Scott Pelley, who must now compete with anchors Brian Williams of NBC and Diane Sawyer of ABC to lift CBS News out of third place in the ratings, is a highly regarded, award-winning reporter. Former anchor Dan Rather says Pelley is a “rock-solid believer in the tradition, history, legends and myths of CBS News.”
Katie Couric's successor for the “CBS Evening News” anchor position is “60 Minutes” correspondent and 21-year CBS News veteran Scott Pelley.
Pelley, who must now compete with anchors Brian Williams of NBC and Diane Sawyer of ABC to lift CBS News out of third place in the ratings, is a highly regarded, award-winning reporter. Former anchor Dan Rather says Pelley is a “rock-solid believer in the tradition, history, legends and myths of CBS News.”
Rather is referring to the legacy of CBS News correspondent Edward R. Murrow, who changed American journalism by connecting stories to broader political and social issues. The subtle implication is that Couric does not share Pelley's loyalty to the traditions of CBS News and her reporting was somehow "less" in substance or style or seriousness of purpose.
Couric has had detractors since she started. She was recruited in part, on the strength of her popularity as co-host of “Today,” yet she was often criticized for her high public profile and cheery morning show disposition. Leaked stories suggested that she was a divisive rather than a unifying force among the newsroom staff.
Whether Couric was difficult off-camera or not, she deserves credit for changing the face of network news. She is the first female evening news anchor in America. Her premiere broadcast was watched by an estimated audience of 13.6 million, setting a ratings record. Her interviews with former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin asked hard-hitting questions that exposed Palin's weaknesses and are credited by many critics with changing public opinion. Couric also stepped out from behind the desk, most recently with stories on Egypt's unrest.
Couric's relationship with “CBS Evening News” may have been less than cordial, but it was her inability to increase ratings that sealed her fate. CBS is desperate to get out of third place and hopes Pelley will be their savior. Is this a realistic goal? With social networking sites, 24-hour cable news channels, morning shows and poor performing lead-in programs to the evening news, are audiences simply over the network news no matter who is anchoring it?
Couric's exit and Pelley's entrance matter little to CBS' ratings prospects because for many viewers, the evening news is more a comfortable routine rather than a thoughtful choice. The 24-hour news cycle leaves little room for variety in reporting or even scooping rival news organizations. Most likely, viewers have heard the big stories of the day long before they sit down to watch the “CBS Evening News.” With
this level playing field, ratings seem to be more contingent on personal preference rather than quality of reporting. Maybe audiences will enjoy listening to Pelley's delivery more than Couric's, but her exit should not be viewed as a reflection of her failed loyalty to the traditions of CBS news.
Murrow's news values didn't die with Couric. You can find them on Twitter, and that's a hard act to follow.
Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.