What Couric’s move might mean to you
Who cares who anchors the CBS Evening News? You’re busy working, tuning your mountain bike, reading, making money, losing money, raising children, holding grandchildren, thinking about dinner and where you’re going for the offseason.Meanwhile, the national news landscape has just exploded into the 21st century. For the first time in American broadcast history, a girl got the gig. Solo.Why does that matter? After all, any qualified, experienced journalist with name recognition, great agents, greater attorneys, career momentum and a big gig on another network CBS wants to torpedo could get up there and read out loud for a living, right? And the fact that it’s a she, so what? That’s all you see on television news these days anyway, right? Women. So what’s the big deal? ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas was almost there first when Bob Woodruff was injured in Iraq. But that may not last. Lady Di-ane Sawyer may big-foot Elizabeth out of that seat faster than you can say C-B-Buh-Bye.So we are about to see the Battle of Network NewsBroads. (I can say that. You can’t.) We women don’t get where we do in national TV news on our backs or our looks, although the latter doesn’t hurt. It’s a mean and nasty business where some women will trip you in the hallway on your way to the set, steal your videotaped story off your desk moments before air, or swipe the job you just confidentially mentioned at dinner with her.With the evening fur set to fly between CBS and ABC, NBC is stuck with affable, eminently watchable but stifled stand-up-comic-disguised-as-news-guy Brian Williams. If all the news is all the same, who would you rather watch, Diane, Katie or Brian? I’d pick the new chick.Whether you watch for a moment, stick with the chick or turn back, you’re watching broadcast history. Never before in this 60-year-old industry has a woman occupied a solo anchor spot on the evening news. Barbara Walters was paired with Harry Reasoner in 1976. Connie Chung was paired with Dan Rather in 1993. Katie is out there on her own, carrying the weight of the entire network news presence on her cute little face, her deepening voice and her not so little name and reputation. At CBS, the voice-of-God will now be the voice of a woman.Only time will tell how the average conservative American television viewer will respond. Most of Katie’s morning audience consists of women. Will women watch her at dinner? Probably. Will men? Will the missing men tune back in? Maybe. Will anyone watch the evening news no matter who’s up there? Not if the trend continues. On the decline for years, the big three network newscasts draw some 25 million viewers each night. That’s not nothing but cable is extremely strong and gaining. Fox News is kicking ass. So is the Internet.Katie will bring her own stamp to the show, but instead of a dramatic change in news coverage or our lives, The Katie Shake is probably a moment in time you will never forget. Like the day Walter left, or Dan, the day President Nixon resigned, President Clinton got caught, the day Rosa Parks refused to move or the day one small step for man became one giant leap for mankind. This is a televised moment in history. Ten or 20 years from now, when the evening news may not exist, let alone three big networks, you might say “I remember when Katie got the evening news.” Other than that, the issue is there is no issue. A woman in The Big Chair is so overdue, it’s a non news event. But while it doesn’t trigger a sweeping cultural change, it certainly tops off an era begun 40 years ago. It’s the icing on a cake called feminism. It may even be the beginning of the new “so-what” feminism, you know, the “of course she did” movement.In my mother’s day, the voice of authority had balls in his throat. In my generation, the voice of authority, the one with balls planted firmly in throat is a woman. My doctors, lawyers and Indian chiefs are women. The assumption is what we achieved in this generation.Our daughters just assume the mayor, the doctor, the president could be a she. We’ve fought and won the right to vote, the right to work, the right not to work, the right to work top jobs, the right to (almost) get paid the same. Now, we’re in charge of most of the evening news.Yeah, and next?Chances are the evening news will be a bit better. I think a qualified woman has as much if not more authority than a man in that job. She may have sensibilities that appeal to me more than the average man up there in that big chair. With a woman out there, well, it’s just different. And that may be the magic of Les Moonves’ thinking. There are more women in this country, more potential customers for the CBS Evening News.A news anchor at a network newscast is more than a news reader. The person who occupies the chair is a news manager. The evening news anchor is a raised eyebrow, a smile, a reflection of the network’s and, as CBS hopes, your sense of justice, morality and play.No network news anchor works alone. She gets a very deep bench. The team reports, produces, prepares, writes, researches and checks every fact that comes out her pretty mouth. The anchor works and tweaks, determines flow, vetoes copy, rewords, reworks and generally commands the nightly ship of news. She asks the questions. Each night, she tells you the truth of the world around you.So what else is new? What’s new is Katie. If you don’t already watch the evening news, you might watch now. You might want to watch history. You might even stay if you like what you see. Or you might not. Research shows you will most likely stick with whatever channel you are already watching. CBS has previously been known for its aging talent pool appealing to an aging audience, not the critical 18-49 year old demographic of spenders. Moonves may have just changed all that. He is betting Katie will haul a decades-long cellar dweller up the stairs and into the light.IMHO, I think I’m about to watch Katie shine.Bonnie Behrend is a Kiplinger Fellow, a freelance writer and former anchor for CNBC, CBS and Court TV. She lives in Aspen.
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