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The Anchor Wars: Will Katie Couric Change the Landscape of American News? August 19, 2006

Posted by newsfittopost in media, women's rights.

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As Katie Couric gets set to take over for Bob Schieffer on the Evening News, CBS spokespeople have touted their ability to launch the new anchor without a “fancy slogan”. This lack of a catchy slogan, however, does not imply an absent public relations campaign. CBS has launched an ad blitz that would cost over $10 million dollars if they had to pay for the advertising media buys, although it is not the case because much of the ads appear in CBS-owned media.

But will the relatively young anchor, mostly known for her fluffy reporting on The Today Show, be able to compete with the typical middle-aged men on the other two networks? Currently CBS is third in the evening news rankings, with NBC’s Brian Williams leading the pack and ABC’s Charles Gibson at least 800,000 viewers behind. CBS Evening News with Bob Schieffer has lagged behind NBC Nightly News by 1.5 million viewers.

Katie Couric represents modernity and a welcome change from the cookie-cutter anchors of the past, but being a woman may prove a difficult obstacle in an evening news setting dominated by men. Former ABC World News Tonight anchor Elizabeth Vargas was removed from the anchor chair a few months ago… some say because of sexism, others because she was pregnant. Regardless, being a female played a critical role in both her arrival and departure on World News Tonight. Is America still hesitant to accept a female anchor?

Couric’s gender also has the potential to play a role in her success. Many people would find it difficult to find a distinguishing characteristic between Charles Gibson or Brian Williams… or Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings and Dan Rather for that matter. Couric’s stark contrast to other newscasters, in both approach and appearance, could help bring the trailing CBS Evening News back to the top again.

Some argue that Couric will attract women news viewers and therefore push CBS news into the top-slot. Although this remains a possibility, a similar argument was set forth regarding politics during the women’s rights movement. With more women voters would come more women elected to political offices. This turned out to be somewhat true… the number of women holding public office did increase, but women have yet to come close to holding a majority of seats in Congress, despite being the majority gender. It seems as if women do not attach themselves to politicians, or maybe news anchors, simply because they are of the same sex.

It is an exciting time of intense competition for the broadcast evening news programs. Promotion campaigns matching those of primetime sitcoms have dominated CBS for weeks now. But it is all about “trust”, at least according to the prized news slogans, and Couric has never been known for her hard-hitting reporting or memorable interviews.

Many, including myself, hope that Katie Couric proves to be the anchor CBS is looking for. She has charisma and integrity, but it has yet to be determined whether gender will play a role in her success or failure. I thought America was ready for a woman anchor when Elizabeth Vargas teamed up with Bob Woodruff in January 2006, but I may have been wrong. If Katie Couric is not able to attract viewers and close the gap with the other two networks, broadcast news networks may be more hesitant to place a woman in the top seat. For the sake of not having another generation of monotonous, indistinguishable, white male news anchors, let’s hope America comes to love Katie Couric.