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Would Katie Couric’s Departure Mark the Beginning of the ‘Post-Anchor Era’?

Slate’s Jack Shafer tackles the Katie Couric/CBS News situation, and uses the incident to discuss the broadcast evening news programs more generally.

Shafer argues that Couric’s departure is inevitable, as network TV news enters what he calls “The post-anchor era.”

The explosion of news choices on cable and the Web have made the evening news an anachronism enjoyed mostly by an audience of older and less highly educated viewers, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. If there is little prestige, honor, and future being the anchor of the No. 1 show chasing an audience that is becoming smaller, older, and is less-educated, imagine how the No. 3 anchor must have felt.

As Shafer notes, Couric had a huge uphill ratings battle when she joined CBS, as all three evening news programs had been losing viewers, a trend that has continued. In other words, Couric was battling for a larger slice of a pie that was getting smaller.

He also argues that the evening newscasts have been forgoing hard news in recent years, instead giving added focus to “infotainment” programming that has become the standard on the network morning shows.

“The journalistic value of these programs is marginal at this point,” George Washington University media professor Mark Feldstein told me in 2009. Indeed, the erosion of the evening show’s journalistic value may have been part of the calculation in giving Couric the job. She was so expert at serving infotainment in her previous incarnation on NBC’s Today program—she really was!—that the CBS News bosses must have figured that she’d be better at attracting the infotainment audience than a hard-news broadcaster.

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