Women on the News, In the News

E: Did anyone else here that Diane Sawyer is going to be the new anchor for the ABC ‘s World News Tonight? (M: Nope) Nope, me neither. Considering the furor which arose when Katie Couric was anointed the anchor of The CBS Evening News, and thus the defacto head of their news room, well, things seem strangely quiet this time. Count me among the unconcerned. Why is Charles Gibson retiring, that’s the first thing I wanted to know. Isn’t he a mite young to talk about retiring?

I’m not one of the millions of Americans who get their news from the nightly network broadcasts (M: are you sure it’s still in the millions? I’m not). My news comes to me in the morning from The Today Show, from newspaper or magazine affiliated sites online during the day, or NPR when I’m on the go. (M: or the Drudge Report, and talk and news radio, and any number of other right, left and center web services! E: You might check out the Drudge Report.  M: If you’re interested in news from both sides of the spectrum, which I’m not sure you are, you should.  But I digress.) Right now, I’m streaming All Things Considered. from WBUR.org. If I were going to watch the news, I’d be watching The News Hour on PBS. So I’m not going to be tuning in to see Diane Sawyer, even though I’m pleased enough she’s going to be there.

You could say there’s less fuss because Couric broke the absurd boundary between women and throne of network news, and you might be right. People always make a fuss about the first whatever it is, though non-white male firsts are, happily, getting more and more obscure (M: while, as a white male, I do tend to dislike the bitterness expressed towards white males in these type situations, I am more so of the belief that, as Dr Martin Luther King Jr stated, everyone should be judged on the content of our character, so I am happy to see these silly walls or ceilings be torn down. However, didn’t Connie Chung really break that barrier when she split time with Dan Rather?). I suspect this is non-news for another reason, however. I said it then and I’ll say it again – Couric was handicapped by her very success when she was picked to anchor the Evening News. As Joshua Alston astutely observes, though both Couric and Sawyer came to their anchor positions from morning television, Katie Couric was a perfect fit for America’s favorite morning show, while Diane Sawyer raised eyebrows on Good Morning America. What was such a high brow doing in morning news? I’m not saying that what Couric did on The Today Show was easy; far from it. It’s simply a different tone, a different skill set from that exercised on a nightly news broadcast. I’m not saying that Sawyer was bad on GMA, either. Couric’s pick was remarkable and divisive not so much because of her gender (I like to think) but because her presence implied a change to the nature of nightly news.

M: Couric was a strange choice because of the audience she had built, and style with which she built it. She was nice, likable, congenial, and helped you get started for the day in a friendly manner. None of that is part of the skill set of a network anchor. It has nothing to do with gender, as Matt Lauer would have been an equally strange choice. I mean, look at morning show hosts, regardless of gender or any other “group” they belong to. Can you picture Regis Philbin doing the nightly news? That would be hilarious, but not really what the news is going for.

E: Exactly. Regis Philbin would be a good deal worse, and Matt Lauer is equally unsuited, not because of their gender or intelligence but because of their reputation and previous career experience. I still think Couric’s underutilized on the news. She’s proved she can do hard hitting interviews (hello, Sarah Palin – or perhaps she was too easy a target? M: If by “hard hitting” you meant a completely partisan attack, like her interview with Ralph Nader in 2000 begging him to exit the race, then yes.  If you wanted journalistic integrity, not so much) but there’s so much more she can do! On the other hand, I think that long time journalist Diane Sawyer is more suited to the evening news (heck she was a speech writer for Nixon – she’s been in the game that long), and if she’d been the pick, instead of Couric, there would have been much less fuss at the time. (Or if it had been Anne Curry, or Judy Woodruff, or Charlayne Hunter Gault, or any number of impressive female journalists.)

But CBS’s big wigs knew all that when they picked Couric. They wanted to shake up nightly news, and they did, though Couric had to (reportedly) back away from a cosier format when audiences didn’t warm up to it. The real issue is that nightly news programs aren’t the force they once were, not with 24 hour web and cable news; barring major catastrophe, there’s no going back to the days when your average person came home from work not having heard any news. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here. So the big question is, will Diane Sawyer?

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