Is Dan Busy?

19 years

24 years

14 years

Not that it carries the cachet it used to, but one of the select positions in the news business was as the anchor of the CBS Evening News. Douglas Edwards, Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather each spent years as anchor, many of the years in each of their tenure’s as number 1 in the ratings.  Connie Chung and Bob Schieffer for short stints. And Katie Couric. But not, apparently, for long. The current anchor and managing editor of the Tiffany Network’s flagship newscast is on her way out as her contract ends this summer. If you believe Monday’s news reports.

At least one person mentioned to me today that CBS made a mistake giving the news to a morning show anchor. I had to remind them that Walter Cronkite, Tom Brokaw and Diane Sawyer all anchored morning shows before moving to the evening anchor chair.

I alternated between watching Peter Jennings and Rather. I didn’t quite see Dan as the liberal tool that many conservatives believe he was. He was a bit quirky, which made the news interesting. I do think he made his own bed with the mess over the story about President Bush’s time in the Texas Air National Guard. Dan has been a journalist long enough to know that if you go on the air with shoddy sourcing, it’s gonna bite you in your big Texas butt.

NBC planned for change. Tom Brokaw could still be doing an excellent job of anchoring the Nightly News. But he was ready to step down, and he knew soon enough for his network to groom Brian Williams for the anchor desk. I think the suits in charge at CBS knew for years that their preference would have been to ease Dan toward the door – but they never asserted themselves and made the decision to start that process.

When he did leave (don’t let the door hit you on the way out!), CBS had no plan. Bob Schieffer – a fine journalist – was put in place on a temporary basis while Les Moonves hatched his plot to bring star power to the news. I wasn’t a “Today Show” fan, but I knew Katie was popular. Popular enough to bring viewers to the network? A lot of people didn’t think so. No gravitas they said. No depth. No hard news credentials. Hey, she didn’t suck. But CBS had its share of problems before she got the gig. CBS lost a bunch of strong big market affiliates to Fox in the mid-1990s. Without strong local news lead-ins, the network news isn’t going to do well. In my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, the CBS affiliate is incredibly strong. And there, Katie has the #1 network newscast.

Where will she land?

So now, Jeff Fager, head honcho of “60 Minutes,” is now the boss of the entire news division. The talk is that he’s willing to give Katie a slot on that show when she leaves the anchor desk. Of course, she part of the deal to bring her to CBS in the first place was to make her a regular contributor to “60,” but for some reason, that never happened.  There’s also talk of giving Couric a daytime talk show. CBS happens to be a major syndicator. Their biggest daytime offering right now? Oprah. Once she rides off in the sunset to her own network (see what I did there? ‘own network…’ Oprah Winfrey Network… huh? huh?).

Good move, Mr. Roberts!

Anyway, I though John Roberts should have gotten the job instead of Couric back in 2006. Well, he left CBS when he was passed over, stopped off at CNN, where he found himself a really beautiful woman and started a family and is now working at Fox News. Rumors point to Scott Pelley as a possible replacement, just like in ’06. And Harry Smith, who was just booted off the morning show is also a potential replacement. Whoever you pick CBS, don’t let it be Anderson Cooper. Unless you make him co-anchor with Kathy Griffin.

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Wait, what did you say?

One of the weekend Clark(e)s

In the early 90s, when I was working at Channel 3 in Memphis, I got to be the weekend reporter (I was the new guy). Kym Clark had that assignment at Channel 5 and Jonathan Clarke was doing weekends at 13. Since there seemed to be less news on weekends, we’d often see each other while covering whatever the desk determined the “big” story was. Kym, of course, is still at 5 (she’s better looking than me & Jon combined, so no surprise there). JC headed north to St. Louis, where he has his own PR company. He also blogs.  He and I got into a Facebook chat about politics and the incredibly stupid mess surrounding former USDA official Shirley Sherrod.

You're Fired! Or Not!

