Much as this is a blog on media change, it is impossible not to get drawn into the last few days of speculation about the future of Katie Couric and her role at the CBS Evening News. I'll get to the media change part soon.
The New York Times weighs in today with a lengthy backroom piece, co-bylined by its sterling media writer Bill Carter, that reveals a recent CBS executive discussion with Couric and her agent about whether she might leave the anchor job before her contract expires in 2011 --- say, right after the U.S. election later this year --- and occupy a new network role.
Now, I've only managed in the much tinier Canadian division of this big league, and only for a couple of years, but the leak of this discussion is almost certainly the kiss of death for her tenure. Anchor loyalty is frail and needs constant nurturing. Audiences flee easily. It's hard to imagine how viewers will provide loyalty (not that they were, anyway) when it's feasible Couric and CBS are even musing about a premature departure. Just to have that meeting and discussion --- or to leak it, anyway --- is to essentially generate the goodbye.
Which brings me back to the topic of media change, because Couric was supposed to be it --- a new approach to nightly news, a new vivaciousness, perhaps with a new set of commitments around life-relevant themes, in order to connect with a disaffected audience and help save the genre. While many of the purists were worried she would fluff down the news, their concerns were the least of the eventual worries.
No sooner was she on than did she start seeming more solemn and, well, wholly traditional. She'd surrendered that wondrous breakfast-time Today Show effect and adopted nothing magical in moving to dinner-time CBS News.
Her status today is an eight-figure mess and her demise will once again touch off the debate about the viability of the nightly newscast. U.S. network television news ratings are in decline, partly because of the addition of all-news networks like CNN and Fox, and partly because the hour of the broadcast is harder to fix as an appointment in a commuter/long work day world.
Given that it was reported this week that CBS News is in talks with CNN about cost-sharing its newsgathering worldwide, the Tiffany network is in the midst of a journalistic perfect storm.