Couric takes on crix

Anchor touts news chops

Incoming “CBS Evening News” anchor Katie Couric began the first day of the rest of her professional life by firing back at critics who think she doesn’t have enough hard news experience to helm the nightly news.

“I kind of resent when people say that,” Couric told new “60 Minutes” colleague Lesley Stahl on Thursday during an onstage Q&A session before Eye affils gathered for the net’s annual affiliate meeting. “I’ve done as many hard-hitting news interviews as any evening news anchor,” she insisted. “That’s a side of me that’s had a lot of exposure.”

Couric pointed to her role in covering the events of 9/11 for NBC News when Stahl asked if viewers were ready for a female anchor to guide them through traumatic news events.

Couric made it clear that she has no desire to be an imperial anchor, saying she doesn’t plan to follow what new boss Leslie Moonves once famously decried as the “voice of God” model for anchoring the news.

“The era of pretentious anchoring is over,” she said. “People want someone more humanistic, more direct rather than someone pompous … giving them the news,” Couric added. “People want a more multidimensional (anchor), not someone they can fit into a box,” she said.

Couric also said TV journalists need to keep in mind that their audience extends beyond the coasts and the Beltway and not be afraid of asking seemingly simplistic questions, such as why Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons is so dangerous. And when Stahl asked about polls showing Americans have less trust in journalists, Couric suggested that’s because reporters have “been held captive to spin. We say, ‘So and so says this’ and ‘So and so says that.’ But where is the truth?” she said.

Anchor said it was a mixture of “laziness” and “cowardice” on the part of journalists that had led to less difficult questions being asked of public officials, particularly post-9/11.

“To challenge authority was seen as unpatriotic,” Couric said. “I think the journalistic community was being pressured to hold their fire.”

That said, Couric praised the work of the two CBS News crew members killed in Iraq over the weekend and said it was “imperative that we cover the war.”

“As the war goes on, Americans seem less… interested. It’s becoming white noise,” she said. “Now more than ever, as we used to say at NBC, we need to stay on top of it.”

Couric said there are no plans to introduce a revolutionarily different “Evening News” come September, when Couric takes over as anchor and managing editor of the broadcast. A new set, as well as different music and graphics, are in the works, however.

Couric said she thinks she’ll do away with one hallmark of network newscasts, however: the traditional “Good evening” greeting.

“I might not say that. Who says ‘Good evening’ (besides) waiters?” Couric said. And what about a signature closure for the broadcast, a la ‘Good night, and good luck’ or ‘That’s the way it is’?

“I thought maybe ‘Peace out, homies’ might work,” she quipped, adding that “a simple ‘good night’ might suffice.”

Couric also said the “Evening News” needs to reflect the fact that most viewers have already heard the day’s main headlines by the time they watch the network news. “We have to accommodate these changes, because the changes are not going to accommodate the evening news,” she said.

She said she’d like to incorporate more news about health and the medical system into the broadcast, reflecting her personal interest in the areas.

Couric praised outgoing anchor Bob Schieffer, saying he would continue to play “a critically important role” in the broadcast. She also revealed that she recently had dinner with longtime “CBS Evening News” anchor Walter Cronkite, who didn’t offer her any concrete advice but did express his fear that the nightly newscasts on the nets may be headed toward a greater focus on feature stories.

“I assured him we’d be doing the news of the day, but maybe a little bit differently,” she said.

Couric was introduced to affils by CBS Corp. prexy-CEO Moonves, who said he had been courting Couric for many years before a deal could be worked out.

Because they couldn’t always meet in public, “We drank many bottles of expensive wine on the sofa of my apartment,” Moonves said, prompting some laughter from the audience.

“Don’t worry. My wife was in the next room,” Moonves added.

Elsewhere during the final day of the Eye affil meeting:

  • “The Early Show” topper Steve Friedman unveiled plans for what he called a “June sweeps” initiative designed to take advantage of Couric’s departure from “Today” and Charlie Gibson’s ankling of “Good Morning America.”

Weatherman Dave Price will visit 16 cities with an “Early Show” RV in tow, handing out free summer vacations to viewers. “I believe in retail television,” Friedman told Daily Variety. “If we’re in your city, you might watch.”

Ayemcast is also launching a sort of “Internet Idol” called “Living Room Live.” Music competish will exist on both the Internet and on-air.

  • CBS News and Sports prexy Sean McManus delivered a report card to affils via tape so that he could fly to London in order to meet the caskets carrying the two fallen Eye crew members.

  • Eye’s marketing division announced plans to distribute postage stamps bearing the likeness of CBS stars. New U.S. Postal Service regs allow customized stamps featuring living people.

  • Net also booked a new fall promotional campaign with Pottery Barn and plans to send a civilian family on the road in an RV to hype the Eye’s fall lineup.
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