Home / Katie Couric and Eric Sevareid: The State of the Evening News

Katie Couric and Eric Sevareid: The State of the Evening News

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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.

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About allendrury

  • I agree. I’ve always enjoyed Katie Couric on the Today Show, but the last thing we need is “cute” news. Hopefully she will able to deliver the serious news that we expect.

  • sal m

    i would think that one would have to ALREADY be a serious journalist – and be recognized as one – in order to get the seat as an anchor, and not aspire to be one as a result of getting this job.

    the fact that couric is not recognized as a serious journalist – whether she is one or not – tells you all that you need to know with regards to what the networks are looking to accomplish.

  • allen, Katie is very attractive and likeable, but I have a difficult time picturing her doing the news seriously (she has that annoying perky thing going). What about a “real” newsperson who has cut her teeth in the field? Many women put themselves out there and work for years and get no recognition.

    My vote would have been for Christiane Amanpour to be selected. Now THAT would have shown a decision to get real news from a gutsy newsperson.

  • I have seen Couric anchor the NBC evening news as a fill-in for Brokaw on numerous occasions. She did fine and was very serious. Whether she is up to serving as the managing editor is another matter, but I seriously doubt that CBS would have chosen her if it didn’t believe she was capable of doing the job. Whatever she is recognized as being, what she is is what counts and how she performs in this new job will prove to us what she is. It is perfectly possible to be talented at more than one variation of the same thing.

  • Baronius

    I don’t think it matters. While I agree with much of this article, the question of her demeanor seems to be a cave-in. Even the matter of who sits in the anchor’s chair isn’t really an indicator of the quality of the broadcast.

    The trio of Brokaw, Jennings, and Rather dominated the airwaves throughout the decline of network news. Are they responsible for it? Only in that their presence exemplified the lack of network innovation. (OK, they do bear some responsibility for their networks’ decline. But different faces wouldn’t have helped much.)

    The consumer gets increasingly sophisticated, seeking news and opinion from many sources, able to tell the difference between news and opinion. There’s no better symbol of the impersonal news consumption than the tickertape headlines running along the bottom of the broadcast, while anchors pose above it. I don’t watch the anchors when the news is on. The networks reveal their ignorance of the news consumer when they focus on the news reader.

    It’s easy to envision a day when the only ones watching network news are the reporters vying for the anchor chair.

  • I believe that before Today, Couric was a “real” reporter, covering the Washington beat. She has the journalistic chops, but it seems they’re more like dentures that she takes out for long stretches of time.

  • Ty

    Who cares? Why is this a story? Only media types should care, because I don’t watch national evening news.

    I do watch Today sometimes, and I don’t want Meredith Viera coming over. Why? I want someone young, hot, and is willing to wear plenty of short skirts. Unfortunately the target demographic for Today (Women) doesn’t care about that. So we get Viera.

    I would have much rather liked Campbell Brown, because she’s sexy in news kind of way, but NBC just wanted to go with the biggest “name.”

  • If you watch the news for ‘hot’ and ‘sexy’ I can understand why you do not care about this as a story. I think most adults, however, do care about the content of their news.

  • I remember that once upon a time, you turned on the Columbia Broadcast System and got news. Now you get trash. The same is true for all the major networks in your country – with Israeli TV imitating yours, only with nastier and meaner and far less objective folks “reporting” the news.

    Enjoy your memories of real news broadcasts, Allendrury. Until you provide your own out of America’s heartland, they are all you will have.

  • I watched Glenn Iffel interview “Condie”.

    I always try to watch Meet The Press with Tim Russert.

    Could not understand a few things until learning that Condie and Glenn were friends. This explained the weak interview that went without teeth.

    Now I can see that Tim Russert has the same look on his face that Dick Cheney does. They are friends. Explains alot to me. Am I alone on this?

  • Jane,

    The name is GWEN, not Glenn.

    The fact is that many reporters know their subjects and vice-versa. That is not bad, of course. I think any objective viewer knows that professional interviews are not ‘thrown’ for friendship as a rule. The viewer/reader knows that they also bring a set of biases with them and need to understand the tint of the glasses they wear when getting news.