I've met and interviewed Brian Williams. He's a lovely guy. Personable, funnier than expected and smart. He is also irrelevant.
There's nothing wrong with Brian Williams. He is a smooth, professional news anchor. He's not offensive, biased or fake. He plays it straight - and that's his problem.
It's not him. It's us. We're not interested in someone regurgitating the news to us and taking a half hour to do it. We don't need a professional news anchor to tell us what the news is. This isn't 1955. I've got all the news in the world at my fingertips, what do I need this guy to tell me what he thinks is important? Who cares what Brian Williams thinks is important?
In the old days, you needed these authority figures to sort out the news for you and tell you what was important and weed out the riff-raff. But these aren't the old days. I have a mind of my own. I don't need to borrow a news anchor's. And if I were to borrow one, that's not the first place I would look.
In the new media (whatever the hell that means; basically, what I'm saying is "in this day and age"), news is broken down into three subsets.
1. The Collectors
Associated Press, New York Times, Washington Post, blogs that break stories, etc. These are our original sources. They are vital. Without these sources, there is nothing for anyone else to report.
2. The Aggregators
Websites like Google News, digg.com, reddit.com, Huffington Post, Yahoo, AOL News and even your local paper (they aggregate the national and international stories that they do almost no original reporting on). This is where we get a majority of our information. It's quick, it's easy, and often times, it's personalized.
If you like news from a right-wing perspective, you go to Drudge. If you like news from a moderate or left-wing perspective, you go to Huffington Post. If you want it down the middle, you go to Yahoo. You want gossip, go to Perez Hilton. You want news and video from a progressive perspective, go to Crooks and Liars or Think Progress.
Everyone has their niche. Everyone has an audience they serve well.
3. The Interpreters
Commentators that analyze the news from their (your) perspective. Fox News Channel, Keith Olbermann, Air America, Rush Limbaugh. Some blogs also fall in this category (unsurprisingly, blogs are often hybrids that cross many different boundaries).
These are people that help bring the news to you in a way you agree with. They inform you, but they also excite, enrage and impassion you. Their purpose is analysis/entertainment. Some people call this category infotainment. I prefer (my former co-host) Ben Mankiewicz's name for it - entermation.
So, where do traditional news anchors fit in here? Nowhere.
How often do television reporters break stories these days? Almost never. Most of them are actors reading the news pretending to be real reporters. I'm amused at how other TV reporters feign outrage at Katie Couric becoming the CBS prime time news anchor. Why, do you fancy yourself a journalist? Really, when is the last time you broke a story?
Most of the people on local news are former models and pretty boys with three brain cells between them. Are we supposed to be impressed? Look on TV, does it look like they are making their decisions based on looks or intelligence? Is it just a coincidence that all the pretty people wound up with the jobs on TV?
I understand there are exceptions and I actually picked Brian Williams as my example because I think he is one of the exceptions. He is an awfully bright guy who gets the news. But so what? Even he doesn't bring anything to the table. There's no value added.
Let me recount a recent conversation with my dad by way of example. He recently turned 70 and used to watch the evening news every single night. My mom would have to drag him away from it to get him to sit down for dinner.
Me: Dad, do you still watch the evening news?
Dad: No, never.
Me: Well, where do you get your news?
Dad: I already got it, online.
Me: Don't you want to see how the anchors are reporting it?
Dad: Are you kidding? I already got the news, why would I waste my time watching them retell the same stories for half an hour?
Me: So, is there anyone whose opinion you trust to bring you the news?
Dad: Yes, Keith Olbermann.
My dad was a conservative Republican who got his news the old fashioned way until about five years ago. First, he lost faith with the people who were supposed to bring him the news. One day when we were both still Republicans, he turned to me and said, "I think this Bill O'Reilly guy is full of crap."
I was really surprised by that, but my dad said he had been watching for awhile and noticed the guy kept lying and exaggerating and making a general ass out of himself.
Then he soured on Fox News Channel all together. He was still on board for the other news channels, but things did not appear to be what they were before. Then I introduced him to the internet.
He said to me recently, "But I don't understand, everything is right here, why would anyone go anywhere else for news?" That's it in nutshell. After the different websites you visit have already aggregated the news for you, why do you need the networks to re-aggregate it? You don't. It's a waste of time.
They do too little and take way too long to do it. Half an hour is an eternity and all you get is the stories they have selected in their infinite wisdom as the important ones. Useless.
And if you're looking for someone to analyze the news, you're certainly not going to turn to the evening news. They're too scared of their own shadow to dare to interpret a damn thing. God forbid someone should call them liberal (or these days, conservative) for giving even the most obvious analysis.
Now that my dad has crossed over to the progressive side (or was pushed there by George W. Bush (you couldn't get my dad to say an unkind word about George H. W. Bush; yes, there are still those kinds of conservatives/moderates/new progressives)), he gets his analysis from the Dynamic Trio - Keith Olbermann, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
After The Daily Show gets done skewering the politicians, are you really going to turn over to the stodgy old news shows for their dry, insipid and out of touch "analysis." What's the point? I already have the news and I've already heard someone take it apart. Why would I want a boring, lifeless version of it reiterated to me?
That's why Charlie Gibson is the leading anchor on television and Katie Couric is in last place. Look at the demographics. Of course, the much, much older audience for broadcast news is going to prefer someone like themselves (sorry Charlie) and not some whipper-snapper like Couric telling them about light and happy news. The old guys will do better in this antiquated format all the way until they run out of audience. No young anchor is going to magically bring in a younger audience when that audience finds the program itself irrelevant.
Editor's Note: Air America would like you to know that my dad also listens to my show, and finds it brilliant. Though I do get the occasional, "You should be more funny like that Colbert guy. He is very talented." Thanks, Dad. I appreciate that.