Much is being made from a celebrity standpoint, if not journalistically, of Katie Couric's debut this week as anchor of the CBS Television Network's evening news program. Beloved by millions of Americans as the co-host of the NBC "Today" morning show for the past fifteen years, the sometimes-serious, occasionally emotional, but mostly perky Ms. Couric becomes the first woman in television history to host the evening network news without a male co-anchor.
Yet few people are calling her a pioneer. That's because women are now more plentiful than men in many cable and local-news operations -- as reporters, writers, producers, and directors; AND in the anchor chair. Women news executives and even sports commentators are no big deal any more, either.
The Washington Post newspaper reports that today, 57 percent of on-camera news readers, in operations large and small, are women. In part, that's because news shows are covering fewer crimes, fires, and political intrigue, and more stories about families, health, and sex, on which it's thought a woman's touch appeals to viewers.
The Post offers a fascinating quote from a veteran journalism professor who conducts surveys of the broadcast profession. "If you take a typical twenty-two-year-old woman, dress her up and put makeup on her, she looks like an adult, the professor observes. With a twenty-two-year-old guy, you can do just about anything, and he still looks like he's going through puberty."
Is it possible that women have caught up with, or even surpassed, men on television's "gravitas" scale? It's safe to say that on the CBS Evening News -- unlike the "Today" show -- we won't be seeing Katie Couric cradling a chimpanzee, chatting with children's puppets, or baking cakes with famous chefs.