Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Chat: The News Sorority

I love morning news - usually I'll wait for Ryan to leave for work and then that TV is coming on. My weekday and Saturday show is usually the Today show but sometimes I switch it up if they are going on-and-on about something stupid. I actually think the weekend crew is better than the weekday line-up. On Sundays, I watch CBS's Sunday Morning. In my opinion it is, by far, the best program on television.

So The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour - and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News by Shelia Weller fit right into my obsession with the news. It follows the careers of the three women from their early days out of college to present. And offers a great review of current affairs and recent history - especially in the Middle East and the work Amanpour did in making Americans aware of international news and events. I did not grow up watching CNN so found Amanpour's story especially interesting. This book took me over a month to read because it was so detailed, and I felt the need to absorb each section before moving on.

Here are some snippets I found interesting:

- CNN's first building in Atlanta was a former Jewish country club and when they moved the news team into the basement during renovations, they forgot to but in bathrooms. Ted Turner made arrangements for the staff to use bathrooms a block and a half away at a low-rent motel. Many instead chose to use the gas station across the street.

- The ratings war between ABC, CBS and NBC is very real and the morning shows and the nightly news broadcasts depend on each other as well as on other programming. The idea is that the viewer will be too lazy to change the channel. Case in point, when Desperate Housewives became instantly popular more evening viewers were leaving their channels on ABC and the GMA-to-Today gap was separated by just 47,000 households.

- Networks don't always learn from their mistakes. In 1991, it seems like a very Ann Curry situation happened when Debra Norville was tapped to replace Jane Pauley (whose contract wasn't up yet with NBC either - just like Curry) because Today was in third place in the Morning show line up. Norville and Bryant Gumbel (who Matt Lauer replaced) did not warm up to each other, and it was clear that viewers were not impressed with Norville. Katie, who was not that experienced, was interviewing at NBC for a newsreader position but was hired as a national correspondent.

I found the footnote on this section to be most interesting: "Morning show audiences become so loyally attached to their hosts that even the most popular shows are punished for what seems like a cruel expulsion. In 2012, when Ann Curry left the Today show - with a teary good-bye - to be replaced by Savannah Guthrie, fans took their anger on Matt Lauer, who had always enjoyed huge popularity on the show that Katie's fourteen-year tenure made unbeatable. As a result, Today's ratings plummeted and GMA grabbed the number one Morning spot. In April 2013, Today's public relations train crashed when it was revealed that Today had essentially removed Curry. The term that was used on NBC in 1991 resurfaced in 2013: implosion.

I've been so curious as to what will Ann Curry will do when her contract with NBC is up. I follow her on Instagram and she is definitely still doing a lot behind the scenes, but I haven't seen her reporting in front of the camera in ages.

- Another footnote I found interesting was when Katie became the first female anchor for nightly news on CBS in 2006, Walter Cronkite was a big fan and mentor to her. Katie asked Cronkite to do the opening announcement "the CBS Evening News, with Katie Couric." Which he did for no money. After Cronkite died CBS hired Morgan Freeman to do the announcing: "The difference between the iconic news anchor's volunteered work and the actor's presumably paid work was quietly revelatory to Socolow [CBS person], indicating how the TV news business had changed from public service to commercial enterprise."

- I thought the best quote of the book was this one by Jeff Fager, current first chairman of CBS News: "Newspeople become celebrities, but celebrities don't become newspeople. It's an important distinction. Someone who's a celebrity shouldn't be brought in to anchor a newscast." Amen to that!

I could go on and on, but will just recommend you read the book!

Also, I've been working on compiling my various book reviews in one spot on the blog -- check out the new Book Chat link at the top of the page.


Lee and Kim said...

I love this! I can totally relate. Since being at home, I've become completely obsessed with Today. I find myself Googling the anchors and trying to learn as much about them as possible. ha! Lee thinks I'm nuts! Have you watched Newsroom? I think that's partly responsible for my obsession. It's a great show if you haven't seen it!

Kara Paulk said...

Hey Kim! I've watched a few episodes of Newsroom but we don't get HBO. I'm waiting for the HBO Go app to be available for the Roku --- right now it's only out for Apple TV if you don't have a cable subscription! You'd love this book!