News Articles

Women Are Scarce on Couric's Newscast

10/20/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

This week, Flash! asked B&C Contributing Editor Andrew Tyndall to do an analysis of Katie Couric's first six weeks as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

When former Today host Katie Couric arrived at the anchor chair of the CBS Evening News just six weeks ago, much was made of the fact that she—unlike Barbara Walters, Connie Chung and Elizabeth Vargas before her—was the first solo female nightly-news anchor. But that has not made the Evening News With Katie Couric a more female-friendly newscast.

Since Couric's arrival, women have received 40% fewer assignments than they did under her predecessor, Bob Schieffer. Men, meanwhile, have seen no cutback whatsoever in their workload.

The paucity of female correspondents is one result of an array of changes to the content, form and presentation of the newscast instituted under Couric. Those changes amount to two main differences in the new Evening News.

First, hard breaking news has been supplanted by features/interviews/commentary. The Story of the Day averages 18% less time than it did under Schieffer, who used to run one soft (human-interest, celebrity) feature for every three on a hard topic. Under Couric, the ratio is one to two. Moreover, the new nightly feature, freeSpeech, devotes 90 seconds to guest commentary.

Second, the role of the anchor has been emphasized; the role of the correspondent, downplayed. That change is evident right at the top of the newscast when the day's major stories are teased. Whereas Schieffer had his correspondents introduce their own stories, Couric does all the teasing herself. She also has 20% more voiceover time than he did. Couric cedes time for the freeSpeech segment to a CBS News colleague only once a week, when Schieffer himself offers a regular commentary on Wednesday; on the other four days, we hear a guest.

The upshot of all these changes is that stories filed by correspondents account for just 69% of Couric's news hole, compared with 85% under Schieffer. And the brunt of that cutback has been borne almost entirely by CBS' female correspondents.

Under Schieffer, stories filed by women averaged 5.8 minutes each night; under Couric, that average has dropped to 3.0 (the average for men is the same, at 10.1 minutes). Medical correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin has been replaced by Jon LaPook. Sharyn Alfonsi, Schieffer's fifth-most-heavily-used correspondent, has fallen to No. 14 under Couric. Trish Regan fell from No. 11 to No. 21; Elizabeth Palmer, from No. 16 to No. 27.

Among CBS' women, only foreign correspondent Lara Logan and, in this political season, Sharyl Attkisson on Capitol Hill have maintained their rankings.

Couric has favored national correspondent Byron Pitts, award-winning soft-feature reporter Steve Hartman (on track to become Couric's Charles Kuralt) and investigative reporter Armen Keteyian. The three major beats remain filled by men —White House (Jim Axelrod), the Pentagon (David Martin) and the economy (Anthony Mason)—as they were under Schieffer.

Couric has risen to the top network news spot. But it seems her rising tide has not lifted her sisters' boats.

Newscast Averages (minutes)
Schieffer Couric
Note: Schieffer: 1/1/06-9/4/06; Couric: 9/5/06-10/13/06, except "heard speaking: through 9/30/06 Source: Tyndall Report
Hard news 9.6 7.3
Features/Interviews/Commentary 9.0 11.8
Anchor heard speaking 5.5 6.7
Stories filed by male correspondents 10.1 10.1
Stories filed by female correspondents 5.8 3.0
September
October