Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A New Landscape for American News

The culture of news is undergoing seismic change. In a sometimes frantic search to reclaim audience, the press has become thirsty for sensationalism, entertainment, and chat—areas that rake in the rankings quickly and oftentimes cost-effectively. Exhaustive coverage of the JonBenét Ramsey murder case and TomKat’s baby girl, Suri are just two recent examples. Similar tabloid-like stories often trump more acute and "newsworthy" events such as the war in Iraq and have news networks reevaluating how we perceive and receive news.

In fact, on Sept. 5, 2006, the evening news was given a facelift.

Until then, the sole players of the nightly news were erudite, middle-aged men with serious demeanors. Now, a perky, blond-haired woman armed with a golden smile has entered into the picture and is challenging the “girl news” versus “boy news” dichotomy that morning and evening broadcasts have usually fallen into. Couric's new role rekindled an old debate posed by Washington Post staff writer, Howard Kurtz: “Why do people watch one newscast over another?”

Unlike her predecessor, Walter Cronkite, Couric has taken a non-traditional approach to reporting. With segments like “Free Speech” and “Snapshots,” her newscast adopts what Kurtz calls a “chattier” or, in my opinion, more “Sunday Morning” style approach than a “hard news” approach. From her story selection to her relaxed anchoring, "CBS Evening News" raises further questions and concerns about the crossover between entertainment and news. Now, media critics are jumping at the opportunity to attack more than just controversial cable news shows. But are their criticisms truly warranted?

I think Couric should be applauded, rather than criticized or feared. She takes risks in her reporting in a time slot that has remained relatively static. She doesn’t offend viewers, but attracts a new type of viewer—one who is multitasking and looking for news in creative ways. It is true that the serious style of reporting has weakened, and it is also true that there was a time not long ago when our living rooms were connected by anchors who brought our country together in moments where we all shared a national commonality. Moments of fear, of war, of political scandals and more. We can’t ignore this fact. Our job as journalists is to find a way to address it and to better it. If Couric can appeal to more female viewers and younger viewers, I say good. She's innovative. As expelled in the RTNDA Code of Ethics, the goal of a journalist is to “gather and disseminate information.” It does not specify the exact content of this “information.” If Couric can get more people tuned in to the news, no matter how traditional or untraditional this news and its presentation may be, I think society is better off. She has embraced the mixed-media culture in novel ways. Many ridicule Couric and classify her with fluff news. I think they are just hesitant to accept a female anchor who can smile.


Howard Kirtz’s article on the "Couric Report" can be read here.

To read about the state of the news media visit here.


At Thursday, October 05, 2006, Anonymous LO said...

Whenever I have time to watch the national news, Katie Couric is my choice. Not CBS. But Katie Couric. Why? Because I want to get my news from her. Again, why? Because I think she's much more interesting to listen to than Brian Williams and Charles "don't call me Charlie anymore" Gibson.

Maybe she's still novel to me. But all of these anchors have some novelty to them (Brian's been on the longest, but relatively speaking, he's a newbie, too).

So until proven otherwise, I'll tune into Katie and look forward to a new approach to the evening news. And I'll look way beyond what she's wearing and what type of hair day she's having.

I was told never to end a story like this...but time will tell.

At Friday, October 06, 2006, Anonymous TD said...

I think you are right about people thinking that Katie Couric is too friendly and not right for evening news. It may be that she is just too branded for a traditional evening newscast (even though CBS is trying to spice things up).

Maybe some hard news lovers/viewers will never be able to get past her morning show, affable characteristics to see that she is able to deliver the evening news. One of my relatives really dislikes Katie Couric on the evening news. He said: "She is so serious. She needs to lighten up."

So it seems people expect her to be two things at once: a serious hard newscaster and laughable, friendly Katie.

She will have to find a way to appeal to both sets of viewers.


At Sunday, October 08, 2006, Blogger Medill Media Watch said...

I couldn’t agree more! I think Katie Couric is giving a face-lift to the uptight and overly-composed television anchors that our parents have come to know and love. Too often I feel as though the straight-faced and disinterested anchors on television today are doing nothing more than reading a newspaper that has been fed through a tele-prompter. I know that Couric is a far cry from Stephen Colbert’s “Colbert Report” or “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” but she is doing just effective of a job at humanizing the news and connecting with her viewers.

- MG

At Sunday, October 08, 2006, Blogger Tiffany Wilson said...

Watching Katie Couric with other journalists at my station, it's interesting to see how they react to her. Often, the first thing the other reporters comment on is her makeup or clothing - not her reporting.

I think that Katie is a successful and well known reporter for a reason - she knows how to handle herself and tell a story, whether in the morning or at night. And if people can get over the fact that she's wearing a white blazer or smiles too often, so much the better.


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