Anchors Online

This year, networks have invited the public to interact with news stars through blogs -- our panel compares their efforts

December 17, 2006|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

The battle between network and cable news shows this year moved to a new front -- the blogosphere. From CBS' promise of a two-way continuing dialogue between Katie Couric and her fans to NBC's vow that through blogging Brian Williams would offer a window into the editorial process, these fledgling entities mark cable and network efforts to transform themselves into members of the new media. As with an evening newscast, news Web logs are team efforts, featuring postings by anchors, producers and correspondents. They're also uncharted territory, aimed at the coveted youth audience and ripe for innovation. We wondered, what makes a successful news blog? Do TV anchors, who serve as the faces of their networks' news divisions, necessarily make good bloggers?

The Sun asked a panel of experts to help define standards by which to judge news blogs -- and to review each anchor's blog. Its members include two online specialists, Dianne Lynch of Ithaca College in New York and Michael Socolow of the University of Maine, and a Goucher College journalism student, Matthew Simon (whose age puts him at the demographic center of the networks' target audience).

From Nov. 29 to Dec. 8, a period during which Couric, Williams, ABC's Charles Gibson and CNN's Anderson Cooper traveled from New York to Amman, Jordan, and Washington, panel members tracked four network news blogs: those of ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC. (Fox doesn't offer a comparable blog written by its lead news anchor.)

Among other things, the experts, whose responses have been edited for space and clarity, considered whether each blog delivered the kind of dialogue, transparency and interaction that is being promised by network executives.

How did each stack up? Read on.

NBC

RATING BRIAN WILLIAMS // THE DAILY NIGHTLY

David Zurawik

Sun Television Critic

A-

Here's the rub: The best bloggers use unfiltered comments and observations to form direct, personal connections to their readers -- earning their trust over time.

The best journalists aim to report timely news and features with objectivity and accuracy -- earning their viewers' (or readers') trust over time.

In his blog, The Daily Nightly, NBC's Brian Williams seems able to transcend that great divide.

Since May 2005, when he began blogging, Williams has developed a casual but authoritative style. Let's face it, the man can write; his strong visual images help readers see the world through his eyes.

The NBC Nightly News anchor has been blogging longer than any other network anchor and no doubt the experience has allowed him to hone his voice. He also posts more frequently than his counterparts -- and that pays dividends, too.

Here's a snippet from a Dec. 1 post filed en route from Jordan to the United States, headlined "Somewhere Over Syria":

"This flight, on a brand new Airbus A320, is mostly Jordanians. ... As is the case on board many airlines based in the Middle East, there is a man standing in the front galley hallway, facing the First Class cabin, wearing a leather jacket with his back to the cockpit door. He stood there during takeoff and will stay there for the rest of the flight. He is armed. An in-flight security guard. Very effective."

Williams received 42 responses to the posting -- more than typically received by the other networks' blogs.

"The only hint that we're on a non-U.S. carrier (aside from the guy in the leather jacket, the guy praying in the rear of the aircraft and the little 'moving Mecca' icon) is the smell of cigarette smoke."

BRIAN WILLIAMS

DEC. 1, 2006

DIANNE LYNCH

Dean of Communications, Ithaca College

B+

It turns out that NBC anchorman Brian Williams is a storyteller as well as a news anchor -- and the two are not synonymous.

It takes a while to sort through the dreck on The Daily Nightly, but his Dec. 6 tale of cell-phone engagements and his observations of Condoleezza Rice are content you won't find anywhere else.

And here's a real gem -- Williams' Dec. 1 post under the headline "Somewhere Over Syria," which paints a perfect picture in our mind's eye.

"The only hint that we're on a non-U.S. carrier (aside from the guy in the leather jacket, the guy praying in the rear of the aircraft and the little 'moving Mecca' icon) is the smell of cigarette smoke," he writes.

"I asked about it, and was told that both pilots smoke. It's now wafting through the passenger compartment after the cockpit door was opened to serve meals to the pilot and first officer. You'd think they'd open the window a crack, but apparently not."

Deep insight into the nation's most critical foreign relations challenge?

Not even close. But a compelling snapshot of the daily experience of the guy telling the story. And that's what blogging is all about.

That doesn't mean Williams gets the whole blogging thing, though.

If he did, he'd have saved his keystrokes on Dec. 7 instead of preaching at a blogosphere riddled -- indeed defined -- by unconventional writing conventions.

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