When Katie Couric left for Yahoo! last year, it seemed to herald a series of blows to broadcast news that hit hardest these past few weeks. TV news vet Bob Simon passed, Brian Williams fell from grace and John Stewart announced he’s leaving the Daily Show. My mother asked me a while back who my favourite news anchor was. She thought I was joking when I said Stewart.
In a way, though, it’s easier for John Stewart to win the best anchor award because of his parent company’s revenue model. Stewart’s job is to entertain cable subscribers, who provide most of The Comedy Network’s revenue, which gives him more latitude to shine a light, and his talent, on the real story behind the headlines, and the news makers themselves. Fox and CNN are in the business of pleasing brands first, who are courting particular demographics via ads. I wonder if Fox’s personalities aren’t chuckling right along with Stewart’s barbs at the Fair & Balanced news network. You’ve got to think at least some of them are aware of the game.
But the game isn’t paying off like it used to. Broadcast news ratings have tanked for years, giving rise to the type of desperate, ratings-grabbing journalism that feels more like a bad Hollywood script. If only those downed Asian planes had snakes on them too.
Media blogger Jeff Jarvis raises a lot of admirable points when he recently railed against the current state of the evening news. Jarvis calls on NBC news to use Brian William’s 6 month shame-cation as an opportunity to throw the tired-old script away and report on unique and nuanced stories that encapsulate the broader issues of the day. Sound overly optimistic? That’s pretty much the template for the news arm of Vice, the multi-platform media darling with a ton of eyeballs (sans-cataracts) whose value Rupert Murdoch himself pegged at $1.4 billion.
And platform may present an even bigger issue for broadcast news than authenticity. Even if television news changed up the script to court an audience that’s not currently in the process of dying, would a generation of millennials, weened on ‘mobile-first’ social-media powered news entities such as Vice, Buzzfeed and Business Insider even notice?
As a Gen X-er I’m caught in the middle, wistful for 60 Minutes and the New York Times in print, but young enough too have succumbed to the lure of technology that births a raging river of instant news choices in the palm of my hand. I’m not sure who wins now that the future truly seems in the here and now, but I think the broadcast news script is already written.