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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Katie, The Lady

Sorry to be a little MIA these last few days... a lot of stuff is going on. Jeesh, I'm sick of saying that. Can't wait until I can spread the word!

Until then...

I really enjoyed reading this article by Howard Kurtz ...then I thought... Howard Kurtz... how do I know that name.... ah, yes, we met in June, Howard.

Anyway, onto the article. I've meditated on it for a few days... actually I don't meditate but I have let it stew.

First off, before I begin, let me just say that I am not a Couric fan. Although this is pretty funny:

I still prefer Diane. Classy, smart, and warm (oh, and added bonus points for her normal looking mouth, sorry Katie).

I do, however, admire how Katie is going about this monster transition. I for one can't wait for September 5th. Below I've documented my reactions to the article. Some responses are thoughtful... and others are downright superficial. :)

Up Close And Too Personal

Katie Couric, Center of Attention, Says She Just Wants to Do Her Job

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 15, 2006; Page C01

NEW YORK, Aug. 14

She is already the most heavily scrutinized, psychoanalyzed and gossiped-about anchor in network history, and she hasn't yet uttered a single "good evening" on a CBS newscast.

Of course, she's a powerful woman ("woman" being the operative word) making a big move.

Katie Couric's wardrobe has been analyzed by the Wall Street Journal, her makeup assailed in USA Today, her dating life examined by Parade magazine, her fitness for nightly news duty debated by columnists, cable combatants, bloggers and bloviators.

Ummm, yeah? Of course. She's a lady. "Bloviators", eh? I had to look that one up.

"I'm really focused on work and trying to tune the other stuff out, because it could potentially drive you absolutely out of your mind," Couric says in a conference room down the hall from the new set being constructed for her Sept. 5 debut.

You go girl! Good luck with that.

When she takes the helm of the "CBS Evening News," Couric's challenge to NBC's Brian Williams and ABC's Charlie Gibson will mark the first such three-way showdown since Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings initially went at it in the early 1980s. But the media landscape has shifted dramatically since then, leaving this trio fighting for a shrinking slice of the audience and increasingly taking their battle online.

I find Brian Williams neither endearing nor sincere.

Yes, they will all need to battle online as well as on TV to remain competitive. Somehow I think Katie would do very well with a video blog. She's very connected with her peeps.

Who wins in this showdown. I do. We do. We get better news. News that is FORCED to reinvent itself and move the medium of television forward. News that has no choice but to fully integrate itself with a new medium altogether, the internet.

Because Couric is both the first woman to serve as a solo nightly news anchor and a big-time celebrity, some are casting her debut as the biggest event of the fall television season. After 15 years as a popular morning personality at NBC, she is armed with some new ideas -- including a regular soapbox segment for advocates and activists-- to jazz up an evening news format that sometimes seems set in concrete.

I think it's cool that Katie is adding a segment for advocates. Of course she decides who's worthy enough ... and that's a whole 'nother can of worms... but it's still a step into the right direction.

After conducting town meetings in a half-dozen cities last month, Couric concluded that "people are hungry" for more positive stories. She is, for example, working on a piece about an Alexandria foundation that teaches juvenile delinquents how to build boats and helps them get high school equivalency degrees.

Of course television news is, for the most part, currently fear driven. It will be interesting to see how and IF Katie can change that. It's hard for me to see how she can do it, but I am hopeful. I just pray it doesn't get too corny and feel-good. It's really a fine line.

"Sometimes when you watch the evening news, it's all gloom and doom -- and some of it has to be, because the world is a complicated and pretty scary place right now," says Couric, 49. "But there has to be a place for more hopeful stories."


But, she adds, "it's not going to be smiley-face happy news."

We'll see. I hope not. Although some smiling is appreciated. :)

What viewers want is a constant topic of discussion among the staffs of the evening newscasts, which still reach a combined 25 million viewers but have seen their share of the total audience gradually decline for nearly three decades. Whether Couric can revive interest in the genre is the focus of considerable debate.

Well Katie did an amazing thing even if it doesn't work or doesn't fully represent what the viewers want. She ASKED. She got her little butt out there and asked them! Requesting viewer input by slapping an email address on your site is kinda half-assed. This is the standard network way of doing things. Who reads those emails anyway? Has anyone ever gotten a response?? Katie put in the time to get to know people.