She got pushed out of her job after Andrew Breitbart posted part of a video of her speaking at an event. In the clip, the black official was heard making a comment about being reluctant to help a white farmer. She went on to say that she realized that her job was to help all farmers, so she did. The initial portion of the clip Breitbart posted did not contain the entire comment, but he called what he did post as proof of Sherrod describing how she discriminated against a white farmer, with the suggestion that the Obama Administration supported racism. Of course, cable news, constantly trying to fill the gaping maw that is the 24-hour news hole, jumped on the story, pushing at the Department of Agriculture until the Secretary of Agriculture forced Sherrod out of her job. Later that day, the network news picked up the story to that point.

Sorry.

It took a day, but after people started seeing the rest of the tape of Sherrod speaking, it was obvious that everyone attempting to commit journalism had failed miserably, missing anything approaching the actual context of the story. Sherrod had done her job and had told the audience at the NAACP event just that. The Obama Administration apologized for its weak-kneed overreaction and offered Sherrod a replacement job, which she has not decided on whether to accept.

What's Your Bias?

Breitbart, who used to work with Matt Drudge on his website, considers himself a libertarian. Many of the items on his websites tack to a conservative point of view, which is fine. Fox News, which picked up the story, is said to tack in the same direction, particularly its prime time commentators, which is also fine. CNN, which tries to position itself as unbiased and middle of the road, jumped into the story with both feet, tracking down Secretary Vilsack to find out what he was going to do about the racism in his department. They also had Sherrod claiming she was being railroaded, but they didn’t hold the story while they checked out her claims. While I generally don’t have a problem with many conservatives, I was amused when I saw that Ann Coulter says the victim in this Passion Play wasn’t Sherrod, but was Breitbart(!) – claiming (on Fox News) that the website operator was “set up” to paint the official as a racist.

Of COURSE she's on the right side of blog!

Ann, you’re a clown. Really. For many reasons, but in this case, because any journalist, or anyone who purports to be a journalist, has the ultimate responsibility for the information they gather and disseminate. If they pass along information that is incomplete, misleading or just outright wrong – that’s on them, their editors and publishers. Breitbart, Fox, CNN, the broadcast networks or anyone else who presented the half-assed version of the Sherrod story without first trying to obtain the entire tape of her remarks at the NAACP meeting and figuring out everything she said is to blame. Just because someone feeds you a video that’s supposed to be a bombshell and “blow the lid” off of anything, doesn’t mean you post it or air it immediately. I know there’s a rush to be first and that the immediacy of internet communications and reduced the available time to check out story – but the whole “getting it right” thing is straight from Journalism 101. If you only report what you know at the time, you’re bound to miss something important. And that will usually come back and take a chunk out of your butt.

Lemme get this straight...

Looking for Work?

I don’t claim to be some kind of journalistic oracle here. Did I make mistakes when I was working in the news business? Does the pope crap in the woods? Ask anyone who has ever edited any of my scripts. Of course I’ve made mistakes. And the news business (especially on the TV side) is predicated on taking the work of other people and presenting it as your own. I had an assignment editor who would hand out story sheets to reporters each morning with an accompanying newspaper article stapled to the sheet. The Gainesville Sun should have gotten on air credit for most of the stories on TV20 at the time. It’s not just local TV. I was reminded of this watching “Dan Rather Reports” on HDNet last night. If he and his producer had been more careful with the facts on the Bush National Guard story, Dan would still be anchoring the evening news instead of cranking out stories on a little-watched cable channel, Katie Couric would be doing celebrity interviews on Today while bantering with Matt and Al and CBS wouldn’t be struggling with the issue of whether or not to replace her as anchor of the CBS Evening News!

The White House apologized, as it should have. Bill O’Reilly apologized too (although he still managed to accuse Sherrod of being unfit to hold a government job – way to have it both ways Bill!). Many of the other news outlets, including the Fox show that first ran the tape have been doing the sidestep, pointing fingers everywhere but at themselves.

