It has been written that network anchormen like CBS' Dan Rather--indeed nightly network newscasts as we know them--may someday cease to exist because of new satellite technology that gives local stations the ability to cover national and even global news.
Rather, for one, disagrees. Network news divisions still have the greatest resources and the most experienced staffs with which to cover major stories, he says, and "Mark Twain's line still applies: Reports of our death are premature--and by a long shot."
As for network news anchors, he doesn't believe that he is the last of that well-known, well-paid breed. But he adds an important qualifier.
He thinks "that I could be among the last of the people" who wear two hats as an anchorman and as managing editor of a network newscast, and who have a background of hard-news reporting on local, national and international matters.
"I hope that's not the case, and I'm optimistic about it," the "CBS Evening News" anchorman said in an interview Sunday. "As I've said to others, if we're about half-smart and a little lucky, that won't be the case."
It's important that a network newscast's anchorman double as the program's managing editor, he adds, because "in a world of corporate insulation and committee decisions, you have an increasingly difficult time finding out who is responsible for anything."
However, he adds, "we say to you with our broadcast, 'If you want to know who's responsible for this broadcast, you're looking at him.' "
There still are stations where anchors actively participate in news-gathering, making editorial decisions and generally involving themselves in the program's content, he says, but "the trend is in the other direction."
Does he mean that a number of local anchors are simply news readers in the sense of the British Broadcasting Corp., whose anchors read the news and do nothing else?
"Well, I wish it were in the BBC sense," Rather says, sighing. "In a way, it would be better that way. Because they (the BBC) clearly say, 'Make no mistake, we hire this guy to come in every night and read this stuff, and he shows up here and rehearses just as an actor does, and he puts it on.'
"I think that's cleaner than blurring the line," he says, referring to efforts to make viewers think that anchors are actively involved in preparing a newscast when such is not the case.
"I'm not on any high horse about it," he says, but "I'm looking for a little truth in advertising, a little truth with the viewer. . . .
"Increasingly what happens with a local station (is) they try to get the viewer to believe that the person who's on the air with the newscast is somehow involved with the news--when in too many cases, that person has about as much to do with the newscast as King James did with writing the Bible."