David Carr, the media critic for the New York Times collapsed and died in the news room on Thursday at the age of 58. There have been many testimonials to the quality of his writing and about the man himself. Not being a regular reader of that newspaper, I did not know much about him but was struck by something he said recently in the wake of the story of NBC News anchor Brian Williams having made up false stories.
Carr was trying to explain why Williams might have done what he did and, although not excusing his actions, blamed it on the impossible requirements of the job, saying:
“We want our anchors to be both good at reading the news and also pretending to be in the middle of it. That’s why, when the forces of man or Mother Nature whip up chaos, both broadcast and cable news outlets are compelled to ship the whole heaving apparatus to far-flung parts of the globe, with an anchor as the flag-bearer. We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description no one can match.”
Is Carr right? Who are the ‘we’ that apparently want this of news anchors? I personally don’t. I just want them to tell me the damn news, nothing more. It is precisely because they try to be all these things that I stopped watching the news at all, seeing it as merely entertainment. Network news executive mourn the loss of viewers, especially young ones, but seem to be trying to give us more of what viewers are turning away from.
I have also been baffled as to why anchors even go to remote places to cover big events when they have reporters already there. Surely they would be better off staying at home and putting together a coherent news story from the reports from their various correspondents who can be on location longer and, unencumbered by all the celebrity baggage, can give more depth?
I don’t care if the news anchors are not good-looking and are not celebrities. As long as they are committed to accuracy and honesty and competence, what more would one want?