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ISSUE 119 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/14/2006

Couric moves on, up

By Andrea Horbinski
Staff Writer

Friday, April 14, 2006

Last week Katie Couric, teary-eyed, announced that she was leaving her job as co-host of America's number-one rated morning program, NBC's "The Today Show." Couric didn't say where she was going, doubtless because NBC forbade her, but everyone not living under a rock had already heard that CBS had hired her for $75 million over the next five years.

Starting this summer, Couric will be the first female solo news anchor on network television when she takes over as anchor and managing editor of "CBS Evening News," which has been dead last in the ratings for eons. There's nowhere to go but up.

The era of Katie Couric has already been predicted to be the time of the "soft" news anchor. Couric's openness with her viewers is legend - she once had a colonoscopy on air to promote awareness about colon cancer - and they love her for it, tears and all. But before she joined "Today" she was a news reporter, and even on "Today" she's continued to deliver incisive interviews with notable figures around the world.

Moreover, the once iron-clad rule forbidding anchors to show emotion has been breaking down for years. Anyone who watched TV on Sept. 11, 2001 will remember Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather and every other television reporter openly expressing their shock, sorrow and anger. Last summer, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper blew up at government officials on air while covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (and rocketed to stardom), and other reporters did not shy from expressing how appalled they were.

On the face of it, Couric's gender may seem to be the most remarkable thing about her appointment, but it shouldn't be. It's 2006 already, and countries around the world have women professionals, politicians and presidents. Even Libya just elected a woman as its leader. Back in America we're talking about a female news anchor as if it's revolutionary.

Still, Couric's job undeniably signifies a sea change in network news, but it comes at a time when the tide is going out. Half as many people watch the nightly news as in 1969, and of those who do, the overwhelming majority are over 60.

My own family hasn't watched the nightly news since the Gulf War, and even my grandmother, who's addicted to the television, prefers cable. My own first reaction, when I heard about Couric's move to CBS, was joy that I wouldn't have to endure the horrible, sappy lines NBC wrote for her at the Thanksgiving Day Parade and at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympic Games.

Personally, I'm more likely to download the latest episode of "Family Guy" than to sit down to watch it, and when I do turn on the TV, I inevitably flip to one of my house's 400-odd cable channels rather than one of the networks. I'm addicted to, not the tube itself.

Moreover, I'm not alone in these habits. Instead of watching your favorite network shows on air, you can buy them on DVD or purchase them for your iPod video and watch them when and where you choose. TiVo is so ubiquitous it's practically a verb. You can get breaking news via almost any mobile device, and for more in-depth coverage there's always the podcast.

Even the Emmys have awakened to the new television reality: This year, in the first change to the awards since the '80s, there will be an "iPod Emmy," officially called the "Outstanding Achievement in Content for Non-Traditional Delivery Platforms." Catchy, huh?

So Katie Couric's new job, although I applaud it as a woman, is probably more like a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging trauma wound than the major surgery required. The networks may be trying to innovate, but it's too little, too late. When AOL covers Live8 better than MTV (the Internet giant is up for that "iPod Emmy" this year), it's a sure sign that the old model of television, network and cable, is broken, and even Katie Couric's billion-megawatt, $75-million smile won't fix it.

Opinions Editor Andrea Horbinski is a junior from Marlton, N.J. She majors in classics with concentrations in Japan studies and in linguistics.

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