Here’s to a brand-new career
“A man walks down the street,
He says why am I short of attention,
Got a short little span of attention,
And now my nights are so long.”
Paul Simon: “You can call me Al”
A friend of mine just recently retired after over 30 years as a small-market news anchor. Part of my call to congratulate him included teasing him about being a dying breed.
You see, the days of the omnipresent anchorman, someone who delivered the news every night like ‘Uncle Walter’ Cronkite are vanishing, if not nearly done for.
Just this past year on a national scale we saw the demise of Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, Bill O’Reilly, and Tavis Smiley from anchor chairs once considered thrones of influence. Nightly – or daily, in Lauer’s case – they would bestow some pearls of wisdom on America, and we would listen.
The heyday of the alpha anchor appears to be finished, along with the cherished belief that it’s necessary to cater to coddled stars in the service of ratings and revenue.
“It’s just not true anymore that the reason why people watch television is to watch celebrities,” analyst Andrew Tyndall wrote recently in The Daily Beast.
“The impact of the departures of these big-named icons, from a strict point of view of ratings and revenue, is going to be much less than people think,” said CBS News’ Andrew Heyward. He should know, having observed news anchors since the days of Edward R. Murrow, through Cronkite, to Dan Rather, to whomever the ‘Eye network’ now has delivering your 6:30 p.m. daily rations
The abrupt sackings of ridiculously well-compensated franchise players, considered so essential to the financial success of their respective programs and media outlets, also demonstrate a more prosaic truth: these guys just didn’t matter as much as everyone thought.
Heyward, meanwhile, cited another driving force in the demise of the alpha anchor—the drastically shrunken audience.
“There’s still some magic to being on TV, but compared to what it was 25 years ago, it’s also very hard,” Heyward continued. “There are so many sources of information, so much fragmentation in the market, in technological change, the rise of social media that the trend is to bring the unassailable, omniscient, all-powerful anchor off the pedestal. And that’s a change that is overdue.”
Face it, nobody changes the channel anymore because someone’s not sitting between the weatherman and the sports guy anymore.
“It’s a little bit old fashioned to say this, but there are so many people on TV, so many personalities, that there’s not one personality who can cause viewers to say, ‘I’m not watching this because you let him or her go.’ Nobody is in awe of somebody just because he or she is on TV,” he concluded.
Viewers, listeners, and (to a hopefully, small part), readers feel it’s more of a peer-to-peer relationship with the journalists; respect is now linked to accountability and enterprise instead of the trappings of anchor-dom.
The late Roone Arledge, father of Monday Night Football, helped shepherd in this “golden age” of anchors. But he came out of the ‘wide world of sports’ and he understood the value of a quarterback, a star player, and he helped set in motion the star system that led to excesses, and of people tolerating bad behavior of some of the stars who wielded such power. But remember, this is also before the advent of the internet and the transformation of the media landscape. Nowadays, celebrity star-power is becoming irrelevant.
As for my friend entering retirement, as they said in the promo for the movie, Anchorman: They bring you the news so you don’t have to get it yourself.
Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 252-332-7211.