Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Jamie Kirchick had a post last week about Katie Couric sliding her way to an anchor position because she's popular with women viewers and was only sent to Iraq to garner cred as a reporter. He said, "Couric's ascension does not represent some great achievement for women in journalism." So imagine my surprise when Acela's in-train magazine, Arrive, plastered Couric on the cover along with thumbnails of other female TV reporters. The rather weird cover article, written by USA Weekend writer Dennis McCafferty was mainly pegged to an incident in 2006 when Jennifer Griffen, FOX News anchor, successfully negotiated the release of two members of her news team held hostage in the Gaza strip. The article made some generalizations about how women bring "emotional heft" to news.

There are a few of things at work here. Firstly, Couric doesn't have the reporting cred that other news anchors who have sat in that seat before her do, but then, women find it much harder to earn the cred. Although women have been prevalent in the world of reporting for at least the last 20 years, they've often been pigeonholed into covering "human interest" stuff. Couric is a widely recognized name because she was in a role that she was hired to fulfill for years, a host on a morning TV talk show. There are plenty of women who do more serious work than Couric, but they also get far less recognition.

Secondly, the whole process of hiring female TV news anchors seems to be one of the most sexist practices in journalism today. You are hired to look a certain way. When I was in journalism, those in visual journalism had to be very concerned about what to do with their hair on camera. There's an assumption, as exemplified in the Arrive article, that women inherently bring a certain softness to news. This is, of course, an extremely rigid reading of gender stereotypes.

Thirdly, TV anchors usually come from a reporting background, but the job itself doesn't require that much reporting. This is, at least, the claim that Dan Rather is making in his lawsuit against CBS/Viacom. They are primarily responsible for presenting the news, and only rarely report it.

Fourthly, women are less engaged in hard news, and there's a great deal of speculation about why this is. Perhaps it's because they choose to be, perhaps because they're too busy, or perhaps because the way news is currently presented doesn't really appeal to them.

While I was never a huge Katie Couric fan and I almost never watch CBS evening news, I feel a slight obligation to open this up to discussion. There are a number of factors at work, and I think it's worth thinking about a little bit more than rolling your eyes at the "achievements" of Katie Couric.

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