While Diane Sawyer stepping down from anchoring ABC News was expected, it arguably comes at a bad time symbolically when the gender imbalances throughout numerous American industries have been noted recently. Just since the beginning of 2014, we’ve seen the mainstream movie industry called out for having a seemingly forced bias on women in the fields of acting and other film careers. We also saw a devastating report that Google and Yahoo are way behind on gender diversification where men seem to dominate in IT and basic technical fields.
The problem therein seems to be more about keeping a men’s club going after decades of male dominance. I’ve written here recently about this concept and how when an institution has been around for half a century (if not a full century as the film industry has), a hierarchy is going to develop in maintaining an unfortunate status quo. With America all about keeping status quos going out of our penchant for fear of widespread change, it makes for a complicated problem that can only change with someone in a state of power who goes against the grain.
This men’s club concept might be going in Hollywood and in some technical fields, but does it also exist in the world of national news? It’s an area we haven’t heard much about or studied extensively. Some people probably thought that area was repaired when two out of three anchors on the mainstream networks had a woman anchor for a while. Part of that withered away when Katie Couric was lured away to other places. Also, we knew Diane Sawyer would be temporary considering she was getting itchy in wanting to move on to other reporting projects.
Once Sawyer’s step-down takes place and David Muir takes over (likely heading for a 20-year career in the anchor chair), all three network news anchors will again be all males. And with all of them probably sticking around for at least another decade or two, you probably won’t see any women there any time soon-unless the networks are brave enough to again take on a female co-anchor.
The Inside Male Club in National News
Anyone who’s grown up with network news since its inception knows how many males dominated network news. This has a history going back to the days of radio, especially at CBS that became the pillar of excellence in network news coverage. It was ironically ABC that took the chance to finally place a woman (Barbara Walters) in a co-anchor chair with 1970’s-era anchor Harry Reasoner. While Walters was respected privately, the male dominance in news didn’t think too highly of her being in the anchor chair. It led to a few bumps in the road until within the last decade when some progress was made.
Behind the scenes, though, you can see the same torch-passing that goes on in Hollywood where an industry dominated by one gender makes sure it stays the same through personal connections and referrals. In some cases, it’s also nepotism, especially in Hollywood.
Are there those in network news who wanted to make sure the male dominance of anchors continued, hence not taking a chance with another female anchor on ABC? Those who work in those divisions would probably say it was just coincidence in the convergence of three male anchors in the time we’re in. Those more skeptical may say that those in power have been influenced by their predecessors to maintain the same trajectory in network news as a throwback to its origins.
The chances of a female co-anchor are also slim based on the lack of chemistry this caused the last time it was done with Connie Chung and Dan Rather in the 1990s. In that regard, it’s probably time to focus more on the online news world where Katie Couric is already making some inroads with news reports. In another decade, we may be watching news there primarily with mostly women at the helm helping to innovate with something new rather than feel like they have to fit in to a wizened industry.