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Fifth Most Troubling Media Trend in 2005



If one accepts Hunter S. Thompson's description of the TV news industry -- "...some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason" -- then we probably shouldn't care so much when the faces in that hallway change around.

But because, for many good reasons, we do...

Number 5: TV News' Changing of the Anchor Guard

If someone would have told you, 18 months ago, that by the end of 2005 every major TV network and CNN would have changed its top anchor, you probably would have backed away from them slowly -- your spritzer of Mace at the ready.

But in that time, they have all left us: Brokaw, Jennings, Rather, Koppel and Brown. Some exits, like Brokaw's and Koppel's, were long-planned. Other departures, such as Jennings' and Rather's -- were tragedies, both medical and political. And Aaron Brown had the bad luck to be an overly intellectual journalist in an industry where intellect is valued less all the time.

Some say the notion of a TV news anchor is outdated, anyway; our new, never-ending flow of news means that news is the star, not some overpaid suit with a deep voice. But emergencies ranging from 9/11 to Hurricane Katrina has shown us national news networks need an authoritative voice to put on the big stories-- to reassure viewers, and provide an emotional link to coverage.

And the impact of recent events means, that instead of a slow evolution toward a new anchor voice, we have most major new outlets improvising their face for the 21st Century on the fly -- with an astonishing gap in results.

NBC's Brian Williams has transitioned best, seasoned over a two-year transition, his experience on MSNBC and friendliness to technology allowing him to keep a cool blog and provide reputation-making, cable-news-style coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

But CNN's Anderson Cooper still seems a little callow for his new role; the trio of anchors chosen for Koppel's Nightline have turned it into a hollow echo of cable news and typical network newsmagazines; the anchor duo chosen to replace Jennings pairs a beautiful journalism lightweight with a reporter America barely knows; and CBS' plan to redefine itself for the new millenium post-Rather comes down to three words: get Katie Couric.

Such lack of direction would be ominous if the TV news business was standing still. But with expanding Internet and digital technology making new news delivery systems more important all the time, the TV news business needs a better developed, solidly grounded sense of itself to weather the transition.

So far, what they've come up with doesn't inspire much confidence.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:35pm]


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