Monday, June 18, 2007

Battle of the Anchor Gods

Truth: Media Mavens are hungry: Hungry for the story, hungry for names, and hungry for the exclusive. In recent weeks as the news in Iraq seems to have ceased peaking the public interest, and the biggest national catastrophe revolves around boiling up the next big strategy to export our undocumented population, broadcast giants are turning inward for the a prime time martyr. With dying ratings on the CBS Evening News, it looks like Katie is the next victim.

The Washington Post covered a statement made by Dan Rather, calling CBS out on their anchor-lite version of evening news with Katie Couric. But what is missing from every headline I have seen so far is context. Rather was asked candidly during a radio interview with Chuck Scarborough what he thought of the new evening format. Rather answered equally as candid.

Rather said that he never planned an attack on the "Evening News" or on
Couric,but that he was asked about it by Chuck Scarborough, who has replaced the
deposed Don Imus on morning radio and MSNBC-TV. "He asked me directly what I thought," Rather said. "It is my wont to answer a question directly. It was not planned."
And is he so wrong? In an effort to reformat the evening news

Rather -- who anchored CBS's evening newscast for nearly a quarter-century -- thinks the failure of the "CBS Evening News With Katie Couric" isn't really Couric's fault but Moonves's. The CBS chief decided that to get younger viewers to watch the news, it has to be more fun, more upbeat, more entertaining. In
other words: The news had to stop being the news.
As a young woman involved in media I did not find his tart reference too particularly offensive because the statement was directed toward the production descision to lighten the news format, not Katie herself. However the AWRT, an organisation both Katie and I belong to issued this statement following the Rather comment.

AWRT Statement on Remarks Made by Dan Rather Regarding "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric"

June 13, 2007 (McLean, VA) – American Women in Radio and
Television expresses its deep disappointment in former "CBS Evening News" anchor
Dan Rather's remarks that CBS is "dumbing it down and tarting it up,” referring
to the current "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric."

Stated AWRT President Maria E. Brennan, “It’s surprising – to say the least – to have someone with Mr. Rather’s experience make such deliberately inflammatory remarks about a professional colleague – particularly one with the credibility and
accomplishment of Katie Couric. While Mr. Rather may wish to backtrack on the
sexist nature of his remarks, I can only note that never have I heard the word
'tart' in reference to the male gender."

Concluded Brennan, "Unfortunately Mr. Rather’s views seem far more personal and pejorative in nature than those of a media professional offering an informed analytical view of the content of 'CBS Nightly News.'”

Couric is a lifetime member of AWRT and has been awarded multiple AWRT Gracie Awards in recognition of her significant contributions to electronic media.
But Rather underscores the real atrocity here: (soap box alert) As members of the journalistic community, we should be living up to our role as public educators, we are the one of the final filters for information affecting the public dialogue, and these producers are looking to wage war over a little ego bruising? Seriously!

"We have enormous life-or-death issues and challenges facing us in this country
and the world today," he said. "Everything from the dismantling of civil rights
enforcement within the Justice Department to the war in Iraq to news of secret prisons in Europe and, of course, the next presidential election.

When we have such extensive access to the Internet, to filter our own information, why would our generation turn on the television or read the newspaper to feed into this? I think it says a lot about a generation who proactively seeks to be informed, to become their own editor, and even contribute back to the informational community. Whereas the previously information was absorbed through more passive channels like television or radio. This is not to say that one medium is better than another, but when they are saturated with nonsense, how is a public not turned off by "tarty" news?

"Young people will never watch the news" is as sacrosanct a bromide as "Young people will never read a newspaper."
Is this really a sign-off for evening news?

Broadcast news, and journalism generally, should not be a sedative," Rather said. "It should be a wake-up call."

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