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A New Argument Against Katie: It's the Demos, Stupid



I know I'm like a dog with a bone on this one. But I can't stop thinking about how bad an idea it is for Katie Couric to take over as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

Perhaps it's because big outlets such as USA Today can't stop talking about it, either. At least one big name journalist on the receiving end of her charms thinks she'd be good for the gig (as someone who has been on the receiving end of that high-wattage smile once, I can say it is warming and blinding). And regardless of her decision when her contract ends May 31, it's gotta be fun keeping the media world on pins and needles for so long.

Still, the arguments against her move are lengthy and logical and they have no clear successor at Today (Campbell Brown is too cold, Natalie Morales is too inexperienced and Meredith Viera has been off the TV news scene too long -- it's notable that few are really mentioning current Today newsreader Ann Curry as a possible successor, probably because she's too inept).

But I think there's another reason Katie wouldn't work moving to CBS: niche audience journalism.

As I noted in my earlier post, digital technology is turning media into a niche business, with all sorts of implications for entertainment and news. And CBS has cornered the market on the niche for traditional TV viewers.

I haven't dissected the ratings demographics, but I wouldn't be surprised if Bob Schieffer's boost in viewership has come from traditional newscast viewers reassured by his experience, traditional journalism values and grandfatherly style. This is exactly the type of audience which will reject Couric for her roots in infotainment, her lack of journalistic achievement and her celebrity status.

Imagine listening to a country and western station for 18 months, only to find it has suddenly switched to classical music. Will you hang around to see what the new format is like, or will you head to a place more accomodating to your tastes?

CBS seems to be thinking Couric's celebrity will draw a big enough crowd to replace those who have spent months growing to like Schieffer's avuncular style, but that's broadcast thinking. I believe network news itself is now a broad niche, and that niche prefers gravitas and authority to celebrity and glamour.

If network TV were ruled by reason instead of ego, Schieffer would stay for at least two years while CBS grooms someone to take the job, and Charlie Gibson would do the same at ABC, while the network prepares Elizabeth Vargas with lots of reporting gigs covering the best stories (besides seeing her co-anchor wounded in Iraq and learning a new pregnancy would sideline her by summer, Vargas had the unfortunate luck to be promoted into an anchor job for which she hadn't been well groomed to assume in the first place).

Of course, the only predictable thing about the TV news biz is that money, power and ego trump all. So expect Couric to make headlines as the first solo female network TV anchor at CBS, simultaneously ruining NBC's morning franchise and CBS' evening newscast.

As an old boss of mine used to say: It may be bad for the industry, but it's great for the columns.

[Last modified: Wednesday, July 21, 2010 2:36pm]


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