Apr 05

Why Katie Couric Didn't Wash

The journalism people take seriously nowadays comes from ordinary folks acting as journalists, posting videos and opinions, and the trick to their success is that they are unencumbered by a corporation's bottom line or the strictures imposed on the news by advertisers. They might be crazy but at least nobody controls what they do. When I worked on a dailly newspaper I was not allowed to cover a strike at Boston's biggest department store because it was a major advertiser. Everyone in town knew about the strike but the paper pretended it wasn't happening. My paper didn't even like reporters even to leave the office because they thought maybe we'd go to some bar and party, or otherwise stick it to the man. It's kind of hard to do good community journalism when you aren't allowed out of the building. We gathered information by phone or rewrote press releases and printed them as news. This was immoral. We had become journalists to serve the citizenry with trustworthy information. We had been trained to be personally accountable to the truth. We resented being treated as inmates and became cynical about the profession we had loved.

You can't have good solid serious journalism without journalists who love what they do and take it seriously and don't have to be people-pleasers. They must have freedom. The newspaper editorial was invented specifically so the suits would have their space to vent. Now they use the news to vent and we have what's disparagingly called "the media", very obviously brokers and spin doctors, and if nobody wants to read newspapers anymore or watch TV's nightly news, it's no mystery as to why.

Despite the serious, prizewinning work she had done as a journalist, America's former sweetheart Katie Couric was not taken seriously as a nightly news anchor and after five years -- granted, an era where nightly network news is no longer important -- is on her way out. It isn't her femaleness (although the cuteness she used to stay on top at Today works against her now). She's just no good at being stuck in front of a camera with nothing else to do, nowhere else to put her energy but her voice and determined facial expression, no one to argue with. It's the dullest, most "figurehead" of the high-visibility jobs. She's a journalist who wasn't creating, wasn't writing, wasn't free except to do the occasional special or interview (such as with Sarah Palin). It gave Couric a discomfited, even constipated expression. Who wants to watch that?