Jeff McCall '76 Analyzes Move by CBS to "Un-Katie its Signature News Broadcast"
June 12, 2011
June 12, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — The replacement of Katie Couric with Scott Pelley as anchor of the CBS Evening News is the subject of an Indianapolis Star column by Jeffrey M. McCall, professor of communication at DePauw University. "Pelley got this anchor job because of his reporting background, not because he is a personality," the 1976 DePauw graduate writes. "That was CBS' mistake when hiring Couric. The CBS suits thought a charismatic personality on the anchor desk could sufficiently carry a newscast. When viewers tune in for news, however, they want to see a reporter. Pelley is that. Nobody has described him as 'perky'."
McCall, author of the book Viewer Discretion Advised: Taking Control of Mass Media Influences, calls the anchor switch "a sign that CBS is attempting to un-Katie its signature news broadcast," noting that Couric came to the news program from the more informal and chatty world of NBC's Today and "suffered from audience perceptions that she was politically biased ... Pelley’s résumé, meanwhile, consists entirely of journalism. He has never been an anchor or a gabber. He has never been seen on camera in a Halloween costume, unlike Couric," he points out.
According to Dr. McCall, "Pelley's new role as managing editor of the Evening News will be more critical than how well he does narrating lead-ins to other reporters' stories. More telling than how well he reads a teleprompter will be which stories he puts in the lineup and how those stories are approached. The audience will respond if serious news gets done with a proper sense of evenhandedness. The audience never sensed that quality from Couric."
The professor believes, "Changing the newscast's image will take time, so CBS should not expect an immediate ratings jump. Pelley is lucky to arrive with nowhere to go but up. He has several months to get the broadcast situated before the 2012 election cycle revs up."
The column concludes, "The Big Three network newscasts now get less than 25 million viewers a night, down 20 percent from 10 years ago. In 1980, 50 million people watched a network newscast each night. The network newscasts remain important, however, because they set the reporting agendas for many other venues online, in print and on local broadcasts. The nation needs these newscasts to have newsworthy stories covered sensibly."
Access the complete essay at College News.org.
Jeff McCall is frequently called upon by major media outlets to discuss media matters. He recently penned an op-ed column on Oprah Winfrey's impact and was quoted in a story in the UK's Guardian. He also discussed Jim Lehrer's decision to step away from PBS' NewsHour with the Christian Science Monitor.Back