Does It Matter Who Reports the News?
Something I find very interesting is watching the news. For me, there is something significant about turning on the TV and watching the local or national newscasts. More specifically, who reports the news and in what manner is extremely relevant. Many people, myself included have a love/hate relationship with traditional media. While they often do an excellent job of informing viewers of current issues, they can also easily spin the stories in a specific direction that will make it more interesting. I sometimes want to scream at the TV when a news anchor will tell a story, then raise some ridiculous question about the risk or potential harm that could be caused. In all likelihood, nothing will happen, but they need to keep the viewer interested in the story, and scaring them into listening is often the most effective method.
What has been striking to me in the past couple of years is the transition television news has been making from male lead anchors to female ones. An occupation once dominated by men, then dominated by a male/female team, seems to be moving to a solo female anchoring format. The trend has been emerging in the United States and more recently in Canada as well. If you look at the three major national networks, which air nightly news programs, you see that two of the three are currently anchored by women. In Canada, of the three networks which air nightly national news programs, two are anchored by men, but one of which will be anchored by a woman within the next year or so.
I guess the question I am getting at is, does this have any relevance? Should we care that there has been this shift. Obviously I am not raising this with regards to whether women should be anchoring newscasts. I think it is fantastic that we are finally beginning to see more gender parity. But I think this is an important question, because who reads the news and how they tell it to people shapes how the public responds to it, and how the message is interpreted. We have moved from an era which was dominated by journalistic icons, into one of new faces. Of the three major networks in the United States (NBC, CBS and ABC) the most veteran anchor is NBC’s Brian Williams who took over from Tom Brokaw in 2004. CBS’ Katie Couric is the second longest serving after taking over from Dan Rather in 2006. Lastly, Diane Sawyer is the most recent addition, after taking over ABC’s news program in 2009 from Charles Gibson.
Canada still has two of its veterans anchoring the news. These include Lloyd Robertson at CTV and Peter Mansbridge at CBC. The newest addition to the Canadian news lineup is Dawna Friesen, who has taken over the news program at Global. Robertson has recently announced that he will be retiring in the near future, and it was announced that Lisa LaFlamme will be taking over for him. On a more local note, in Calgary Alberta, the veteran news team of Darrel Janz and Barb Higgins, has been replaced by Tara Nelson who now anchors the program on her own.
If you have ever listened to the veteran anchors, they have a very specific manner in which they report the news. Their speaking style is very strong, calm and authoritative. For this reason, they often develop a strong relationship with their viewers, who place a large amount of trust in the anchor. Today, many of the new anchors, both male and female, anchor with more emotion and use their body language to help tell the story. Does this have an impact on how people receive the story? I think that people are less inclined to develop the strong relationships, and are more inclined to question the story they are being told. That questioning attitude is a good thing. People need to listen to the facts that are sometimes buried in the story, to determine how it actually affects them. Otherwise, they are simply sheep, who could be told we live on the moon.
It is impossible to discuss this topic without acknowledging the impact of the 24 hour news channels and the internet. Fewer and fewer people are getting their news in traditional format, and that has lead to a decline in the relevance of conventional news programs. People no longer have to wait for the news to come on, and listen to the story they determine to be relevant. They can jump online anytime or turn on CNN and get news when it is convenient for them. Perhaps ten years from now we won’t even have traditional television news programs. But at the moment, a significant number of people get their news from television, and thus I believe this discussion is relevant.