Williams, who has occupied first place since succeeding Brokaw at "NBC Nightly News" 21 months ago, calls her a "great communicator" who "brings to the job an already established personal relationship with millions of viewers. She will be formidable competition, no ifs, ands or buts. . . . Like any product launch in the marketing world, an introduction is going to get sampling. I think that dies down rather quickly."

Touché. But not if she's good. Then you may find a portion of your audience is gone permanently... and my guess? Katie will find some new fans that don't currently even watch network news-- or at least not regularly.

But Williams, 47, sees no need to tinker with his newscast, saying: "We're the established industry leader."

Yes. And your numbers are still shrinking along with everyone else in TV news. But your videoblog is pretty cool. Still a little too "internet TV" for me (so very NBC-ish).

Gibson, 63, who took over second-place "World News" in June after Bob Woodruff was sidelined by injuries suffered in Iraq and ABC reassigned co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas, has said the showdown should be focused on news, not personalities.

I wonder why ever he would think that...hmmm... ;)

"I believe competition is good for all of us," says Jon Banner, executive producer of "World News," who calls Couric and Williams tough rivals. "It brings more attention to the evening news, which lots of people determined some time ago was going to go away. Charlie's move to the evening and Katie's move to the evening give the lie to that. The only challenge we've had is to make sure they know he's on in the evening now."

No one with half a brain really thinks the evening news is going to "go away". That's just a way to spin things to make headlines. You must know that-- you're in this business! You aren't going nowhere, buddy... you're just in a position where you've got to make some changes. Apparently, you know that since you've brought on Katie. TV and the internet will become fully integrated, your numbers will level out to something that accurately represents the public's interest (now that they have other options with the internet) and, in the end, the only thing that will matter will be the content.

Public fascination with the anchors has reached the point that Gallup recently polled about them, as if they were presidential candidates. Couric led the trio with a 60 percent approval rating but, with 23 percent disapproving, had the highest negatives as well. Gibson got positive marks from 55 percent of those surveyed and thumbs down from 8 percent, while 47 percent approved of Williams and 7 percent disapproved.

Why the high disapproval rating, Katie? Could it again be because you are smart, attractive WOMAN (oh! the horror!). No one disapproves of the others because they are just so damn bland! There is nothing to like or dislike.

Or is it just that society finds women easier to hate than men? Hmmm.

CBS has done its part to stoke the interest in Couric as she takes the reins from Bob Schieffer, who will return to his Washington job after having boosted the "Evening News" ratings during his 18 months as Rather's interim replacement. The network has launched a promotional campaign and tapped Academy Award-winning composer James Horner to write new theme music for the broadcast.

Oh! That's exciting! I love a catchy news jingle.

CBS News President Sean McManus says he sees a media "feeding frenzy" over Couric's new role and is surprised by "this unbelievable thirst for information" about her life. "It's a good thing that everyone is talking about the 'CBS Evening News' right now," he says. "The downside is that people are going to be so quick to jump to conclusions after one broadcast. Some things are going to work and others aren't going to work."

It'll be rough around the edges, but I'm sure Katie will help make any awkwardness charming. Give us Americans a little faith. We understand you'll be fine tuning things, that it will be CBS Evening News beta for a little while.

One of those elements is the new commentary segment, dubbed "Free Speech," which will give a 90-second platform to outsiders -- some prominent, some not -- and will also include a weekly essay by Schieffer.

This sounds cool if it doesn't get too hokey. Again, it will largely depend on who Katie and her producers select.

"People are sick of the lack of civil discourse," Couric says, with guests "screaming and interrupting each other and trying to stay on message and berating the other person. They want us to get away from sound bites from inside the Beltway and roll up our sleeves and hear from real people."

Yes, I would concur. It's cute when Jon Stewart disagrees with someone (he does comedy, c'mon) but it's less than charming when the American public is subjected to the likes of Tucker Carlson-- who is supposed to be a newsman, am I wrong?-- getting his smug on. He needs to bring back the bowties-- his only attraction. And I don't always even disagree with him. He has the rare talent of being able to piss me off even when I agree.

