’s cable-news business is often a sign of trust. Jake Tapper, whose presence at CNN has steadily grown since he arrived there in 2013, hosts a two-hour program in the late afternoon. Nicolle Wallace, whose standing at NBC News and MSNBC has expanded since she joined as an analyst in 2015, took on expanded duties in 2020. “One of the advantages I have is that I’ve been here for almost 25 years. I’m a known quantity,” says Jansing. “I hope what people know about me is the time I’ve spent as a straight news person, from the first ten dollars I got paid to cover a city council meeting in Westerville, Ohio, when I was still in college.”
MSNBC may also have strategic reasons for giving Jansing more of the daytime schedule to helm. Rival CNN remains in transition after losing early-afternoon anchor Ana Cabrera and has yet to unveil a new three-anchor format expected to debut in weeks to come. MSNBC is also working to improve its ratings, particularly among viewers between 25 and 54. In 2022, the NBCUniversal-backed network lagged both Fox News Channel and CNN in the category, both in total day and in primetime.
Jansing is known internally as a hard worker who can keep producers on their toes. “She’s the most read-in anchor at NBC. She’s up by 5 a.m. most days and will have full notes to her team about everything by 6 a.m.,” says one person familiar with MSNBC. “It was always a challenge to her executive producers to know something Chris didn’t know.” Jansing agrees with most of the assessment, but also notes she sometimes is up before 5.
For longtime viewers, Jansing may evoke memories of an era when Microsoft owned part of MSNBC, and it was known as America’s NewsChannel and featured anchors like John Siegenthaler and Jodi Applegate. Only Alex Witt, the MSNBC weekend anchor, has the same sort of ties to the network as Jansing.
Her 24 years at MSNBC were preceded by 17 years at Albany’s WNYT. Jansing wasn’t looking to leave when Andy Lack, the two-time leader of NBC’s news operations, asked her to come to New York. “It was a very nice life, and I felt valued, and I felt there was value in what I was doing,” Jansing recalls. Her boss there told her she could always return if circumstances warranted, but Jansing hasn’t had to cash in that offer.
Now she must gain new traction for the network at a moment when doing so is challenging. “I think we are in a time that no one has seen before — the press of news, the hunger for news, but also all the different possibilities people have for finding news,” says Jansing. If she can get people to tune in to her first hour, and stick around for her second, she will have even more reason to extend her MSNBC tenure.
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