Does Katie Couric get to pick which news item opens the broadcast?
August 1, 2008 5:05 PM   Subscribe

What kind of influence do US network anchors have on the news selection and editing process?

My friend claims American network news anchors are effectively editors-in-chief; I'm willing to entertain the notion that they are in a position to exert influence over the process and carry more responsibilities than Dutch newsreaders (who are essentially mere presenters), but I don't buy that they can preside over every aspect of the process.

So which is it?
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane to Media & Arts (7 answers total)
In recent history, the network news anchors (Couric, Williams, Brokaw, Rather, etc.) have carried the title of Managing Editor (see Couric's official bio here) in addition to their title as Anchor. They have generally exerted lots of influence, but do not call all the shots. There are several layers of producers and news directors. That said, Couric and the others are positioned as if they call all the shots, for PR reasons.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:20 PM on August 1, 2008

Over time their influence has been declining. As to the title of "editor", in the news and publishing business there's been title-inflation and these days an "editor" is what used to be called a "reporter", just because "editor" sounds cooler and more important. (Sometimes reporters are called "producers" instead. Likewise title-inflation.)
posted by Class Goat at 6:16 PM on August 1, 2008

Good Night and Good Luck is a great examination of the way this question used to be answered.
posted by mkultra at 6:19 PM on August 1, 2008

I am fairly certain that all US news anchors on network television are titled as managing editors. How much that affects the process of selection is anyone's guess. Huw Edwards at BBC News, from my recollection, has a cadre of news producers behind him who clip the best of the international and domestic news to suit the show. Edwards would have control over headline interviews and subjects related to the news that carries the day. In smaller news operations, such as ABC, which sorely needs to figure out exactly what kind of news relationship it has with its international news partner, the BBC, I doubt very much that the anchor (name forgotten, unfortunately) has much control over the regular news content as most of their sourced material is from domestic satellite sources.

CBS has Newspath, which is a goddamn incredible concept and get feeds from around the world and from reporters from foreign news operations based in the US. These feeds are from Eurovision, which some think of as the annual music clusterfuck, but I think of as the leading international non-profit news syndicate. It's run by the European Broadcasting Union and its base in Washington, DC is home to literally dozens of reporters from all around the world. That in mind, I am sure that CBS has the ability to cherry pick and re-narrate some of the best reportage in the world - if they want to (wait for Sunday Morning...) but all of the majors save for ABC have access to Independent Television News save for Fox, which uses its own Sky News. I think the rules are very different in the UK, though the dependence on producers to back up the news cycle remains the same. In the case of Channel 4 news in England, John Snow seems to have an enormous ability to bend the cycle at will and often changes the story mid-broadcast. This is something that is rarely done in the pretaped news cycle of network television in the US.
posted by parmanparman at 8:24 PM on August 1, 2008

In the era of the celebrity anchor, I would say that managing editor and ultimate editorial control are usually and effectively part of the anchor's contract. That doesn't mean they look at everything the way a real operating editor might, but it does mean that there is no editor that can really veto anything the anchor wants to or doesn't want to do.

In Broadcast News, which was written by James L. Brooks based on the experiences of his colleagues at CBS News, which underwent some drastic cuts in the early 1980s, the idea that the anchor is managing editor is already considered a standard practice that the film critiques by placing a photogenic and charming borderline idiot in the anchor's chair, but who asks a veteran producer with real journalism chops to be his managing editor.

The network news, however, is a very constrained sort of operation these days. I don't think the anchors have as much room as they once did to direct the types of stories or points of view broadcast. It's very much by the numbers, and the audience is the real managing editor of whom the entire news operation is terrified.
posted by dhartung at 9:33 PM on August 1, 2008

I recently read Peter Jennings' biography. In the past at least, anchors (or at least Jennings, but I would imagine Rathers as well, and those before them) had a considerable amount of control over which stories broadcast.

One example is the whole situation in Sarajevo. Jennings felt America should really know about that, but the network was kind of meh about it. He really pushed for it and finally got to do a bunch of stories about Sarajevo. Also, because of his journalistic past, he was very interested in international news and felt that the US needed to know about international issues as well as what was going on in their own country. During his time as the anchor for ABC he pushed very hard for more coverage of international news and got it. It was kind of revolutionary at the time. He also had a few "pet" issues that would get on the air because he wanted them to, not because the network felt it was important.

Of course the network had a lot of say in what went on the air as well, but Jennings had quite a bit of influence.

My personal opinion is that news anchors today are more personality than journalist. This isn't to say that they're stupid or unaware of what's going on, but I don't think that they're as involved in the news that they report as the Big Three (Jennings, Brokaw, Rathers) were.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 10:23 AM on August 2, 2008

Thanks for your insight, all.
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 12:01 PM on August 4, 2008

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