Maybe women journalists are realizing there’s more to life than sitting behind an anchor desk. It certainly dawned on Katie Couric, former anchor of CBS Evening News turned global news anchor for Internet giant Yahoo.com. So color me unsurprised when ABC World News Anchor Diane Sawyer announced Wednesday that she too is stepping away from her anchor chair.
“While the network newscasts still command a sizable if aging audience, the anchor job no longer has quite the glittering status of the Rather/Brokaw/Jennings era, let alone the Cronkite/Huntley-Brinkley heyday,” writes Howard Kurtz for Fox News.com.
True, there are simply more interesting ways, perhaps better ways, of reaching people anytime and anywhere they need and want to be reached.
Sawyer has had a storied career, interviewing everyone from Saddam Hussein to Michael Jackson. Although some may describe her as liberal or left-leaning, they fail to take into consideration that she once worked for Republican Richard Nixon, even following him into exile after he resigned the presidency in 1974. In an era when many female anchors look and act, shall we say, “really blonde,” before the cameras, even those who hold law degrees, Sawyer is the exception. “She is an extremely bright woman and an incredibly savvy corporate infighter,” one former ABC News staffer told me. “She has had her eye on World News for decades; the irony is that by the time she got there, the evening newscast no longer was the profit center of the news division.”
And therein lies the rub.
Earlier this week, before Sawyer’s announcement, Couric described an exclusive interview she’d just gotten with Secretary of State John Kerry. “If I’d been doing it at the ‘Today’ show, I’d have gotten probably five minutes. And if I’d been doing it at CBS, I probably would have done 3-½ minutes,” she told Kurtz in a different piece. Instead, Couric talked to Kerry for 30 minutes on a complicated topic in which people are deeply interested. “I can’t tell you how liberating and and exciting it was,” she said.
Who needs television? Most Americans, 55 percent of whom say television is still their primary source for news, according to Gallup. That’s why it’s still important to have more diversity, women and people of color, leading TV newscasts. It’s important to have someone reflective of the demographic changes happening in our society sharing the important news of the day with busy viewers.
At the same time, there was a sort of collective yawn when ABC announced a white guy would replace Sawyer. David Muir is more than capable, but society is no longer waiting on television to get it right. Network news is speeding toward irrelevancy and fragmenting audiences are tuning in elsewhere to see people who look like them, people they are more apt to trust, to deliver the news. Those other places include Vice, HuffPost Live and even Netflix (where viewers can watch news documentaries on a number of topics).
Maybe Sawyer is over the anchor job because it keeps her tied down without the more glamorous travel she used to do, and might do again as she focuses on special projects for ABC News. And it’s not just women anchors who no longer want to be tied to the anchor desk. A few years ago Leon Harris, a former CNN anchor and currently an anchor for ABC News 7 in Washington, D.C., talked with The Washington Post about the economic realities of the news business, which keep him either chained to the anchor desk or out in the community doing good-will events. He was wistful about missing the chance to report.
Anchoring has become the ultimate desk job, which isn’t necessarily a good thing when it comes to producing good journalism. Plus, it’s just so “old-media.”
Anyway, this is what crossed my mind when I heard Sawyer’s news. Good for her. Hopefully she’ll go digital and give Couric a run for her money by landing a few online scoops of her own.
Tracie Powell writes regularly about the media for several publications. She is the founder of allDigitocracy.org, a blog that focuses on the intersection of technology, media and policy.