The Senior Global Digital Foreign Correspondent
Tuesday, January 21, 2014
Katie Couric started her new job doing television on the Internet and is now the “Yahoo News Global Anchor.” Katie started out as a spear-carrying reporter, worked her way up to the commanding position of anchor, and has become a Global Internet anchor. “Global.” That’s a lot of territory.
Over at NBC, Chuck Todd is “Chief” White House Correspondent and Richard Engel is “Chief” Foreign Correspondent. Believe me, none of their colleagues call them “Chief”. At ABC, Richard Besser is Chief Health and Medical Editor, and Pierre Thomas is the Senior Justice Correspondent, even though there is no Junior Justice Correspondent.
Jim Avila, according to ABC’s website, is “Senior National Correspondent, ABC News White House Correspondent, Fusion (ABC/Univision Joint Venture).” I know Jim and I doubt he introduces himself that way on the phone. For one thing, he would have to explain what the “Fusion” network is.
Journalists have an insecurity complex. Dealing with mayors, senators and heads of countries, reporters are relative nobodies. Their job has no actual power and they can’t wear rows of ribbons on their chest like a general. Reporters are bystanders and witnesses to history, but rarely the instruments of it. Sometimes when they are rubbing elbows with the rich and powerful, they feel like being a scribe just isn’t enough.
We all like to convince ourselves we are something we are not. For 28 years I have worked in television under the title, “Correspondent”, which is really no different from being a reporter, but it sounds grander. “Correspondent” is to “Reporter” what the “LX” model car is to the base model. It’s the same thing with leather seats.
I’ve never been a foreign correspondent but I like the title. “Foreign Correspondent” evokes fog, a trench coat, and romance with a beautiful Czech spy. A foreign correspondent is a cynical hack bumping about Europe and the Middle East on a DC-3 with a portable typewriter and a leather satchel. It made a great title for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, “Foreign Correspondent.”
Some correspondent titles make sense. White House Correspondent, State Department Correspondent, Pentagon. Those are the beats those correspondents cover. But there are only so many legitimate titles to go around. Title inflation crept in when aggressive young reporters looking for more money and status negotiated for longer labels to put at the bottom of their emails. Suddenly there were reporters going by “National Correspondent”, then “Senior National Correspondent.” Usually a Senior National Correspondent is about 20 years younger than the actual senior correspondents on the staff.
Some self-important reporters don’t get the joke when Jon Stewart on The Daily Show introduces his “Senior Black Correspondent” and “Most Senior Correspondent”. Maybe they think he’s not kidding.
I once worked with a correspondent who had a two-tiered title at the bottom of his email and I decided that I should have a bigger one. For a week I signed my emails: Brian Rooney “National Wildfire, Earthquake and Mudslide Correspondent, Recorder of National Parks, Observer of the Borders, Paris, Brad and Angelina.”
In recent years a few television news operations have taken to calling some of their reporters “digital” correspondents, naming them after the technical process by which they file their stories. “Digital” means they often shoot their own video, edit it on a computer, and sit in a Starbucks while it’s all sent over WiFi to New York. Calling a reporter a “Digital Correspondent” is like calling him a “pencil correspondent” because he writes with a pencil.
Katie Couric is not just a reporter, not only an anchor, but she’s digital and she’s “Global.” It must make her feel good. But I doubt anyone is ever going to make a movie called “Senior Foreign Global Digital News Anchor”.