ABC Anchor Diane Sawyer Stepping Down = Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

Diane Sawyer Stepping Down = Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back


Karen M. Turner

Philadelphia, PA- We’ve taken two steps forward and now two steps back. For two years – 2009 to 2011 - we had two women anchoring the evening network news. Katie Couric was on CBS from 2006 – 2011. Diane Sawyer began anchoring ABC’s World News just five years ago. So what if another one bites the dust? With the network news share steadily dropping, is it important to have a woman anchoring the network news?  Yes!  The evening news anchors are the face of the network.  They are still the ones we turn to for that steady hand through tragedies and to give context to our world.  I can’t help reflecting on the 1963 news loop of Walter Cronkite speaking to us about the death of a beloved president.  In this growing multicultural nation it’s unconscionable that as of September, three white men will lead their respective networks. Certainly Scott Pelley, Brian Williams and now David Muir are accomplished journalists.  However, the subliminal message this sends is these three – white males - are the legitimate faces that should represent America.

It had been tradition that once a journalist reaches the apex of the TV news business, it was a job for life…at least as long as he wants it.  Tom Brokaw anchored the NBC Nightly News from 1982 – 2004; Dan Rather the CBS Evening News from 1981 – 2005; and Peter Jennings was the face of the ABC World News Tonight from 1983 until his death in 2005. Couric and Sawyer got five years in the anchor chair. Only NBC’s Brian Williams who took over from Brokaw in 2004, and who’s time overlapped with his female counterparts, has established an anchor track record.  It remains to be seen, especially with decreasing audiences, if this new generation of network anchors will experience the longevity of their predecessors.

Ours is a growing diverse society but looking at the plum TV jobs one wouldn’t know it.  The ABC network anchor news change is on the heels of the latest announced late night host change.  With David Letterman’s retirement next year from his late night show, Stephen Colbert will be taking over.  That’s Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien. Hmmm.  Sound familiar?

About Karen M. Turner:

Karen M. Turner is an associate professor and director of the broadcast journalism concentration in the Department of Journalism at Temple University. She served as department chair from 2000-2003. Ms. Turner teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in broadcast journalism, performance, race studies, and media law and ethics. She is a 2013 recipient of the Lindback Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award and was selected the inaugural recipient of the School of Communications and Theater’s Innovative Teaching award in 2004. Turner was awarded a Spring 2011 sabbatical to take a reflective look at her online race media studies course that she’s taught since 1997.

Before joining the Temple faculty in 1992, Turner was the press secretary to former Philadelphia Mayor Edward Rendell. She has extensive experience as a radio journalist and talk radio interviewer having worked in such markets as Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and New Brunswick, NJ. 

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