The death of anchors = the end of one-way news (and what to do about it)
: Yes, the exit of Dan Rather, stage left, spotlight off, tail twixt legs, marks the death of the anchor, the extinction of the trusted news star.
But it’s more than that. It’s the toppling of journalism on a pedestal. It’s the end of news as a lecture. It’s the death of one-way media.
That is what anchors embodied. And that is what we, the people formerly known as viewers/listeners/readers in the audience, have rejected.
We rejected the old system of trust: If we trusted the person, it was thought, then we trusted what he said. Anchors equaled automatic authority. But no more.
Oh, trust is still important. In fact, in this new, distributed world of ours, it is even more important. Trust is our organizing principle. Trust is what makes weblogs, Technorati, eBay, Craigs List, RSS, chat, and email work: We pay attention to those we trust; we filter out the rest. We each decide whom to trust; it’s no longer decided for all of us.
We control trust. And so that is how we operate with news, too: We can get the source material on the web or via CSpan to judge the facts for ourselves; we can follow the track record of reporters and news organizations to see when they mess up and whether we should believe them; we follow the links of those who have not led us astray; we can see who is being transparent and who is not and judge accordingly; we decide what stories are important for us; we get to question those in power thanks to new media. We are in control.
The idea that we should just sit there and watch as someone reads the news to us is — now that we see the alternatives — quaint at best, condescending at worst. Why the hell should we ever have let Dan Rather decide what’s important to us and how we should should look at it? How did we ever tolerate listening to the news from him without taking the opportunity to talk back?
And just look at what happened when we did talk back: Dan Rather could not stand the idea that bloggers in PJs could have facts and a voice; he attacked those who only tried to help him get to the truth; he showed that he cared more about his position on the pedestal than about the truth or serving his public. This led to his downfall. Dan Rather wasn’t made to listen, only to speak. When he was forced to listen, it destroyed him.
All this is not to say that reading the news is outmoded, or that video is obsolete. Hardly. They’re convenient means of communication. There will always be on-camera anchors and reporters, prettier than your average bear. That’s not the old-fashioned part of network news.
No, instead, it’s the top-down, one-way, one-size-fits-all news-extruding machine that’s ready for the mothballs. We’ve seen how this sausage is made and we’re not swallowing it anymore. It’s the old view of delivering the news that’s antiquated. We no longer wait for the news to come to us; now the news waits for us to go get it. We are in control.
So don’t think for a second, CBS News, that finding the right face with the right voice will solve your problems. It only extends them. Same for you, NBC and ABC and, for that matter, cable news.
No, you have to explode your newsroom, tear apart your shows, rethink news to turn it into a conversation, and hand over control to the people you used to read to if you want to survive in our new world. And it’s not hard.