Guys, don’t be afraid to admit you screwed the pooch on this one. You did and it’s obvious. By not admitting it, you erode what little trust viewers and readers still have in the work you do. For viewers, there’s another lesson here. Beware news organizations with agendas. If you wait long enough, any governmental entity will do something wrong. That’s the nature of government. Don’t look for artificial constructs and try to manufacture controversy (New Black Panther Party & the Justice Department anybody?). Cover the real news. Ask questions. Then go ask more questions. You don’t have to be first to be right. You just have to be right.

Recycling

This is not my Earth Day blog. I’m cool with recycling and saving energy. I don’t actually do much recycling – it’s not available in my part of town, and I’m too lazy to cart my paper, plastic and glass to a separate facility – even if I knew where one was. Kudos to one of the guys at work. He hauls off bags full of soda cans and water bottles from the office every week.

No, I’ve got a bone to pick with CBS News Sunday Morning. I’ve been watching since the show went on the air in 1979. Big Kuralt fan. Osgood is fine too. I’m better with the bow ties than the poems, but to each their own. As far as the theme, “Abblasen,” by Gottfried Reiche, I think I’m a bigger fan of the original version they used, as played by Don Smithers, versus the later versions by Doc Severinsen and Wynton Marsalis.

There are a couple of touches in the regular format of the program that bother me a little. One is the habit of reusing pieces that ran on the previous week’s CBS Evening News. Sometimes, it seems like they’ve at least gone to the trouble of adding some additional material to the re-runs. However, there are pieces that are identical. It’s kind of a drag to watch the news during the week, then having to fast-forward through something I’ve already seen the following Sunday. Hey CBS, I can go to the website to watch a piece for a second time.

Sunday's with Martha

Of course, this points back to the issue of why they’re doing this in the first place. Sure, maybe it’s a great piece that they’d like to get to the very different demographic that watches on Sunday. It may also come down to how many people they have available to work on Sunday Morning-specific pieces. It often seems as if the Sunday show has become a sort of dumping ground for older CBS News Correspondents, like Martha Teichner, Rita Braver or Terence Smith. Seems like the executive producer of the Evening News (Rick Kaplan, who was running CNN when I started working there) has brought his own youth movement to that program, as if younger and less-experienced is what people want with their news. Rick – Katie’s still in third place – how’s that working out?

How's Luka?

I’m also wondering who had the idea of profiling faded pop music stars. They did a Linda Ronstadt profile a couple of years ago, which made sense. After all, at one point she was the biggest name in popular music. Yesterday, I got to find out where Suzanne Vega’s been since “Luka” fell off the charts in 1987. The week before was Vic Damone. The show used to have both a classical music correspondent and a jazz and modern music correspondent. You don’t get very much of that anymore.

Anyway, CBS News announced dozens of layoffs earlier this year, just like ABC News. These types of moves often lead to executives announcing cost-saving moves, such as combining news gathering units, shuttering news bureaus and sending out one-man bands. It’s going to be tough for reporters to get that walking 2-shot with the person they’re interviewing if they have to shoot the story at the same time. Cutting costs can also mean more dependence on freelancers. A lot of times, news organizations end up using the same people over and over again, since those people are more familiar with the way those organizations work. Some are probably former full-time employees. Kinda seems like a way for these companies to get full-time work without bothering with paying benefits.

Either way Charles, I’ll see you next Sunday Morning.

On the Run

Another ridiculously high hit count on the blog today. Nearly 500 hits again. And again, it’s driven by searches for “Lucy and the football.” What’s going on? I haven’t got a clue. Thing is, just because someone clicks on the blog, that doesn’t mean any of those folks are actually reading the blog. Besides, all those hits are to one page from June, and it doesn’t seem that anyone is clicking through to anything more current.

GrizzcityheaderAnyway, I got miles to go before I sleep. Spent all day Wednesday in West Memphis, Arkansas. Front half of Thursday on a shoot in the old Federal Reserve Bank in downtown Memphis (it’s now Grizzlies Academy). Second half of the day trying to manage two video edits, plus getting ready for a two-day shoot in Oxford, Mississippi. I don’t mind going; after all, I might get the chance to eat at City Grocery, which is worth the drive by itself. It’s just that it’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow, and most of what I’m doing is outside. After working a couple of weekend days lately, I’m thinking I’m going to need a couple of days off next week.  I’ve got to get a flu shot, give blood, get the 100,000 mile service on my car, plus a couple of other things.

