We are women, hear us roar the news. The announcement last week that Diane Sawyer would take over the reigns of ABC World News Tonight in 2010 means that for the first time in American television history two women will fill the big three networks primetime solo anchor chairs.
To which I say, geez, about damn time.
Sawyer joins CBS’s Katie Couric and NBC’s Brian Williams as the face of the flagship evening news shows. After decade upon decade of seeing middle-ages white men tell us the important news of the day, women will finally fill the majority of the prestigious slots.
Still, while this is a great step forward for gender equity (alas, we’re still working on racial and other diversity — baby steps), the move comes at a time when network news is struggling in the ratings against an onslaught of cable chatter. This, in turn, has led to a slew of stories about the Sawyer announcement that essentially say: “Another woman gets to be anchor now that nobody cares.”
To which I say, hey, not so fast.
It is true that network news is struggling to remain relevant in the never-ending news cycle created by 24-hour cable and online immediacy. But while the nightly news may not have the ratings it once had, it still serves as a framework for what makes the headlines.
And if we’ve learned anything from the last election cycle it is that having women behind the anchor desk makes a difference.
It was newswomen like Couric, Campbell Brown and Rachel Maddow who pushed back vigorously and with authority against the sexism that existed in coverage of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin’s candidacies. It was a woman, Couric, who conducted what could be considered the most important interview of the entire election cycle with her devastatingly revealing sessions with Palin.
Diane will take over for from the retiring Charlie Gibson, who has anchored the newscast since 2006 and will retire in January. If you recall, Gibson had the first big interview with Palin. But no, you probably don’t recall because it was Couric’s interview that shifted the national conversation, not Gibson’s.
Certainly, the day-to-day importance of a network news anchor has diminished. But let’s not forget that the anchor is also the head of the network’s news department and the face of all of its major events.
For every big breaking news story, it will be Sawyer running the coverage. For every major historic event, it will be Sawyer offering her commentary. For every world leader who needs to be held accountable, it will be Sawyer asking the questions. This matters.
Now I could get into a chapter, verse recitation of Sawyer’s credentials (CliffsNotes version: 60 Minutes, Primetime Live, 20/20, Good Morning America and, as a side note, the first person to interview the newly-out Ellen DeGeneres), but the simple fact is that she is the most qualified candidate out there so her ascension to the prestigious position makes perfect sense. In fact, it makes more sense than her 10-year stint on GMA, which while successful and fun, belied her background in harder news.
So I’m thankful Sawyer will finally get to sleep in after 10 years of 4 a.m. wake-up calls. I can’t wait to see how she changes the face of the nightly news. And, on a deeply superficial level, I can’t wait to see her face on the news each night. Seriously, girlfriend is 63 and makes me want to be a better woman.
So, congratulations, Diane. And, ladies, does this make you want to watch the evening news? Discuss.