Monday, May 14, 2007

Katie Couric and the Demand for Hard News

The New York Times has an article online this morning about Katie Couric and the ratings for the CBS Evening News.

CBS News remains in third place and has slipped in ratings since Couric's arrival.

The article interviews various people who speculate on a range of reasons for the third place position, the most prominent being that the problem is Couric. Her approval ratings as an anchor are lower than those for Brian Williams at NBC and Bob Schieffer at ABC (which is in first place in the ratings); that is, there are more people that don't like her than don't like the other two anchors.

The other speculation is not that it's Couric, per se, but that she's a woman. Apparently there have been critical commentaries that she's too soft on news and was too hard on John Edwards and Elizabeth after they announced Elizabeth's return of cancer. There are also accusations that she wears too much or too little make-up, complaints one does not hear about Williams or Schieffer.

My own prognosis is this: CBS made a tactical error in going with soft news in the evening news slot. As the foreign and domestic scenes in the United States grow increasingly problematic and complex, viewers of national television news want more hard news, not less (hoorday!). Couric, with her reputation for the morning show, brings a soft news touch to in a time of hard realities.

So, recently CBS hired a a new executive to help turn-around CBS Evening News. Rick Kaplan has shifted the format to a major story with a few sidebar stories, and has picked up the pace of the show (MTV-ifying it, if you will), which is a format that is more typical of hard news.

The problem for CBS now is that if they shift to a hard news format, they've got the wrong anchor. I'm not saying that Couric can't do hard news. But, her reputation and the audience of people who were drawn to her in her morning show career are used to a "soft news" delivery style from Couric. So now, there's a disconnect between their anchor and audience and their news delivery. Given time Couric can make the transition, I suspect. But, will CBS give her the time?

1 comment:

Some Guy said...

Interesting. I agree with you. However, I do wonder how much a male nightly news anchor benefits from the presumption of autority.

The critical spitballing of Couric reflects a number of things, but also the typical superficial critiques and deadly over/underestimation of women in traditionally male defined roles.

But yeah, I think a bigger part is the kind of news they present. The public is getting serious about the war, global warming and a number of other issues.

Would that getting the best news cast on the air be the deciding factor more so than marketing formats. But that is just not the industry, its a mythic past.