The Downfall of Perkiness
9:04 AM, Apr 10, 2008 • By DEAN BARNETT
The Wall Street Journal reports today that Katie Couric is on her way out at CBS. After two years of Couric compiling "record-low ratings" and with her ratings currently having a trend line that resembles a ski-slope, CBS will finally cry uncle and part ways with its $15 million/yr. news reading starlet.
I would imagine that few readers of this site watch any of the network newscasts. If you gather news and opinion on the internet, you're by definition a high end news gatherer, and the networks direct their broadcasts at low end news gatherers. Much of the 22 minutes of "news" they disseminate each night really isn't news at all but rather "features" aimed at delivering their viewers from problems that purportedly bedevil them. For instance, significant portions of a given broadcast will instruct the viewer how to avoid a predatory mortgage or how to finally gain relief from his lower back pain. In other words, if you actually want to get the news and you're watching a network newscast, you've come to the wrong place.
Nevertheless, it's worth noting that more people watch Katie Couric each night than the king of cable, Bill O'Reilly. Much more. While the networks' nightly newscasts are ghostly anachronisms that harken back to the era when we had three real channels to choose from, their evening news shows still garner a lot of eyeballs - a total of well over 20 million between the three of them. But that number will continue to shrink as Americans gather the news they want in more efficient ways.
CBS, however ineptly, gamely tried to reinvent the nightly news formula to remain relevant in a new media era. How was the network to know that Couric's trademark perkiness and strange fireside interviews would repel viewers rather than attract them? What CBS's Couric fiasco most ably demonstrates is that the networks don't have the first clue what to do with the many eyeballs that Walter Cronkite (not to mention an oligopoly) bequeathed them. Maybe producing an actual news show could pause the decline, but the network nightly newscast's slide into irrelevance remains inexorable and inevitable.