Diane Sawyer and the new voice of authority

Anchors away
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  September 9, 2009

 TJI_Sawyer_main
HER TIME Sawyer.

The sight of Barack Obama in the White House has, rather quickly, taken on the air of the ordinary.

Partisan passions over health care and stimulus spending have replaced much of the wonderment over the elevation of a black man to the presidency. And that, of course, is how it should be.

But there is, nonetheless, something remarkable about the American embrace of a new voice of authority. Something other than white and male.

And we got another sense for the shifting landscape in recent days with word that Diane Sawyer will succeed Charles Gibson as anchor of ABC's World News when he retires in January.

Sawyer's ascension means that two of the three network broadcasts will be anchored by women, with Katie Couric leading the CBS broadcast and Brian Williams at the helm at NBC.

The evening news, like much of the traditional media, does not have the stature it once did. But the network anchors are still the nation's most recognizable journalists. The trio is the closest thing the American press has to a voice of authority. And that voice is changing.

Sawyer's rise has not inspired the hubbub that came with Couric's breakthrough. And that's understandable. A first is news. A second, not so much.

But Sawyer's triumph is, in some ways, more encouraging. Couric's ascension was inevitably colored with a sense of novelty. The changing of the guard at ABC suggests a more permanent pattern: a woman who works hard and pays her dues can scale the media heights.

That, of course, is how it should be.

"Naturally, I think it's a great move for Diane Sawyer," said Allison Alexander, an anchor with ABC6 News in Providence. But "let's be clear: she got this job not because she's a woman, but because she's an outstanding journalist who shines on the screen."

Patrice Wood, a long-serving anchor at WJAR, had a similar reaction. "When I heard about Diane Sawyer being promoted to solo evening news anchor, gender actually didn't even come to mind," she said.

It's a perspective long in the making.

Women have played a central role in local television news for decades. Wood and Karen Adams of WPRI are household names in Rhode Island. But as Lisa Churchville, general manager at WJAR notes, it takes time to build the credentials for the top-rung national jobs.

"When you think about how long it takes to acquire the stature to become [a network news] anchor, it isn't unusual that it would take awhile," she said.

Indeed, Sawyer's path took her from local television in Louisville, Kentucky, to a spot as the first woman correspondent on 60 Minutes, and stints with Primetime Live and Good Morning America.

"It was her time, in my judgment," said ABC News president David Westin, speaking to the Los Angeles Times.

Her time, indeed.

  Topics: This Just In , Barack Obama, Entertainment, Media,  More more >
| More


Most Popular
ARTICLES BY DAVID SCHARFENBERG
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   LIBERAL WARRIOR  |  April 10, 2013
    When it comes to his signature issues — climate change, campaign finance reform, tax fairness — Whitehouse makes little secret of his approach: marshal the facts, hammer the Republicans, and embarrass them into action.
  •   AT BROWN, A WIN FOR CLIMATE CHANGE ACTIVISTS  |  April 11, 2013
    A key Brown University oversight committee has voted to recommend the school divest from coal, delivering a significant victory to student climate change activists.
  •   HACKING POLITICS: A GUIDE  |  April 03, 2013
    Last year, the Internet briefly upended everything we know about American politics.
  •   BREAK ON THROUGH  |  March 28, 2013
    When I spoke with Treasurer Gina Raimondo this week, I opened with the obligatory question about whether she'll run for governor. "I'm seriously considering it," she said. "But I think as you know — we've talked about it before — I have little kids: a six-year-old, an eight-year-old. I'm a mother. It's a big deal."
  •   THE LIBERAL CASE FOR GUNS  |  March 27, 2013
    The school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut spurred hope not just for sensible gun regulation, but for a more nuanced discussion of America's gun culture. Neither wish has been realized.

 See all articles by: DAVID SCHARFENBERG