It used to be a change of anchors for a network news broadcast would have adults buzzing nationwide. This anchor change, though, probably wasn’t even the biggest TV story of the day. The U.S. Supreme Court’s Aereo decision trumped the announcement that David Muir would succeed Diane Sawyer as the anchor of ABC’s World News Tonight.
This move is being viewed as a “change” but that is the case only on the surface. Unless ABC executives are saving part of their announcement, it’s just more of the “same old, same old” for network news.
The way consumers get information has changed dramatically in the past 20 years. But take a look at the network evening newscast. It’s pretty much the same. Starting in the Fall, three white men will sit behind anchor desks in New York and present a newscast that looks very much like 1994 television. They are all managing editors of the newscasts, following a tradition when anchors were selected by journalistic chops as much or more than presentation ability, meaning they are given editorial control. And perhaps most significantly, the newscasts will air, in most markets, at 6:30 p.m., the same time selected for Cronkite, Reasoner and Huntley/Brinkley, generations ago.
Seven years ago, I wrote this about the opportunity CBS had in front of it when it made changes to its Evening News. CBS squandered that opportunity. ABC apparently will too. Here are some thoughts on what ABC could be doing to truly change its evening news:
-Keep it apolitical – The network evening news could be a bastion of impartiality and credibility sorely lacking on national TV. With George Stephanopolous, a former political strategist, spokesperson and analyst, getting an increased role, ABC has put their potentially best point of difference at risk.
-Use the medium – With HDTV, television has great storytelling capacity. As a counter to the talking heads of cable, network news is a place to “show and tell” the biggest stories with video, sound and reality. Too often, though, viewers see the anchor and the set. Instead, show the stories that TV does best, taking the audience where it couldn’t go otherwise plus stories that haven’t yet appeared on other platforms.
-Use new media – All elements of the network broadcast should be easily found online immediately after the broadcast. Fans of “straight news” could get the show rundown texted to them to insure they don’t miss stories of interest. Where is evidence of any of that thinking?
-Change the time – At least one network needs to be bold and get closer to or in Prime Time with news. Take a look at the roads near where you live at 6:30 p.m. Packed? Those are missed opportunities for network news.
The networks have invested in change for their morning broadcasts. Unfortunately for fans of news, those changes have meant more celebrities, more crime stories and more anchors learning to cook. But the evening is ripe for change and a new 40 year-old anchorman isn’t enough to make a dent.