Fox News Channel is eliminating one of Shepard Smith's two daily newscasts and putting him in charge of a news team designed to quickly break in to other Fox shows when something big is happening.
Smith, the network's top news anchor, signed a new multi-year contract, the network said Thursday. He will keep his 3 p.m. Eastern newscast while the 7 p.m. show is eliminated.
"We don't have to wait `til 7 anymore," said Smith, named managing editor of the breaking news unit. "When it's ready, we'll put it on the air. When it's breaking, I'm ready to do it."
Fox News Chairman and CEO Roger Ailes described Smith's new role as a quarterback able to call an audible when news is happening and get it on the air quickly. Except for Smith's show and Bret Baier's Washington report, Fox's evening schedule is driven by opinionated, personality-driven programming.
Fox is building a new studio, calling it the "Fox News Deck," for Smith to operate. The changes are likely to take place in October.
"This is the way news should be presented in today's world with the equipment and the amount of technology that is available," Ailes said. "We're making a major investment in journalism here and it's going to require journalists to be better."
The changes are among several taking place at Fox, the top-rated cable news network and the one with the most personnel stability. This summer, Fox said that Megyn Kelly would move into the network's prime-time lineup when she returns from maternity leave, but hasn't said where she will go and who she will displace. Ailes would not comment on published reports that Sean Hannity would move to 7 p.m. to make room for Kelly.
Asked what will replace Smith's newscast at 7 p.m., Ailes said "unclear. It's not unclear to me. I know and I'm not telling anybody."
He rejected any notion from critics that Smith's new unit was created as a way to compensate him for losing a regular, one-hour time slot. "That's why they're doing what they're doing for a living and don't make anywhere near the money that me and Shep make," he said.
On busy days, Fox suggested he'll be on the air more than he is now.
Ailes said it was a real attempt to try something new, to use improved technology to rethink how news is presented on the air and better fuse breaking news with Fox's other programming. He said Smith was the best person on staff for the job.
"Everybody is beginning to wake up to this," he said. "The problem is everybody can't do it. Shep is of an age where he actually understands how to do this. When I want to get something done, I go to my 13-year-old son and say `Here, fix this to make my cell phone ring.'"
© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.