CBS’s ‘On The Dot’ Makes Climate A Vehicle For Newscast Change

On the Dot with David Schechter, a new reporting brand from the CBS Local News Innovation Lab, aims to shake up the O&O’s local newscasts with longer-form, cinematically shot deep dives on climate change.

If David Schechter has his way, reporters at CBS’s owned television stations across the country are about to get a lot more of what he calls “climate confidence.” So, too, are viewers.

The host of On the Dot with David Schechter, a new reporting franchise out of the group’s Fort Worth, Texas-based CBS Local News Innovation Lab, is a DuPont Award-winning environmental reporter, but he once felt a total lack of confidence when reporting on the enormity of climate change.

“I really didn’t have any when I started, and I knew if I was going to do it, I had to at least understand the basics,” Schechter says. “Now it has changed the course of my career.”

He’s hoping that with On the Dot (which takes its name from Earth as a tiny blue dot seen from space’s vastness) his own well-honed process of distilling complex environmental phenomena into briskly paced, cinematically shot explainers has an infectious effect on his colleagues across CBS’s local newsrooms. “Our objective is that climate is not just a big, expansive story that we are doing, but it is also a daily news story,” he says. Thus, a local CBS reporter should feel comfortable tackling a climate story even on a day-turn basis, pitching a piece at 9:30 in the morning and seeing it on the air by 5.

He wants audiences to share that same sense of accessibility, using On the Dot’s stories to help them to make better voting and lifestyle decisions based on a clearer understanding of how climate change is intersecting their lives.

And along the way, Schechter and his boss, Chad Cross, VP of content development for CBS Stations, see these stories as a vehicle for change inside daily newscasts, breaking up the drumbeat of minute-and-a-half stories with longer-form pieces that challenge typical pacing and invite more cross-group collaboration.


The first of these pieces, which aired this week across CBS stations’ evening newscasts, was a look at carbon dioxide’s formative power on climate. It clocked in at over nine minutes.

“When you see that CBS stations are investing precious real estate, this is a statement that we are going to make a commitment, that this topic is important,” Cross says. “You can’t get in depth in a minute-thirty. We hope that this is something that differentiates the newscast from everyone else in the market.”

Carbon Dioxide: The Invisible Problem, unfolds in a three-act structure, starting at a scientific observation station atop a Hawaiian volcano, shifting to the streets of Oakland, Calif., to measure just how thickly it pervades everyday life and ending in a California lab where a climatologist explains the greenhouse effect.

Schechter says the first story roughly lays out the template for those that will follow. “We don’t want you to be in one place too long,” he says, noting he plans to treat each story like a road trip. “This is a good model for providing a lot of information, but also keeping the story moving, keeping people entertained.”

It’s an approach Schechter developed at his last gig as host of Tegna’s Verify Road Trip out of WFAA in Dallas, where his past stories still have a long-tail viewership on YouTube.

That long tail partly justifies On the Dot stories’ relatively long incubation. Shooting for the carbon dioxide piece began in September, and Schechter says he’s currently developing about half a dozen stories for rollout over the coming weeks and months. Each of them aligns with severe weather events being experienced in CBS’s markets, opening a door for locally reported pieces to connect.

The stories’ long incubation is also down to the immersive research that goes into each piece.

“David does an incredible amount of research and development for each story,” Cross says. “It’s not like he just chooses the first expert on whatever topic. He vets them thoroughly and contemplates all of the different elements that will be in each story.”

For those elements, senior photojournalist and producer Chance Horner is Schechter’s key collaborator. Horner shoots primarily on a Sony FS 9 but also uses a Sony a7 DSLR, both of which have full-frame sensors. He also uses a DJI for action shots, a DJI Mavic 3 drone for aerial work and travels with a Litepanel Astra Bi-color 1×1 and a Lume Cube Panel Pro. “He’s very gifted with the light in natural settings,” Schechter says.

The pair generally veer away from artifice, which sometimes means Horner finds himself in the frame — and the story’s narrative  —as well.

“We are not trying to hide that we are making television,” Schechter says. “He is integral to what we are doing, and we just have good chemistry together. It’s fun to share that with the audience.”

An equally important part of the process is data visualization, given data’s essential role in the climate story. For that, Horner used Adobe After Effects for the project’s first piece with a GeoLayers plug-in for additional map building.

“Stylistically, it’s marrying the video and the graphics so that the graphics look organic to the visual style and tone,” Cross says, noting they’re deliberately eschewing anything that might look like a “traditional” newscast graphic.

In addition to appearing on CBS’s stations and website, the On the Dot team has also kicked off accounts on Instagram and Twitter to push things forward. Schechter sees Twitter in particular as a platform on which to cultivate an audience relationship. “That is going to be the primary method of trying to have a direct, one-on-one conversation” on stories as they roll out, he says.

A dedicated microsite for all of On the Dot’s stories is also in the offing, Cross says.

Overall, Schechter says On the Dot embodies the kind of next-gen reporting that CBS’s lab aims to incubate and then scale across the group. It’s not a show, per se, but a brand.

“It was important to us that it has brand attributes, that it always feels like it is delivering on the promise of the brand every time someone interacts with it,” he says. “Every time we do it, it needs to be an adventure. You need to have learned something. Every time we go out to show you how we are changing the planet and the planet is changing us, we are doing it with these certain attributes.”

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AIMTV says:

January 12, 2023 at 11:09 am

This is EXACTLY what the local news business and more importantly, the inhabitants of this very fragile planet need. Enough molly-coddling anti-intellectualism disguised as rational thought. The deadly delay caused by Climate Change Denial is a direct result of some selfish bad actors politically and desperate actors in the media who’ll do anything for ratings/clicks/etc. Therefore, it’s necessary for the responsible members of the media to help clean up this mess in a way that is both realistic and urgent but also hopeful and optimistic. We can absolutely conquer this, if we simply have the will. The person who plants a tree understanding they will never sit in its shade gets it. I have to question the intellectual capacity and/or morality of those who don’t (or won’t) at this point. Lead, follow, or get out of the way… we have no time to delay.

BJohnson says:

January 12, 2023 at 3:08 pm

This is EXACTLY what the local news business DOESN’T need. More stories with a predetermined conclusion. No questioning government entities who wish to grab power and restrict individual liberty.

But…but… they only want to do what’s good for you. And to that you must be slaves. Good little, obedient slaves. Because the government is always right and always benevolent. It is never to be questioned.

What the hell ever happened to journalism?