MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Katie Couric is said to be in the final stages of negotiations that will lead to her departure from "The CBS Evening News." She's the first woman to solo anchor a network weeknight newscast. The news ratings for all three networks have been steadily declining, though they've been particularly meager at CBS.
Well, NPR media correspondent David Folkenflik joins me now from our studios in New York to talk about all this. And David, Katie Couric has said publicly she's considering a syndicated talk show. What's the state of play with her right now? How close is she to that?
DAVID FOLKENFLIK: Well, her contract is up in June, and she's been talking to a number of people - including her former boss at NBC News, Jeff Zucker - about creating a syndicated talk show that might highlight her renowned interviewing skills and personability.
She's talked a little bit at CBS - at continuing, perhaps, through the end of the election, according to people I've talked to at the network and one of her associates. But it's not clear, exactly, whether she'll do that.
She's been unhappy at being blamed for CBS' problems in the evening news, and they've been unhappy with the big paycheck they've been handing her without significant rise in ratings.
NORRIS: What legacy has she built in her five years at CBS? It's hard to believe it's already been five years.
FOLKENFLIK: That's right. Well, you can view it a couple of different ways. One of the first, main things that Les Moonves, the chairman of the CBS network, wanted to do was to clear the slate, and cleanse the palette, from the debacle of the memogate scandal with Dan Rather, then the anchor, and the story about President Bush's military service.
They did that. You know, they had an interim anchor, Bob Schieffer. She took over, and all the attention was on this new star, fresh from NBC's "Today" show. She changed the story entirely.
Unfortunately, she didn't change the ratings entirely. In fact, their - her ratings are a bit worse than they were under Bob Schieffer. That's been an issue.
Her journalism was a little bit - a rocky record there as well. If you look at what she did at the start, she tried to change the nature of the network newscast, introduce more interviews. It didn't take.
After a quick sampling, her ratings declined. She instituted a more conventional newscast, and it stabilized. She did some awfully good stories, for example, with those interviews with Sarah Palin during the 2008 elections. And people began to respect what she was building.
I think it's also important to note that Couric's salary of $15 million both branded her a celebrity - that's almost drowned out what journalism was performed on that newscast - but it also diverted resources that were desperately needed to cover the kinds of stories happening when she was named five years ago, and are happening now.
They're trying to cover stories in Japan, in the Middle East, all the tumult of all those countries there; wars in Iraq, in Afghanistan. These are expensive propositions, and what she did diverted resources. And that's been a real point of contention within the network.
NORRIS: You know, when you reach back to the era of Rather and Jennings and Brokaw, it seemed like getting an anchor job in the past was much like a lifetime appointment, much like a Supreme Court justice. What's changed now? These chairs seem to rotate so much more.
FOLKENFLIK: Well, I think what's changed is that the question of holding one of these jobs is no longer being one of the highest priests of journalism because the notion of authoritativeness has been undermined.
Even the New York Times does not command, in some ways, as absolute a voice about what is news, and what isn't, anymore. For these anchors, as their audiences have been shrinking in a combined way - very much - over the years, it's a smaller megaphone, a smaller platform from which to operate.
And therefore, it may be that Katie Couric, who's been the butt of jokes for her pay and ratings, who's been struggling a little bit within her own organization, may want to return to something that plays more to her strengths. And I think you're seeing, in some ways, the shrinking of the relevance of the major network news anchor.
NORRIS: That's NPR's David Folkenflik. David, thanks so much.
FOLKENFLIK: You bet.
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