News names weigh in on Couric

Brokaw, Rather mull future of TV news

Two broadcast news legends reflected on CBS’ hiring of Katie Couric and the future of network television news.

Speaking to reporters after receiving awards from the National Assn. of Broadcasters for distinguished service, former anchors Tom Brokaw (“NBC Nightly News”) and Dan Rather (“CBS Evening News”) were cautiously optimistic about Couric.

“This is a period of transition” for all network news, Rather said. “The changing face of the business necessitates innovation. I have no doubt CBS News will be different, and not just the anchor.”

While he described Couric as “a superb person and a great pro,” Rather added that being a good anchor requires two things: “leadership, and you’ve got to love the news.”

Rather said he believes his successor possesses both of these, but said time will be the ultimate test.

Many things change with a new anchor, Brokaw said, “and this is part of the usual change. CBS clearly has something in mind (by hiring Couric), but what it is, I don’t know.”Though Brokaw expects the format of “CBS Evening News” will be different, “I don’t think the model of the network anchor will change much. The country was pretty well served by the old model. It shouldn’t change, and I don’t expect it to.”

Rather became emotional, his voice catching as he disputed a characterization of anchors as “the voice of God,” saying, “It’s the voice of experience.” He then listed some experiences of his own — such as covering the Vietnam War — that were the most moving of his career.

As more platforms and outlets for news develop with new technologies and devices, broadcast news will have to work hard to stay relevant, Brokaw said. “I believe the great challenge for our industry now is to develop a synergistic approach” that incorporates current and future delivery platforms, he added.

“We’re rushing into a new-media universe without a full appreciation of what forms they will take,” Brokaw continued. “I hope they’ll all complement each other, but I do think the industry is behind in (ensuring) that. We’re on a rocket ship at the moment, destination unknown.”

“I don’t know what’s ahead,” Rather echoed, but in a multiplatform environment, “it’s important that the news remain the news.” He warned against reporters spending too much time “regurgitating” the same story — for a broadcast channel first, then maybe for a Web site, then for something else — instead of continuing to chase other stories.

Rather also lamented that “news operations never have enough funding, never have and I don’t expect they ever will.”