I suspect you will not see those names linked anywhere else this week. After hearing yesterday the confirmation of what had been rumored for weeks, that Couric will be the new anchor of the CBS Evening News, I thought not so much about the future of the three network newscasts as much as what they had once been.
When I was a boy I would sometimes watch the CBS Evening News with my grandparents, who lived next door. There, in a cozy living room from time to time I would hear Walter Cronkite introduce a commentator with a dour and serious demeanor. He would talk about things I had little knowledge of while using some words I did not understand. But there was something about the fact that he never seemed to smile that made me think he was discussing something important. Back at my parents’ house I would try and find the topic he was talking about in our daily newspaper. With a couple more years behind me I was able to understand Sevareid and his points. But in the early 1980s he had retired and the commentary portion of the newscast was a bygone segment.
The idea that a newsman could challenge someone to know more about a topic or better understand an issue is a remarkable legacy for any reporter. But the style of reporting and seriousness that Eric Sevareid brought into our living rooms is absent in today’s newscasts. There was a time not that long ago when the network evening newscasts were central to our lives; the anchors brought our country together in those moments where we all shared a national commonality. Through riots, wars, assassinations, and national fears the anchors provided comfort while imparting information. Now with cable news and the Internet, along with a society that has fewer scripted schedules and more choices available for our free time, the network news programs are unable to compete. Or are they are unwilling to compete?
With news bureaus that are shrinking due to budget cutbacks, and more entertainment-type programming lurking as ‘news’ in a bid to gain younger viewers, it is harder to sit and take seriously the evening network newscasts.
And yet the world knocks. But the stories often get scant attention. When Americans think of international news they think only of Iraq. While Iraq is a huge story with all sorts of interconnecting ‘spokes,’ there are a whole series of other stories that also need discussion.
Darfur rages while South America has new and dynamic leaders in several countries whose polices will impact the United States. Russia has become more hard-line in the past years, and famine continues in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa.
But first, a five-part series on how to insulate your home to conserve energy and the latest on the new study about why coffee may reduce heart attacks. GIVE ME A BREAK!!!
All this leads me to Katie Couric. I am glad there is a woman anchor and I am glad she has a long list of impressive interviews conducted over 15 years as the co-host of the Today Show. I understand she was hired to pick up the ratings of the evening newscast and bring in younger viewers. But I will be watching to see if she is a real journalist who wants to report the news, or will be light and fluffy. Will she inspire someone to find out more on an issue or topic by picking up their newspaper?
I know Bob Schieffer, who is currently the anchor of the CBS broadcast, to be a world-class journalist with a long list of serious credentials. (I will miss him!). I know that Couric also wants be seen as a serious journalist. The world wants and needs her to be one.
But wouldn’t it have been nice if Judy Woodruff would have been selected? Or Gwen Iffel? If either of those serious women had been named the anchor of the CBS Evening News we would know the future of the broadcast would be in solid hands, and that CBS was serious about the news.