I’m less impressed than Daniel Gross with Conan O’Brien’s move to TBS, but Gross nicely sums up the deteriorating state of network media:
Take NBC anchorman Brian Williams (born 1959), who took over from Tom Brokaw in 2004, at the age of 45, and Katie Couric (born 1957), who became anchor at CBS News in September 2006. They had the misfortune to rise through the network news ranks in a period when cable news was on the rise and network television was in a lengthy decline. According to the 2009 State of the Media report, the big three networks’ news shows had a combined audience of 22 million in 2009, down from 52 million 30 years ago. The median age of a nightly news viewer in 2009: 62.3. Sure, the audiences that tune into Brian, Katie, and Diane are larger than those watching cable. But the network anchors are like large, aging sturgeon in a pond that’s drying up. The fate of late boomer George Stephanopoulos (born 1961), who recently took the helm at ABC’s Good Morning America, is also likely to be grim. Morning news show audiences are shrinking by the day. As Bill Carter of the New York Times noted, GMA’s ratings were “down in the first quarter by about 4 percent in viewers and by a more sizable 12 percent among the news audience that advertisers seek, those 25 to 54 years old.” Something similar is happening in print, too. Richard Stengel, named editor of Time in 2006 at the age of 51, took charge of the nation’s largest newsmagazine in May 2006—just in time to cut the rate base from 4 million to 3.25 million and preside over a shrinkage of staff.
This is not to get too starry-eyed about new media, which so far has given us neocon blogs and smarmy young pundits aplenty, but the old guard middlebrow newsmedia certainly deserve their fate. This is a case of creative destruction.
Postscript: See this column by A.C. Kleinheider for a skeptical but not hostile take on the new media, from someone who has invested a few prime years of his life in it. Kleinheider was, and is, a perceptive, no-nonsense newsblogger and political analyst whose services were nonetheless dispensed with recently by NashvillePost.com. The economics of the new media don’t work much better than those of the old, of course: the old media can hardly remain solvent with audiences in the millions, while the scaled-down economies of blogging and other webwork provide only the most modest and uncertain incomes for all but the biggest brand names. But then, Fleet Street was a cutthroat place in its heyday as well.