Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Definition of Success

Seems that CBS News can't wait to exorcise Katie Couric from its collective memory. The Perky One had barely finished her last broadcast as anchor of the CBS Evening News when a crane appeared outside the network's New York broadcast center, and began removing the giant poster of Couric that previously adorned the building.

Meanwhile, the rollout for her successor, Scott Pelley, is already underway--in earnest. Ahead of his June 6th debut on the Evening News, Mr. Pelley is granting scores of media interviews, hoping generate a little buzz and begin putting his own mark on the broadcast, which once dominated the network news ratings.

Wags would argue that Pelley has nowhere to go but up. Earlier this year, CBS gave up on the Couric experiment after an investment of nearly five years and hundreds of millions of dollars. Roughly $60 million was paid to Ms. Couric; the rest was spent on promotion, marketing and other expenses. There's also the matter of lost ad revenue; with Katie in the anchor chair, CBS remained dead last in the evening news wars, and was forced to charge lower ad rates than rivals ABC and NBC.

It an effort to put the best possible face on the Couric debacle, CBS touted the number of awards won by Couric and the Evening News. But the real measure of success in broadcasting is ratings and revenue, and by those standards, Ms. Couric was a dismal failure. No wonder CBS decided to pull the plug on her earlier this year. Network insiders say there was no real effort to keep Couric, even if she accepted a large pay cut. CBS decided it could do just as well with someone else (like Mr. Pelley), who earns far less than $15 million a year.

Amazingly, there are those (outside the Couric family) who are lauding her CBS tenure as a rousing success. In a recent New York Times column, Gail Collins hailed Katie Couric for "not screwing things up."(H/T: Newsbusters).

From my perspective as a charter of the progress of American women, Couric was a total success. The first great mandate for a First Woman is not to screw things up for the Second Woman or the Third. On that count, Couric was great. She was under incredible scrutiny and pressure and she held up her end. There was never a moment when American viewers turned to each other and said, "Well, that certainly didn't work out."


Excuse me, Ms. Collins, but that's exactly what happened. If Couric had been the godsend that CBS was hoping for, she would still be in the anchor chair on the Evening News, and the network wouldn't be in third place among the network nightly newscasts. Instead, Scott Pelley is warming up in the newsroom and Katie Couric is looking for her next gig.

Of course, it's not a surprise to read such pap in the Times' op-ed pages. Remember, this is the same publication that has been losing readers for decades, and went begging not long ago for a $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Using Collins' tortured logic, you'd guess the Times would really be in bad shape if it weren't for the reporters, editors and executives who helped create the current mess. Keep it up, folks, and very soon you can join Ms. Couric in looking for her next job in journalism.

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