Barbara Walters Retirement: Can She Be Replaced?


CNN and many other outlets have reported that Barbara Walters is set to retire in May of 2014. Walters, 84, has been an anchor since 1976 and worked in broadcast news since 1961 and has long been a mainstay of television news for as long as the format has been around. Walters has a knack for asking the right questions and has been put in a number of remarkable situations, interviewing every president and first lady since Nixon. So while Walters enters the final year of her illustrious career, the question then comes "who's next?" I believe that no one will be able to fill this void.

To understand just how important Barbara Walters has been, one has to look at the gender landscape of the world of broadcast journalists. Walters began her career on the "Today Show" in 1961. At the time when she began, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley were the anchors on NBC, Douglas Edwards (and beginning in 1962, Walter Cronkite) were on CBS, and a collection of men (including a very young Peter Jennings) on ABC. No women in sight. In 1976, Walters became the first female news anchor. It was not for another 30 years that a woman would go on to be the sole anchor on a nightly national news program until Katie Couric did so in 2006.

Walters contributions to the field include her incredible interviewing skills, especially when dealing with high profile individuals. Walters, never afraid to ask questions, has had a lengthy run on 20/20 in which she has interviewed hundreds of people over the past two decades.

But who is next? Rachel Maddow is a phenomenal broadcast journalist; however, her lack of objectivity is startling to half the population. Whereas Barbara Walters broke gender barriers and societal norms without making her gender the issue at hand, Maddow's gender and outward feminism puts much of the country off.

Katie Couric missed her chance, and was primed for greatness while on CBS, but floundering ratings and a boring show led to her demise for taking the torch as the next great female anchor. This leaves Christiane Amanpour as the only one left. Amanpour is an excellent journalist, having traveled around the globe and back a number of times, reporting from everywhere, dangerous or otherwise, possible.

But Amanpour is no Barbara Walters. While Amanpour is still a woman playing in a man's world, Walters had the ability to appeal to all. There is no doubting Amanpour's abilities as a reporter; however, she will never become a national news anchor for a major network.

So to answer the question of who is next, the answer is, no one yet. Maddow will not be able to capitalize on Walter's audience because those who agree with Maddow, currently watch Maddow, and those who don't, do so for a reason. Amanpour is an excellent journalist, and her role as CNN chief international correspondent is no small deed; however, she is not the next "let's interview the president and his wife" anchor that Walters was. The next Barbara Walters may be sitting as a copy editor somewhere, or in a newsroom, toiling away for year's for their big break. But one thing is certain, no one will be able to do what Barbara Walters was able to do in her ability to begin to break down the gender barriers of the male-dominated broadcast news industry.