On Friday evening, September 10, 2010, a rare moment in Network News occurred. All three news anchors – Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer and Brian Williams – appeared together at the end of their respective programs to promote a telethon program called “Stand Up 2 Cancer”. This fund-raising program was to appear on numerous networks simultaneously after the evening news to mobilize the public’s support of cancer research.
Katie Couric framed the telethon as an evening of collaboration. When I tuned in later in the evening I saw many celebrities speaking together about the need for more of a focus on cancer research. The show also highlighted what is already happening with previously raised funds. Footage covered “Dream teams” of scientists from varied academic and clinical institutions coming together to share their research data . These teams were depicted as dropping their competitive spirits. They talked about collaborating with previous competitors in the hopes of accelerating the search for a cure.
Despite all this evidence of teamwork, I was disappointed in one facet of the evening that may have gone unnoticed by the average TV viewer, but spoke volumes about the distance we need to go as a culture to really achieve the benefits of collaboration. It was during the closing moments of Brian Williams news program. While his colleagues allowed the last moments of their broadcasts to be the view of the 3 network anchors standing together on the telethon stage, Brian chose to appear alone. He came back on the air alone to close his program. What a missed opportunity! The tone of Katie Couric and Diane Sawyer’s closing moments was one of commitment to partnership. As the credits scrolled across the screen they appeared side-by-side with Brian Williams.
In the end, Brian opted to identify with his own network turf. This was the message left with the viewers of the NBC news program. I applaud ABC and CBS for choosing the high road of collaboration. I wonder what it would take for news anchors, scientists and all of us average citizens to understand that it is in these small decisions that we really demonstrate what we stand for.