Donaldson: Cable Killed Network News

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Las Vegas -- ABC News journalist Sam Donaldson said Tuesday that network-news divisions won’t be around much longer, as they are the losers in a technology race won by cable news channels that provide 24-hour access to breaking events from nearly any point on the globe.

“We’re going to go out of the network-news business. The anchor monsters are through,” Donaldson said at the National Association of Broadcasters’ convention here. “I think it’s dead, sorry.”

Donaldson -- a former White House correspondent who became a nightly-news media star -- said the success of Cable News Network and other cable news outlets has eroded interest in the 30-minute dinner-hour newscasts provided by ABC, CBS and NBC.

Appearing on a panel with CNN’s Jeff Greenfield and CBS News’ Charles Osgood, Donaldson indicated that another problem was that cable news was drawing younger viewers. He said the average age of the network-news audience was 60, while the average American age is 35.

“Jeff, you, your mother ship at the moment [CNN] is what really killed us -- cable,” he added.

Greenfield said satellite technology, starting in the mid-1970s, allowed cable and local TV stations to beam in pictures that had been under the exclusive control of the networks.

“What that did was smash the network monopoly of distant images,” he added.

Greenfield did not share the view that the network news was facing inevitable extinction.

“It’ll be around for a while … It will have to redefine what it is,” he said.

Donaldson pointed out that cable news has also reduced the relevance of a program like Nightline, ABC’s late-night broadcast for the serious-minded that veteran anchor Ted Koppel is leaving in December after 25 years.

“One of the reasons Nightline is declining in audience is that you don’t have to wait up until 11:30 [p.m.] anymore to see people talking about something that’s really interesting,” Donaldson said.