Halfway approach to blog was CBS' error

Are network news anchors really underexposed? Depends on how you measure it.

Are network news anchors really underexposed? Depends on how you measure it.

Compared with Walter Cronkite, yes, Charlie Gibson is hardly a blip on the mental radars of Americans. But compared with most other figures of the media universe, network anchors are shining bright; they are, in fact, the most famous journalists in the country who don't have to put "journalist" in quote marks (Hello, Regis).

This abundance of exposure, though, has not stopped the networks from assuming that all of their anchors - or at least all of their nightly news teammates - must participate in the blogosphere. It's an attempt, one supposes, to further connect with an audience outside of the older-skewing 6:30pm viewing crowd. But where big, old media companies and new media technologies connect, there is a high possibility for trouble.

And so it was April 4, when CBS anchor Katie Couric posted a video entry to her blog, "Couric & Co." that began with the wistful anchor musing, "I still remember when I got my first library card."

Couric went on to, in characteristically sentimental fashion, recount some thoughts about libraries. Thoughts, as it turned out, that were stolen right from a column that had appeared in The Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks earlier.

A minor uproar ensued. CBS promptly fired the lower-level producer who actually wrote the commentary for Couric and inserted a lightweight "correction" on the blog that read, "Much of the material in the Notebook [commentary] came from [WSJ writer Jeffrey] Zaslow, and we should have acknowledged that at the top of our piece. We offer our sincere apologies for the omission."

A rather disingenuous "correction" for a piece that never should have run in the first place, certainly. But the more startling revelation for many was that Couric's highly personalized Notebook video commentaries on her highly personalized and branded blog are, in fact, written for her by underlings.

Is it naive to expect a big-shot celebrity journalist like Couric to write his or her own blog material? Not exactly. At NBC Nightly News, its blog, the "Daily Nightly," has frequent and thoughtful posts from anchor Brian Williams, along with other reporters and producers from the show. And, notes NBC Universal spokeswoman Barbara Levin, "Yes, they are most certainly written by the anchors and correspondents who post them... including Brian Williams."

Williams even managed to post five paragraphs on April 16 shortly after arriving in Virginia to cover the shootings at Virginia Tech. That is rather impressive and it validates the existence of NBC's blog: It plainly adds value to those interested enough to seek it out.

Likewise, at ABC News, the nightly news blog entitled "The World Newser" is written by senior correspondents and others at the show (though anchor Gibson himself is not much of a blogger).

"It's written by our correspondents, our anchors, and our producers, and the contributions are signed by the people who've written them," says ABC News media relations chief Jeffrey Schneider. "We do a webcast at 3:00 every afternoon, so, in many ways, that's more [Gibson's] contribution to the Web."

CBS should take note, as it languishes in third place. The other two networks offer two different, but perfectly acceptable models of blogging. Either have an anchor who actually does take the time to blog, and promote the hell out of that fact to build an online audience, or accept that your anchor is too busy to blog, and don't try to pretend that he or she does.

The ethical implications of Couric's secondhand commentaries are murky - people understand that news anchors have writers - but the blogosphere is about forging a more personal connection. A Couric-branded blog should either feature her very own thoughts, or take her name and picture off the masthead.

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