- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 3, 2006

There’s a $10 million promotional campaign, a $15 million salary, a four-story billboard, a six-city “listening tour,” a national opinion poll and publicity shenanigans. The prime time debut features President Bush, veteran newsman Walter Cronkite and a brand-new “ginger root maple laminate” desk.

Katie Couric ascends to the anchor chair on CBS Evening News tomorrow, after months of speculation and hype. Can a former co-host of NBC’s “Today” show shore up the long-standing last-place ratings of CBS?

Her title is “anchor and managing editor,” according to CBS, which also will supply viewers with a Katie Couric daily e-mail, blog, afternoon analysis, and one-minute “Katie Couric Reports” for radio, Internet and wireless users. She also will be a correspondent on “60 Minutes.”

Las Vegas oddsmakers are taking bets on the audience size.

“She is breaking ground as a solo female anchor, following Dan Rather, himself quite controversial. It will take time for people to decide about her, just as they have with others who followed long-established personalities — like Jay Leno taking over for Johnny Carson, ” said Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center.

Although the public describes Mrs. Couric as “good,” a recent Pew survey found, they also call her “liberal” and “biased.”

“I don’t think the immediate reaction about Katie Couric will be the final reaction,” Mr. Kohut said.

“Katie Couric will not save the ‘CBS Evening News.’ In fact, her selection may be a recognition that the era of a ‘news’ program in the evening is over,” said Temple University journalism professor Christopher Harper, a former ABC News foreign correspondent.

Mrs. Couric, 49, won’t resonate with a young, demanding audience and will alienate older viewers attuned to traditional news delivery rather than the “softer, friendlier approach,” he said.

A Media Research Center study has tracked her reporting since 1991. Mrs. Couric “embraced liberal politicians, admired Europe’s nanny states and harshly castigated conservatives in general and the religious right in particular,” the analysis concluded.

“The question is whether she pushes that agenda. No matter how cute or perky, she can still lose viewers who don’t want their news skewed,” said research director Rich Noyes.

Meanwhile, the network appears to be tweaking the recognizable Couric “brand,” said Fran Kelly, U.S. president of Arnold Worldwide, an advertising agency.

“It’s interesting that CBS is trying to bring a sense of change and freshness to the news, yet they’re packaging her in a very conservative look. The classic suit, pearls, a cliche anchor pose with the folded arms,” Mr. Kelly said.

The marketing of the Couric “brand” backfired last week when gleeful journalists discovered CBS had digitally doctored Mrs. Couric’s publicity photo to make her appear 20 pounds lighter. Still, marketing is not new to the news or journalism, Mr. Kelly said.

“Walter Cronkite was a leading news brand from the beginning,” he said. “People know what he sounded like, what he looked like, what he stood for. It’s more important than ever for news organizations — particularly CBS — to lend their brand some entertainment value, or the audience is just going to peter out. They have other things to do.”

Story Continues →