With Katie Couric likely exiting her gig as anchor of CBS' evening newscast and "Today" co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer possibly wondering about how long they want to stay in their gigs with NBC, it'd be easy to think there must be something bigger going on in network news.
In journalism, three of anything is often used as a sign of a trend. But just as a cigar is sometimes just a cigar, an anchor leaving is sometimes just an anchor leaving.
With Couric, making the move away from NBC's "Today" to CBS' "Evening News" in 2006 was a big gamble. She wanted a new platform and to put herself on par with the legends of the news game who had held the chair before, including Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley.
CBS, in turn, wanted Couric to put a fresh face on a struggling broadcast. The last years of Dan Rather were mired in scandal regarding his reporting on George Bush's military service. Bob Schieffer did an admirable job stepping in after Rather, but he was not the face for a new generation of news viewer that CBS was hoping to attract.
Unfortunately, the hype about Couric was so high it was impossible for her performance to match it. As the first woman to solo anchor an evening news show, Couric herself became a story and perhaps unintentionally a distraction. Her clothes were often critiqued as much as her anchoring chops. She was barely in the job a year when whispers started that she'd leave before her contract was up. Those whispers eventually became shouts. Couric may have contributed to some of that speculation herself by participating in a few of the stories about her happiness with her gig at CBS.
This is not to say outside factors are the sole reason for the continuing struggles of CBS News with Couric at the anchor desk. She was not a good fit for that role and the newscast itself didn't adjust well enough to her strengths as an interviewer.
At a time when news divisions are challenged to make ends meet and find the resources to cover stories, having a $15-million-a-year anchor also seems to send the wrong message about what's important. That CBS stayed in third place didn't help in the analysis of that investment.
CBS CEO Leslie Moonves had made clear that the big paychecks would be gone and Jeff Fager, the executive producer of "60 Minutes" who is now also chairman of CBS News, seems more interested in a more meat-and-potatoes approach to news.
Now, another reality having little to do with Couric is that the business of the evening news is on the decline. The TV networks have struggled to come up with a format that is more than telling people what they've already watched on cable, read online or tweeted about. A generation that grew up on evening news at 6:30 is now growing old and a new generation does not share that same viewing habit or is even home at that time to watch.