Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Shut Up and Read Yer Teleprompter

In the wake of the fiasco at CBS News (please visit their website and read the reports if you are interested in the particulars of the case. The letter from CBS President Les Moonves is particularly enlightening), I have been thinking about changes that need to be made in network news. Network news seems to be waning in importance in the wake of cable news networks and the Internet; it does, however, remain a matter of "prestige" among the networks, their news divisions maintaining what little hold on real journalism remains (this is not the case for FOX, they just don't care).

The major problem, as I see it, is that network anchors like Dan Rather have too much responsibility. What I mean by this is that the anchor researches stories, follows leads, helps with programming and even writing in some cases. This is all in addition to actually going on the air and "performing" the news. This seems, at least in the case with Dan Rather, to be far too much to do.

What I propose is a role for the anchor similar to those in Great Britain. In the UK, people like Dan Rather are called "newsreaders." As this title suggests, that is their only function. They read the news and read scripted "interviews" with correspondents in the field who do the work of framing and producing the news. What would be so wrong with this? The newsreader must speak well and clearly, read everything properly and project an air of confidence and trust.

CBS need look no farther than Walter "The Most Trusted Man in America" Cronkite who anchored the CBS Evening News when the "Tiffany Network" was tops of all the networks in news coverage (and if you could beat Huntley/Brinkley, you were doing something right). Cronkite was involved, but he never forgot his central function as the "face" of CBS News. Wear a sharp suit, look into the camera and read beautifully. How hard could that be?

Maybe this would lead to better stories, better writing and, for God's sake, more time to research stories and check sources (you know, Journalism 101 type stuff). Optimistic, yes. But I have to believe, as William Holden's character in Network did, that the news division should be the heart, soul and conscience of a television network. It is certain that the entertainment divisions cannot be trusted to do this anymore. We must rise above the Bill O'Reillys of the world and aspire to present thoughtful news to a public for their consideration and debate.

Pie in the sky? Sure, but even I feel hopeful occasionally, at least where the fate of humankind and its culture is concerned.

A fella can dream, can't he?

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