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

Why it’s important to have a woman anchoring the network news

Diane Sawyer began anchoring ABC’s World News just five years ago.

Diane Sawyer began anchoring ABC’s World News just five years ago.

By Karen M. Turner

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 (CBS), Brian Williams (NBC) and now David Muir (ABC) 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. Rather was forced out of the anchor chair, which cleared the way for Couric to take over. Couric and Sawyer got five years at the anchor desk. 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 on CBS, Jimmy Fallon on NBC, Jimmy Kimmel on ABC and Conan O’Brien on TBS. Hmmm.  Sound familiar?

Karen M. TurnerKaren M. Turner is an associate professor and director of the broadcast journalism concentration in the Department of Journalism at Temple University. She is a 2013 recipient of the Lindback Foundation Distinguished Teaching Award. Before joining the Temple faculty, she was the press secretary to then-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.

This piece initially appeared on and is republished here with permission from the author.