Revisiting the anchor issue

Now that Bob Woodruff is back in the U.S., media critics are jumping all over ABC for sending him to Iraq in the first place. The view looking down their noses is that it’s purely a marketing ploy and, therefore, disingenuous to dispatch an anchor to foreign lands, especially those where the anchor is put in harm’s way. There are two huge problems with this thinking.

In the first place, these people don’t know Bob Woodruff. He IS a reporter, and reporters report. He would not be comfortable sitting in front of a desk in the traditional anchor role.

Secondly — and more importantly — the traditional anchor role in a TV newsroom has less of a future than the printed newspaper. As media continues down the unbundled path, it is inevitable that the need for an “anchor” dissolves. The traditional anchor is the glue that holds the bundled content of a newscast together. You cannot make a case for glue in an unbundled paradigm. In this sense, ABC may have actually backed into a position with legs by turning the traditional anchor role into that of chief correspondents.

In one of my earlier essays, I noted that the news anchor was an endangered species:

The industry’s obsession with celebrity and the easy marketing thereof is meaningless in a Postmodern world that has demystified the industry and its hype, rejects elitism and doesn’t need its information spoon fed by good-looking faces anyway. As the world of video news shifts to a broadband environment, where users can pick and choose what they want to watch and when they want to watch it, there are powerful forces at work that will make news anchors unnecessary.

Firstly, time is precious to the Postmodern (Pomo). It “belongs” to me, and I can read a story faster than anybody can read it to me. I’ll read my own stories and make my own decisions about those I choose to explore further. I don’t need you to do that for me.

Secondly, in selecting the video stories that I want to watch, I’d rather have the reporter who was there give me his or her take on it than somebody sitting in a studio. This is essential Postmodernism — that if I can’t experience something for myself, I want only someone who’s been up close and personal with the thing to share their experience.

Thirdly, the only “personalities” I care about are those who share my beliefs and provide the arguments that I need to communicate those beliefs with other members of my “tribe.” I don’t care what these people look like or sound like. What they say is paramount.

Finally, I’m out here slugging it out with everybody else, and I have little time or respect for people on pedestals, especially those who don’t have a clue as to what I’m going through. The pejorative term “media élite” is generally used by conservatives to slam those with a liberal bias, but, for Postmoderns, it goes way beyond that.

Some day, somebody is going to experiment with an anchorless newscast, viewing the “finished product” as assembling the unbundled content they produced throughout the day. All media is, after all, being turned on its head by the disruptive innovations of Media 2.0, so why should TV news be any different? The death of the (traditional) nightly news anchor is closer than you think.


  1. Henry Hill says

    I agree that the newsdesk bound anchor is endangered, but the “NEWS” needs a head to personalize the essential important story that news is. The “anchor” is that head and embodies the importance a story is given. Queen Elizebeth does not rule, but she lends a majesty of importance to government and society. President Bush along with millions of government employees — federal, state,and local — really govern. People want to believe in a kind of majesty to help them make their lives important.

  2. Newspapers have been doing just fine without heads for a long time. I understand where you’re coming from, but I think assigning TV News to a personality — which is what we’ve done for years — is one of the problems with the industry.

    Live by the personality; die by the personality.

    I think there’s a way to do it without being dull.

    And so it goes…

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