Cronkite Winners Look To Future, Don't Like The View
George Stephanopoulos and Katie Couric chat after a panel at the Walter
Cronkite Awards. (photo by Mark Evitt)
Katie Couric, George Stephanopoulos and other winners of the USC Annenberg Walter Cronkite Awards wrestled with the demise of newspapers and the rise of the Internet, praised and criticized Twitter and bemoaned the power of the anonymous commenter at a panel on Wednesday.
While the theme for the discussion was the state of political broadcast journalism, the conversation became a talk on the state of journalism as a whole and how mainstream media outlets were adapting to new media outlets.
"I twitter and blog very selectively, to be honest with you," Couric, the anchor and managing editor of "The CBS Evening News," said. "I don't think anybody gives a rat's ass if I'm about to eat a tuna sandwich, and I think some of it is so inane and narcissistic and bizarre, I don't quite get it. I don't know why anybody would want to read it, much less why I would want to write it."
George Stephanopoulos, the host of the ABC Sunday morning news show "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," said he uses Twitter as a way to get feedback from viewers and get a sense of the questions they want answered by his guests.
"It informs me and helps me to get at the heart of the story in a way that will really matter to the people who are watching or listening," Stephanopoulos said."
The spectre of bankrupt newspapers hung over the panel, even though the Cronkite Awards are distributed to television journalists. Panelists acknowledged there was no business model for success in journalism online at least for the mainstream media, and Couric lamented the "free zeitgeist" of the Internet.
"That's the MO that's been established, for better or worse," she said. "This information is free, that people are entitled to it, and there will be a citizens' revolt if you start taking away from that."
Couric has been a beneficiary of that free information - her interviews with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin have received over 13 million views on YouTube. (Couric was receiving a Cronkite award for the Palin interviews.)
The executive director of "The CBS Evening News" Rick Kaplan said the YouTube exposure has helped Couric and the network.
"What that does is it exposes Katie and her talent and her skills to a broader audience beyond your own evening news and in the long haul, that pays off," Kaplan said. "And it's paying off for us, slowly but surely."
But the mainstream media heavyweights on the panel weren't completely thrilled with the leveling of the playing field online. Couric especially objected to "pajama-clad bloggers" and commenters guaranteed an audience by posting online.
"I read the comments section on some of these Internet sites and I'm absolutely appalled at the level of ignorance and hate," she said. "The kind of letters that secretaries at newsrooms used to get and throw in the circular file because [the writers] were complete lunatics now live on in perpetuity because they have a forum."
Despite the uncertainty in the room as to where the profession was headed - David Brancaccio, the Host of "NOW on PBS" said he was occasionally optimistic when he wasn't "drinking to excess" because he was "so full of despair about all of this" - those present remained committed to the craft of journalism.
"This really is a calling for all of us," Kaplan said. "I wouldn't tell this to [CBS President Les] Moonves, but I'd do it for nothing. I just think it's the greatest job. We've all gone into this as a missionary. I don't think anyone got into this because we thought it was a smart business decision."
The Walter Cronkite awards are given biannually by the Norman Lear Center at the Annenberg School for Communication.