The Nightly News: Now That It's Not "Interesting" Women Get To Run It

Illustration for article titled The Nightly News: Now That It's Not "Interesting" Women Get To Run It

Come January, two of the three big nightly newscasts will be anchored by women. But are women taking over the evening news only as it sinks into irrelevance?

David Hinckley of the New York Daily News gives the media a great big pat on the back for treating Diane Sawyer's upcoming replacement of Charlie Gibson at ABC's World News Tonight "as a news story, not a woman story." He writes,

In matters of gender as in matters of race, the mark of progress is when it's no longer news that a black man plays Major League Baseball or a woman anchors the ABC evening newscast.


So not-news that heads are already talking about whether Sawyer has more or less womanly softness than existing lady-anchor Katie Couric. Ex-ABC correspondent Judy Muller tells the LA Times,

That there was so much emphasis on Katie as the first woman will lessen the scrutiny on Diane, but it still will be there, because Diane has become associated with softer human interest features. Will she have that credibility for anchoring the big events of our lives? If there's one criticism out there, it's that she veers into sentimentality more than other anchors might.

So not-news at Connie Chung is already bristling at the Couric comparisons. She tells TV Newser's Gail Shister that all those predicting a "cat fight" "need to get a life." She also says, "The question should be, 'How will Diane do against Brian [Williams] and Katie?'"

So not-news that the Daily Beast's Rebecca Dana is already calling Sawyer's ascension "the revival of TV news' most delicious rivalry" — between the longtime GMA host and "Couric, who is gamely hanging on as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, is all smiles and warmth and live colonoscopies to Sawyer's dignified cool." No mention of "Brian [Williams]." Does that count as predicting a cat fight?


And so not-news that former ABC and NBC exec Richard Wald says, "You're going to have, for the first time ever, two women competing as solo anchors in a television framework that just - within living memory - sort of destroyed every woman who tried to do it." Sounds like a fun gig, doesn't it?

Sawyer doesn't just have to contend with veiled sexism, overt sexism, the assertion that there is no sexism anymore, and the burden of proving that a woman can anchor the nightly news without getting shitty ratings. She'll have to do all this from an anchor chair that's starting to seem a little like an old paisley couch someone left out on the street. Dana puts it, um, nicely:

It's not the prize it once was, but it's hers: anchor of World News, the once towering, now considerably diminished evening broadcast, which, like its competitors on NBC and CBS, keeps soldiering on in the face of looming irrelevance.


Sweet — looming irrelevance! Time's James Poniewozik thinks it'll be interesting to see how Sawyer's ratings stack up against Couric's, but only insofar as "there are interesting things about the network evening news, which is probably not much the case any more."

Connie Chung says, "I'm sorry this didn't happen earlier, when network news was a lot more dominant." But could it have? Or is the nightly news something women are allowed to dominate only once it's already become unimportant? Bonnie Erbe of US News & World Report says, "I never thought I'd live to see the day when the network newscasts became a pink collar ghetto," and the word "ghetto" may be sadly accurate. With network news drooping in the face of cable and the Internet, maybe women only get to be in charge because it's no fun anymore.


Or maybe that's too pessimistic. The influence of female bloggers is much-lauded and growing, and it's possible that the famed democracy of the Internet is giving women a chance to influence public opinion in a way newscasters no longer can. Joshua Alston of Newsweek says, "people watch the nightly news in order to have the day's stories read to them in a grave voice. That's all." It's a pretty simplistic description of what, for Sawyer, will no doubt be a complex and potentially rewarding job. But at the same time, there's a grain of truth to it — and in an age when "the day's stories" are coming at us 24/7 in a variety of voices both spoken and printed, maybe there's more room for diversity after all.

Diane Sawyer To Anchor 'World News': 'Another Nail In The Coffin Of The Old Boys' Network' [Mediabistro]
Diane Sawyer Anchors Her Status On ABC [LA Times]
The ABC's Of Diane's Deal [The Daily Beast]
At ABC, An Anchor Shift; For TV, An Image Shift [NYT]
Diane Sawyer Replaces Charles Gibson But Nightly News Is Now A Pink Collar Ghetto [US News & World Report]
Why Sawyer Will Be Better Than Couric [Newser]
As Diane Sawyer Replaces Charlie Gibson, The Real Story Is That Gender Isn't The Story [New York Daily News]
Sawyer to Replace Gibson; Let Oppressed-White-Male Rhetoric Begin [Time]
Why Diane Sawyer Will Be Better Than Katie Couric [Newsweek]

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This seems like a correlation without causation issue to me. Yes, the evening news has become increasingly irrelevant in a 24hr-news-cycle and Internet age. Yes, women have made great strides in journalism and are taking on more prominent roles. But these trends have both been progressing at the same time for decades, one isn't BECAUSE of the other. To me, that's saying something like "Do women only get to be CEOs now that the economy's tanking?!" Uh, I'm pretty convinced these things are unrelated. They were both a long time coming. Maybe these question are worth exploring - I'm a social scientist at heart and resist making assumptions about how the world works - but I highly doubt there is cause/effect here.