NBC Nightly News anchor has labored mightily to build a personality outside his newscast, “slow-jamming” the news with Jimmy Fallon in late night, guest-hosting “Saturday Night Live,” yukking it up with David Letterman and Jon Stewart. He had the prime-time gig on "Rock Center" -- which few people watched. Most people still don’t know who he is.
The Pew Research Center found last summer in an an online survey about Americans’ knowledge about the news, just 27 percent of those surveyed could correctly identify Williams. Respondents were shown a picture of Williams and asked to name the person in the photo. “While 3% were able to identify Williams’ profession (anchor or reporter), fully seven-in-ten either did not know (53%) or named someone other than Williams (18%).”
Pew noted that in 1985, nearly half (47%) could identify Dan Rather, who at the time anchored the top-rated CBS evening News. The gap is especially pronounced among people under 30, the hip demographic Williams has tried to impress: “In the August survey, just 15% of those under 30 identified Williams, compared with about three-in-ten in older age groups. In 1985, 41% of young people identified Rather; about half of older people recognized the CBS anchor.”
The lower public awareness of news anchors reflects the dramatic decline in nightly news ratings since 1985, whether that’s due to 24-hour cable news, new media technologies, or – we’d like to suggest – a maddening amount of poltical bias. Pew reports “in November 1985 an average of 48 million Americans watched one of the network newscasts each evening. By 2013, that number had fallen to 24.5 million, according to Pew Research analysis of Nielsen Media Research data.”