03. March 2005 · Comments Off on How to Fix CBS · Categories: General

Peggy Noonan (one of my favorite columnists) offers some sensible suggestions to CBS on what they could do to return to their glory days. She makes a lot of sense to me.

There are a couple parts I really liked. One is where she addresses what she calls “the myth of Cronkiteism.” Addressing the question of why the networks spend millions of dollars on the news anchor, she says:

Because they’re mesmerized by a myth–the corny and no longer relevant belief that the anchorman makes the evening news, that if he’s popular it’s popular.

This is the myth of Cronkiteism. Decades ago everyone in the news came to believe the “CBS Evening News” was No. 1 in the ratings because of the magic of Walter. The truth is Mr. Cronkite took over the evening news in 1963, a bland, plump fellow, a veteran of United Press International with a nice voice. (snip)
Then John Kennedy was shot, and suddenly, for the first time in the TV era, all eyes turned to television–to the Tiffany network, with the best coverage. And Walter did good work. Soon corporate headquarters realized the evening news could be a moneymaker, a profit center. They pumped more money into the news division, which was still dominated by the ethos of the Murrow Boys, the great journalists who witnessed and took part in Ed Murrow’s one-man invention of CBS News. They created the best broadcast. Mr. Cronkite was its front man. He came to be broadly respected because his show was broadly respected.

Mr. Cronkite became the first megastar TV anchorman, and a generation of programming executives misunderstood why. They thought this was the lesson: first the anchor, then the popularity. This was the opposite of the truth: first an excellent broadcast, then the anchor’s popularity.

The other was related to another of her suggestions, which is to take the money they would pay a mega-star anchor, and use it to put more reporters in the field, all over the world.

Then open it up–trust your correspondents in the field. Let them tell you the story. Don’t tell them what the story is from New York, after you’ve read the Times and the Washington Post. Let them tell you the story. Let them be our eyes.

What really happened today in Iraq, what are U.S.soldiers doing, what’s the mood in the green zone among people who’ve been there a while? What are they selling in the local candy store in Tikrit, what are young men doing for jobs, what are mothers making for dinner, what’s available to put in the pot, how are the schools going, is it usual for an 8-year-old girl to go to school each day or has that gone by the boards because of war? What do American soldiers think of what Americans back home think of the war, what is their impression of our impression? What does a “letter from home” look like now? Is it a DVD? What is it like to live in a place where everything’s been fine and calm for 10 days and you know you’ve turned a corner and just as you’re thinking this there’s an explosion 10 blocks away and suddenly you hear sirens and people are cowering in doorways?

As I said, Peggy makes all kinds of sense to me. I’m curious as to what Sgt Mom would think, since she’s our resident expert.

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