I should confess that I’m neither a close follower of Katie Couric’s career (if I have the TV on in the morning, it’s probably tuned to ESPN) nor a regular viewer of network evening news. So I come into watching her first night as anchor of the CBS Evening News Tuesday without much basis of comparison.
And I suspect that most of the stories written about her debut will focus a lot on the late-in-the-broadcast puff piece about the first photos of Tom Cruise’s kid, and its inclusion as proof positive that Edward R. Murrow is not just turning in his grave, but about to rise up from the dead and demand his spot back. (Nice job, by the way, couching the piece in Murrow-era history by pointing out that CBS showed photos of an infant Prince Charles on its newscast in 1949.)
That aside, though, Couric’s stated intentions to bring depth and discourse to the news were on display (as was Couric herself — she stood, she sat behind the desk, she was in a chair talking to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman). The broadcast opened with a longish piece on a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan, followed by a related story on the president and Couric’s chat with Friedman. It was good, solid broadcast journalism, particularly Lara Logan’s lead piece.
Couric also introduced a new segment called "freeSpeech," an opinion segment in which Americans famous and not get to speak their minds. The opening salvo was fired by Super Size Me filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, who argued that the alleged polarization of our country is mostly the result of people at the poles commanding the most airtime. He’s probably right, but given his work, seemed an odd choice to deliver the message.
It’s hard to fit a full day’s events into 22 minutes, though, and so the rest of the broadcast felt a little bit light. That’s not Couric’s fault, but it is now her problem. Other than a decent explanatory piece on an oil find in the Gulf of Mexico and how it might (but probably won’t) affect gas prices, the rest was just a quick whip through the headlines or feature-y stuff like the baby Cruise pictures (who, by the way, seems to have an awful lot of hair for an 18-week-old baby).
As for Couric herself, she seemed sufficiently anchor-like to me, though as I said, my judgment isn’t colored by any memories of Today show cooking segments. She seems to be going for a fairly conversational style in delivering the news (something else she’s said she hopes to do), and that suits me just fine. I also don’t doubt that when events warrant — say, her interview with President Bush tomorrow night — she’ll be convincingly serious.
Will Katie Couric save network news as we know it? Probably not. But she’s certainly not going to kill it either.