On immigration, Couric says, CBS might interview a restaurant owner about illegal immigrants or a recent emigre from Guatemala. "Sometimes in recent years there's been such an effort to bend over backwards to placate both sides of the political aisle, and that on-the-one-hand-this, on-the-other-hand-that approach has left people a little bit cold," she says. "Sometimes they want more analysis and fact-finding and critical thinking."

YES! YES! YES! DO IT LADY. Anything to save us from the "on the one hand this, on the other hand that" syndrome all your collegues seem to have... once you do the research take the next step! Make an assessment! I want you to figure it out and tell me what the deal is. Then I will choose to think you are right or not... but at least I will think you are a human being and not some kind of droid.

On the other hand . . . one planned segment will also feature author Nora Ephron expounding on plastic surgery, a subject of her new book. "They're not all going to be super-heavy," Couric says.

Oh, God no. The one thing America doesn't need is any more shows about plastic surgery. Seriously, the shows out there really seem to cover all the bases and in many cases overlap.

Executive Producer Rome Hartman describes the changes as evolutionary. "People watching the first night will know it's a different broadcast, but it's not going to be outside the tradition or form of the 'CBS Evening News,' " he says. "It's not going to be one of these radical remakes."

Really? It sounds pretty freaking radical. And to be honest, that is JUST what we need. SOMEONE to just be radical.

CBS executives are trying to tamp down expectations of a dramatic boost for their last-place newscast. "The ratings movement might be slow and very gradual," McManus says. "Moving the needle takes a long time, I don't care who your anchor is."

Cover your bases! Cover your bases! Just in case it's a flop. ;)

Nah, that's true. An anchor needs to become part of someone's routine, and changing routines doesn't happen overnight. This will be an especially slow transition for those who don't typically watch television news at all. These new-to-the-news types (think: young people) and those who have decided to give network news another chance (think: people of all ages who usually get their news elsewhere) will need figure out how to integrate Katie into their schedules-- if they like her.

Despite her years of experience interviewing presidents and world leaders on the "Today" show, Couric has faced skepticism rooted in her singing, dancing, cooking and other morning high jinks -- even though press reports about Gibson rarely mention the lighter shtick he did during 19 years on "Good Morning America."

The lady thing again, naturally. Men can be multifaceted, women... not so much. Society wants us to be one thing, or another or they cannot process the information. It's not personal.

"She's America's cutie pie," says Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs. "She's bringing star power to a job that has been a black hole in terms of losing viewers. She's a devil to people who think TV news is losing its soul, and an angel to people who think TV news needs shaking up."

Yes, she will perform CPR on television news, and, one way or another, will certainly shake things up.

Couric's presence will be felt beyond the anchor desk that, as press reports frequently note, was once occupied by Walter Cronkite. She is already working on two pieces for "60 Minutes," one of which is related to Sept. 11. She will host a prime-time documentary on the fifth anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks the night after her debut. She plans to appear daily on CBS Radio and blog at least once a week for the network's Web site, fielding questions "if people have a beef with us. It just adds to the transparency we're trying to promote. We just want to let viewers in a little bit on the process of how a newscast is put together and what decisions we make."

A blog is good. More frequency would of course be better... but my hope is that with some encouragement, she'll ease into it. Of course, I want video. I think if Katie can master the videoblog she could change everything. Bring an entirely different dimension and depth to formal news reporting. That's not to say there isn't a time and place for a buttoned up newscast... but it would be nice to see a different side of her online. And! my guess is that it would help her newscasting too... it would train her to relate to the camera (and thus her viewers) in a whole new way.

In that regard, CBS is a step behind NBC, where Williams has been writing a daily blog since last year, and ABC, where Gibson anchors a 15-minute afternoon webcast that was downloaded nearly 8 million times in June. CBS recently cut a deal with the online site WebMD to contribute to medical segments.

Yeah, CBS really needs to kick it up a notch. My guess is that they need to focus on Katie now and further online integration efforts will come next.

With the average age of evening news watchers about 60, and the total number of viewers having dropped by half since 1980, network executives see the Internet as a new forum for reaching younger people accustomed to watching news and video online.

