Up Front

The 10th Anniversary of the Brookings TV Studio

Ron Nessen

The Brookings broadcast studio celebrates its tenth anniversary this month. Now a common feature in the think tank community, the studio was a fairly novel idea at the time. As television and cable outlets proliferated, and as Americans got more and more of their news from TV, we thought it would make sense make it easier for Brookings experts to connect with the TV, radio, and cable journalists who want to interview them.

Before the studio went into operation 10 years ago, Brookings experts had to leave the office, flag down taxis and ride to CBS or MSNBC, for instance, do the interview, find another cab, and ride back to his or her office at Brookings. Many turned down interview requests because they were too busy to take that much time away from their research and writing.

Or, broadcast journalists had to haul their cameras and sound equipment to Brookings’s headquarters, lug them up to the scholar’s office, set up the tripod and lights, record the interview, and transport it back to their office for editing and airing.

Once Brookings opened its own studio, all the Brookings expert had to do was walk down to the studio on the ground floor, do the interview, and be back at his or her desk, working on his research and writing,. And journalists could transmit broadcast-quality video and audio of an interview from the studio to their media outlets.

The convenience of the in-house studio is among the reasons Brookings scholars are interviewed and quoted in the news media about twice as often as the scholars from the next most-cited think tank.

The Brookings studio opened for business on September 4, 2001. One week later, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Both CNN and NBC interviewed Brookings scholars on September 11 in the brand-new studio. And for days and weeks afterward the studio was busy as the news media sought comments and insights on the attacks from Brookings scholars.

The busiest day ever for the Brookings studio was August 28, 2003, during the American invasion of Iraq. One day during the invasion, Michael O’Hanlon, an expert on military and Middle East matters, sat for ten separate interviews in the studio—the all-time record for a single day. O’Hanlon has the greatest number of interviews over the past ten years, a total of 2,237. The second most in-demand Brookings scholar has been former presidential speech writer and advisor Stephen Hess, with 839 interviews.

The busiest month for the Brookings studio to date was November, 2004, during and immediately after the election campaign between George W. Bush and John Kerry. Journalists conducted 118 interviews with Brookings scholars in the studio that month.

December, 2006, after the death of Gerald R. Ford, was another busy period for the studio. Brookings scholars did 25 interviews assessing his presidency and legacy.

CNN has done more interviews in the Brookings studio than any other news organization, a total of 1,033. In second place is National Public Radio, with 728 interviews. And in third place is the BCC with 482 interviews. Because of the expertise of Brookings scholars on international issues, the studio is often used by foreign news outlets, including the Middle East news organizations Al Jazeera and Alhurra.

It’s said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Seeing how the studio made it so much more convenient for U.S. and foreign journalists to interview Brookings scholars, other think tanks decided to build their own studios, including the Heritage Foundation, CATO, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Center for American Progress.

Nonetheless, Brookings has not been content to rest on its laurels. The studio and equipment have been continuously upgraded and expanded. A separate radio studio was built. A second control room was added and Brookings switched to all-digital technology.

And more is yet to come!