"Today" co-anchor Katie Couric got her enormous raise and will be making magnificent sums of money over the next few years.
Good for her.But is this sort of thing good for television news?
Couric has reportedly signed a four-year deal that increases her annual salary from a relatively paltry $2 million to something in the neighborhood of $7 million. Which is certainly a very nice neighborhood to be in.
And you can easily make the case that she deserves it. Couric is great at her job, managing to bring energy and enthusiasm to millions of viewers early in the morning. And the show is not only enjoying unprecedented ratings success, but it's a cash cow for NBC. It's estimated that "Today" brings in approximately $150 million in profits every year.
(Not to mention that NBC is reportedly paying Geraldo Rivera $6 million a year. There's justice in paying Couric more than Rivera.)
It's also difficult to fault Couric for getting what she could out of the network. Wouldn't just about anyone in her position do the same thing?
But is all this high-priced talent a good thing for the news business in general? Should the people who bring us the news themselves be enormously wealthy celebrities?
Shouldn't the news be more important than the people reading it on the air?
This is not a slam at Couric - she's simply the latest symptom of this illness. Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings are all in the same overpaid realm. Stone Phillips, Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters make obscene amounts of money.
And all of them have become celebrities on about the same level as the cast of "Friends."
Even on the local level, news anchors are handsomely rewarded - and all some of them do is read the words that scroll down the Tele-PrompTer And the stations promote these people as personalities and celebrities, which is how many viewers look at them.
The fact is that Couric isn't really getting paid for her abilities as a journalist. She's getting paid for being perky and popular.
Which is not to say that she doesn't have journalistic skills. She does. But being a great newswoman is not what's getting Couric $7 million a year.
Sure, she does hard-hitting interviews. And she's good at doing them. But a major part of her on-air time is spent chit-chatting with her fellow on-air personalities and acting more like Oprah Winfrey than Helen Thomas.
Couric has expressed concern about growing news salaries. "Having said that, the network makes a lot of jack off us," she said in an interview with the Associated Press. "My personality plays a role in the show's success, not that it would collapse if I left. But people have this strong connection to you and form these bonds with you that are almost familial. It takes a long time to win the audience's trust and affection. Maintaining that continuity I think accounts for the way I'm compensated."
Not that there's anything wrong with any of that. But the line that separated news from entertainment - and journalists from celebrities - is no longer blurred. It's been erased. Viewers flipping from a newscast to "Entertainment Tonight" or "Hard Copy" can no longer see much difference.
And that has hurt not only those who watch TV but those who attempt to do solid news on TV.