Network anchors get a little testy when someone describes them as "news readers," or "presenters," to use the British term. "We're journalists," they insist; a few even claim the title of "managing editor," suggesting someone who is actively involved in the editorial process, and helps shape the broadcast's content and scope.
Take Katie Couric, for example. Not only is she the anchor of the CBS Evening News, she also holds the mantle of managing editor, following in the footsteps of her predecessors, Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite. Given her annual salary ($15 million), Ms. Couric is certainly earns enough to perform two or three jobs at the network's struggling news division.
But we digress. Actually, you've got to wonder how much influence Ms. Couric actually has at the Evening News, in the wake of today's story in the NYT. According to the Times, CBS executives didn't tell Ms. Couric that Rick Kaplan would be her new executive producer until after he accepted the job. So much for being in the loop.
In reality, the title of "managing editor" at a TV newscast is little more than window dressing. Anchors are certainly aware of the stories that will be covered; most report from the field from time-to-time, and some make contributions to their scripts (which are written by other staffers). But others are decidedly hands-off. Early viewers of satellite TV could watch the late Max Robinson of ABC talking on the phone about his art collection during pre-broadcast technical rehearsals from his Chicago studio. And, one of the Windy City's true news legends, the late Floyd Kalber of NBC (and later, WLS-TV) reportedly arrived for work only one hour before his 6 p.m. newscast, and departed shortly after it ended. However, I'm note sure if either Robinson or Kalber claimed the exalted title of "managing editor." For the record, some other notables in the history of broadcast news (including Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Peter Jennings) also managed to get by without that mantle.
Which brings us back to Ms. Couric at CBS. As someone who once worked in the salt mines of broadcasting, I don't begrudge her position, or her paycheck. Anchoring a newscast is definitely an acquired skill, and Couric earned her spurs in the morning news wars. But describing her--or any other anchor--as hands-on, take charge managing editors is a bit silly. Their job, in a nutshell, is to read the news and look attractive. That may be one of the reasons that Katie Couric was among the last to know that she had a new executive producer.