Uh, yeah.

"It's easy for people our age to dismiss a generation with a broad brush," Couric says. But, she adds, it would be nice if more younger viewers knew "as much about the state of the country as they know about the state of Britney Spears's marriage."

Ok, this I find insulting. Now I've read the surveys which say that young people are totally uninformed about the world around them... and I sure as hell know ALL about the state of Britney and K-Fed's marriage... what godloving ;) American citizen doesn't? But this unforunate statement by Katie ignores all the young (and old) people who just choose to get their news elsewhere. People don't NEED to watch TV to get news, clearly. And she is not going to win us over by acting like we're all like dumbasses. Come to us with a compelling program and speak to us like we're smart and informed. If you relate to people like they're smart and informed, they'll either love you because you aren't talking down to them or will be encouraged by you to *become* smart-- or at least informed-- because you've set the bar high.

Couric's life may not draw as much attention as Spears's marriage, but it is surely dissected more fervently than those of most journalists. That is in part because of her celebrity status and in part because she often shared personal experiences with the "Today" audience -- particularly after the 1998 death of her husband, Jay Monahan, turned Couric into a crusader and fundraiser for cancer-related causes. With a salary of $15 million a year, she moves easily among Manhattan's jet set.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. This woman needs a videoblog.

Couric, who has two teenage daughters, sparked a debate after saying in May that as a single mother she might not be willing to travel with U.S. forces in Iraq. The entertainment show "Access Hollywood" later recycled the quote, erroneously, as applying to whether Couric would have gone to Israel to cover its war with Hezbollah. She says such matters would have to be decided on a case-by-case basis, but she is not apologetic about hesitating to parachute into any war zone.

"I'm not saying I'm going to be totally blowing off my family," says Couric. "That's a very important role in my life, that I'm a mother."

Asked why her comments generated so much attention, she says: "Probably there's still a lot of consternation in this country about people trying to balance work and family. . . . It's a sticky wicket. People applauded the fact that I was going to put my [foot] down at some point and say no.

I think it's terrific that she said no. She isn't just going to go for all the publicity.

"If it's going to advance the story -- if I get an interview with an important figure in said hot spot -- obviously I want to go. Do I want to go just to put on a flak jacket and front a news show? Not necessarily. Viewers are smart. They understand when someone really needs to be there and when it's more of a show."

Again, good for Katie for not going just to go... for refusing to play the part. I think it is actually bad form and in poor taste for reporters to jet off to wherever the trouble is carte blanche and slap on some khaki. It very often minimizes the very real danger of the situation. When it's just for show, it shows. Katie's right.

Couric, who left "Today" at the end of May, sounds a bit impatient to get on with it, telling reporters on a conference call Monday: "It's been an out-of-body experience to watch these major news events unfold in my pajamas." Haha. Sounds like my life.

But in the interview in the first-floor conference room, she cautions against the idea of a personal transformation.

"I don't want to lose who I am, in terms of how I communicate with people," she says. "I'm not going to become a different person. The downside of all the attention is to suggest I'm going to single-handedly save anything. I'm just going to try to be a contributor with a great group of people who are already in place."

And so I root for Katie and her efforts to "advance the story". Maybe she will answer the question of What Will Happen to Network News. Or maybe not... but she will, undoubtedly, and, yes, *single-handedly* (because ultimately it was her decision and her decision alone to take this challenge) change the landscape of media forever. I'll read her blog and will certainly be tuning in on September 5th. Good night, Katie, and good luck.

Oh gosh, what a cheeseball! I couldn't resist.


  • At 1:36 PM, Blogger Dr. A said…

    Can't wait to hear your news...

  • At 2:57 PM, Blogger solus sententia said…

    Wow! That was a lot to read. You had me for a while but then you lost me. Are you like this often? So... what's the word I'm looking for? Chatty.

    Anyways, I like your blog. I could see you becoming famous. Doesn't hurt that you're nice to look at. And watching your old RB vidoes was entertaining.


  • At 3:13 PM, Blogger ChrisM70 said…

    A comment you made:
    "Who wins in this showdown. I do. We do. We get better news. News that is FORCED to reinvent itself and move the medium of television forward. News that has no choice but to fully integrate itself with a new medium altogether, the internet."