Oh Katie...Because of that, I’m going to be short today. Also, the hundreds of new readers are only seeing that one page from July. There is one thing. My good pal Joe Larkins was opining on the way HD is affecting how some news anchors are using make up. He mentioned he’s not actually seeing the news in HD yet. Lemme tell you, when you do, you’ll really notice some changes. I watch Katie Couric most nights. She looks fine the way they got the cameras set up in the studio. But when they shoot her in HD, without the special studio filters and lighting, you really notice the age lines on her upper lip. Okay, that’s not a current picture.

Here Now the News!

Charlie Gibson’s leaving ABC News and the anchor chair. Diane Sawyer gets to sleep in and bring her talent and experience to the evening news.

We Still Miss You Peter

We Still Miss You Peter

I think you have to give ABC some credit — hopefully they’ve learned something since the agonizing experience of replacing Peter Jennings after his much-too-early passing. They knew they’d struck gold with Jennings the first time they made him anchor of the evening news back in 1965,  He wasn’t quite ready at the time, but he certainly grew into the job. And while he was good by himself, I liked the 3-anchor set-up Roone Arledge used with Jennings, Frank Reynolds and Max Robinson.  Of course, I would have been happy if Harry Reasoner had kept the anchor job at ABC.

Nice Effort

Nice Effort

After Jennings passed away, ABC made the mistake of bypassing Gibson and Sawyer, trying to protect the “Good Morning America” franchise and promoting the team of Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff. That experiment came to a sad end after Woodruff was seriously injured covering the fighting in Iraq. The suits decided that Vargas couldn’t carry a newscast on her own. There was talk at the time that both Gibson and Sawyer wanted the job. So, in the space of 3 or so years, they both get a shot.

I wonder whether there was some kind of an arrangement involved; I doubt anyone at ABC News would ever admit to that.  Of course, going through 4 anchors in as many years is reminiscent of the old days of the division, when they shuttled through anchor after anchor, trying to find someone to hold their own against Cronkite and Huntley and Brinkley.

Passed Over

Passed Over

There’s a lot to be said for having the opportunity to actually plan for changes, like NBC did with Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams. CBS couldn’t have been caught more flat-footed when it had to push Dan Rather out of the anchor chair.

Instead of just promoting John Roberts like they should have, they put Bob Schiffer in the job for a year, then make the big move of getting Katie Couric, who hasn’t exactly set the world on fire since she’s been doing the news (true confession: I never watched her on “Today,” but I do watch her now. I’m just not a Williams or Gibson fan).

You Go Woman!

You Go Woman!

So I’m already seeing stories making the point that once the changeover at ABC takes place, 2 of the 3 nightly newscasts will have a solo female anchor. True, but does it really make a difference? Both Couric and Sawyer have legitimate hard news experience. Sawyer was a 60 Minutes correspondent and Couric’s first job at NBC was covering the State Department. Both spent a long time on morning shows (but so did Cronkite and Brokaw and Gibson).

Women have been regular anchors on local and cable newscasts for years. I’ve had the opportunity to write for a number of qualified and capable women who do very good work on the desk. There was a least one who was an untalented hack, but there are always exceptions and that’s just as true for men too.

Vaya Con Dios

Vaya Con Dios

So the 66-year-old Gibson will step down at the end of the year. He’s spent 35 years at ABC News — that’s a pretty good career in anybody’s book. And while Sawyer has deserved an opportunity like this for a long time, she’s 63 (hard to believe) — which makes me think there’s a good chance that the news division is going to have to go through this again in a few years.

Of course, that’s if there’s still network news in a few years. Many observers are convinced that if newscast viewership continues to decline, one of the three networks might just walk away from its evening newscast. Hard to imagine, but who thought newspapers would start fading the way they have?