Tuesday, September 8, 2009

What Diane Can't Tell Me

Last week journalism history was made . . . again. Diane Sawyer was named to replace Charles Gibson on the ABC Nightly News, making her only the second woman to anchor a national television news program, and making this the first time when women anchored two of the three networks. As a woman reporter myself, I'm glad for what this signals, knowing how difficult it has been for women in what has been traditionally a male-dominated vocation. And though I'm sure Ms. Sawyer's qualities as a serious journalist were part of the decision behind her promotion—just as the same would have been true for Katie Couric and Brian Williams in their respective roles—I doubt I'll tune in much to her coverage.
     Why? Simple. National television news programs can't deliver for me much of what I'm mostly interested: local stories. Yes, they could give me quick pieces of international or domestic stories, news I should know to be a thoughtful and engaged citizen. But I'm more likely to look to online news outlets for those stories, to get more details than a sound byte can offer in the limited—but still important—time constraints of television news. More to the point, I'll look to the local newspapers to tell me about my community. Case in point: on Labor Day, I took a lovely stroll through my small town of Beverly, Massachusetts. I passed the Commons and saw the dog-bone installation of enormous metal sculptures. I smiled at the children playing on the 'dogs' and at the parents scratching their heads at the playfulness of the art. Around the corner I noticed a teepee in the backyard of a house, friends gathered around it  grilling for some holiday cooking. I immediately understood both 'stories' I walked by because I'd read them in the local paper. In other words, I connected more to my own community because of the local coverage I'd picked up in the print stories. And that's something no national news anchor can offer.

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