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A Smart Piece About Katie Couric In The Morning Versus Katie Couric In The Evening

Posted by: Jon Fine on January 18, 2008

The Atlantic’s Caitlin Flanagan is a talented writer whose work I often find exasperating, but her review of Ed Klein’s book on Katie Couric (which she wisely uses as an opportunity to talk about several things other than said book) in the magazine’s Jan-Feb issue is just fabulous, in its viewing of some current media and celebrity realities from a very human perspective.

(This makes it all the more annoying that all but a few paragraphs of the entire piece are firewalled. UPDATE 1/22: In a delightful bit of synchronicity, The Atlantic just took down its Web site’s subscriber-only firewall this morning.)

Among them: how a household’s relationship with tv changes in different parts of the day (the melancholy of the mother home alone after the schoolkids and breadwinner have left makes The Today Show such a welcome balm; the distracted frenzy once everyone is returning around at 6:30 makes the evening news seem invasive); why the morning shows will outlast everything else on TV; the profundity of the bond between morning show hosts and their viewers; and exactly how untransferrable that bond proved to be when you took the Today Show Katie Couric and placed her in the emotionally tamped-down confines of the anchor chair on the evening news.

And she identifies the conservatism—in media terms if not in political terms—of Couric’s apparent belief that the evening news is more powerful than her morning show. (Oprah’s not a morning host but she serves many of the same cultural needs. To take Flanagan one step further, ask yourself: who looms larger in the American psyche, Oprah or all of the nightly news anchors combined?)

I liked the writing so much I wouldn't have quoted much from it here, even if the Atlantic hadn't inexplicably and frustratingly had locked it up online. (UPDATE 1/22: Not no more!) Suffice it to say that if any of this sounds remotely interesting you should read the whole piece all the way to the lovely grace note at its end.

Reader Comments

A. Lipton

January 19, 2008 3:27 PM

Why didn't the CBS Television executives realize her limited ability to transfer an audience to CBS News? I worked at the Network for 10 years long ago and marveled at the success of the empty suits. Someone should really write a book along the lines of How to Succeed...


January 20, 2008 10:25 PM

I have a bit of a reputation as an anti-professional-journalism crank based on my experience with journalism students and professors making horrible decisions in college.

But I would be the first to say that this is at both times classic (Medium is the Message, cold media vs hot media) and relatively new thinking. I believe the core truth is that the news business has a myopic vision of what constitutes the news business and it will be 10 years before that changes in any meaningful way.

I believe that Couric WANTED to believe the evening news was more important than the Today Show because she grew up thinking that. However, in 2008, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, Bill O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Oprah, Larry King and others either have more power or more power in specific niche audiences. The evening news is not your father's Oldsmobile because General Motors shuttered the Oldsmobile plants in 2004. Not only do I get more news from Comedy Central than any televised source, it's better quality than the cable news. This is not a surprise to anyone, it seems, but a few professional journalists. This part is the new thinking of our new society.

In 1981, cough, as part of a class project I watched the Today show every morning and documented their major stories. I was a kid, and the work was sloppy and sadly now lost, but the point was for us to see trends in the news as a shifting story. And I joined in the camaraderie of Tom Brokaw, Jane, Gene, Williard, Bryant and that much-beloved Home Ec reporter from the era when there was an academic major called "home economics journalism" (look it up martha stewart). We all knew from the history of daytime TV (and in Washington, DC we had a THREE HOUR current events talk show hosted by Maury Povich called Panorama) that there was a vast difference between tv at different times of day. My gosh, there is still a difference between breakfast food and dinner food, isn't there? Well then, there ya go!

Mix Couric's known morning personality vs the cultural differences (that may have accounted for Hugh Downs, Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw's success leaving Today) and you have what was obvious to everyone else but CBS.


January 27, 2008 1:09 PM

I've used much stronger words than "exasperating" to describe Caitlin Flanagan's work before, but I have to agree with you on this one. She delivers a simple, direct and personal set of observations that ring absolutely true and changed my understanding of the subject.

This is why I still read magazines. Blog posts can be this personal, but they are rarely as long while remaining as economical.

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