By Bill McConnell — Broadcasting & Cable, 4/19/2005 3:06:00 PM
Former ABC News reporter/anchor Sam Donaldson is ready to say the last rites for network news because it will soon lose its dominant position as Americans’ primary source of news. “I think it’s dead. Sorry,” he said during a breakfast panel Tuesday at the National Association of Broadcasters’ convention in Las Vegas. “The monster anchors are through.”
Even though 30 million viewers still turn to networks news each night and garner ratings well above CNN and Fox News, networks news operations long ago lost their role as the sources Americans rely on during time of major breaking news, said Donaldson
“God forbid, if someone shot the President, which network could you turn to? It will be cable, the Internet–something other than General Hospital being interrupted.”
Increasingly, viewers will continue turning to alternative sources for everyday news as well, he said.
Donaldson was joined on the panel by CNN political analyst Jeff Greenfield and CBS Sunday Morning’s Charles Osgood., both of whom were less pessimistic about network news’ future.
“If it’s dying, it’s dying a very slow death,” Greenfield said. Although the network news monopoly was “smashed” by cable, broadcast news will redefine itself, thought he didn’t yet know how.
Osgood said the network news can remain competitive with other platforms but must be constantly reevaluated to remain competitive–a fact that makes him glad he’s at the tail end of his career rather than the beginning. “It used to be when we wanted to make a show more appealing to more people, the first thing we did was design a new set.”
During their talk the three reporters came out in favor of a federal shield law that would allow journalists to protect the identity of their sources without threat of jail.
Donaldson, however, said journalists shouldn’t have blanket protection when lives are at stake, but didn’t know how to draft a law that would balance the need to ensure that journalists can protect whistle blowers but won’t impede legal investigations.
The three also agreed that that Internet bloggers have had a generally positive impact on news because mainstream reporters are forced to better verify their information and pare opinions out of their work or face he wrath of scrutinizing critics.