    I would really like to believe that, but do we really win? Will we get better news?
    Years ago with the introduction of cable television (and eventually CNN, FoxNews, CNBC) we all hailed it as the future of news.
    "This is great", people exclaimed, "with more news outlets that are 24 hours a day, we'll finally get a much broader spectrum of news - international, financial, environmental, and so much more!"

    But what do we REALLY have?
    50 channels all covering Jon Benet's killer...for 24 HOURS A DAY.
    The news isn't more diverse - it's just more of the same crap.
    Every channel wants ratings, and ratings come from idiotic commentary (Bill O'Reilly, Tucker Carlson, etc), coverage of stupid news (celebrities, box office numbers), and by NOT covering things that might make people sad (genocide in Sudan, Aids in Africa, people STILL struggling in New Orleans, etc.). That's why CBS hired a perky lightweight to anchor the evening news - people want personality and NOT gravitas.

    So will more news outlets (like blogs & podcasts) make it better? Perhaps. Some like Daily Kos are already making the networks take notice. But, I think Katie is half right - too many people care about Britney Spears. However, it's Katie's network and the other Mainstream Media outlets that continue to run stories about her - in essence MAKING us care about it. America is getting dumber, and the current media LIKE IT THAT WAY.

  • At 4:08 PM, Blogger Brooklyn Kitchen said…

    Katie at the helm of a evening news organization won't make for better news. Nor will news that is integrated with the Internet. Take a look at what CNN had on its front page this morning:

    CNN : Shameless Self Promotion

    Their front page news headline was no more than a promo for their own programming. It doesn't add depth, just more noise. And Katie moving to the evening news is the same, just more noise...a publicity stunt to get people to watch.

    I'd betcha that advertising rates have gone up for Katie's debut. Somebody should look into that.

  • At 4:30 PM, Blogger Joe C said…

    I agree about Couric getting a vlog, but wow, she would have to do this major mental paradigm shift to get away from the whole professional, objective, detached, glossy, polished impersonal newcaster to become NewMedia.

    I'm sure you know the persona-type I'm talking about which is so utterly different from what you and other vloggers do. They're so trained and steeped in the impersonal, I don't know that they could pull off personal and do their old schtick at the same time. They'd be accused of (gasp!) having opinions.

    Hmmm. Maybe she could go live in Steve Garfield's spare room for a while. :)

    -joe c.

  • At 5:05 PM, Blogger WO7 said…

    Whoa...that is a lot of stuff to read... real dull stuff. It was like reading Soap Opera Digest for the News.
    The problem with all the news channels are... they are one continuous commercial, interrupted with teasers about the upcoming crisis. Teasers like..."The North American Continent is sinking into the ocean, WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE!!!...stay tuned for more a ten". They have the same fifteen minutes of news every hour 24 times a day.
    The stories they do use, all seem to be politically motivated or they are promoting some new McDonalds toy that portrays the characters from the new "blockbuster" movie that is coming. It's going to take more than a new face or news team to save them from the diversity and honesty of the internet news phenomenon. Where the reporters actually are involved or are eye witnesses to their stories. And they have no motivations but to tell the truth.

  • At 6:24 PM, Blogger Author said…

    I like Katie. I remember when "reality" tv first appeared... her and Matt were disparaging it & how stupid (my word) it was. Then about a month later they started the wedding contests on the today show.

    I believe the personalities on the today show do what the bosses tell them. So now at least she should be able to get back to news.

    There are people who really hate Katie... a neighbor here was proclaiming that Katie Couric is a Communist. (My wife said "well sign me up".) Where does that b.s. come from? Next time I hear this, I'm going to ask this guy what his evidence is. I may also ask him what is a communist. That should be interesting.

    Amanda, looking forward to whatever you spring on us.

  • At 6:38 PM, Blogger bluemustard said…

    that MIA clip from was too funny. About time, that podcast that shall_not_be_named has been getting boring. I tried to watch this weeks episodes and had to skip through them as they were boring. Going to check the other clipshow episodes for now, can't wait for your new show (need my morning cup 'o funny).


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