Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The CBS Couric disaster

There has been much talk of the rating performance of Katie Couric in the wake of Dan Rather's departure. Rather himself was recently interviewed on this.

But maybe the problem here has nothing to with Couric at all but the support infrastructure. Rather hints that this may be a contributing factor but I suspect it might be more central.

The US network anchors emerged as the face of their stations gradually over time. Rather made his name with his tough coverage of Nixon during Watergate. CNN's anchors made their name during the first Gulf war. As the prominence of the anchors increased the presenter became a substitute for investing in the news itself. Foreign reporting was cut back and the network news descended into its present role of pumping out fluff. Even with the country engaged in two wars, a recession and a Presidential campaign the network news organizations are saying nothing of significance. They no longer contribute to, let alone drive the political agenda.

Like the restaurant that kept on gradually watering its soup every day, the network news found that the customers didn't notice as long as they were greeted by the same familiar face. But the day the face changed the customers suddenly realized that they were no longer satisfied. The networks might think that the problem is with the face but the real problem is the product.

The nightly television news is never going to play the role it did in the 60s, 70s and 80s. The arrival of CNN made the network news a secondary resource for many viewers. The Web has eclipsed both.

No comments: