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Katie Couric and 'CBS Evening News.' Is it time for them to part ways?

Katie Couric may be leaving when her contract is up in June. Ratings for 'CBS Evening News' are down, but not everyone says it's her fault. Where would she go next? And who would take over?

By Daniel B. Wood and Gloria GoodaleStaff writers / April 4, 2011

In this July 16, 2006 file photo, Katie Couric answers questions about her upcoming season anchoring 'CBS Evening News with Katie Couric' during a news conference in Pasadena, Calif.

Lucas Jackson/AP/File

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Los Angeles

The news that Katie Couric may leave her anchor post at “CBS Evening News” when her contract expires in June – only five years after becoming the first woman to solo helm a network TV evening newscast – is generating heated speculation over where she would head and who would replace her.

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It is also fueling a dialogue about what her exit would say – and not say – about the changing environment of broadcast news, journalism itself, fractured audiences and about Ms. Couric’s abilities.

Ms. Couric took over at CBS in April, 2006, amid the unique confluence of exits for the three main, longtime network anchors: CBS’s Dan Rather, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, and through death, ABC’s Peter Jennings.

Amid the explosive growth of Internet, cable, and the blogosphere, speculation was widespread that perhaps the age-old model of a single, day’s-end newscast, led by an authority figure, might be a thing of the past.

One big question that endures for all three newscasts is how to attract and hold younger viewers who are growing up with jazzier options, from chat-happy bloggers to the wry news commentary of Comedy Central.

A prized skill set

Couric came to CBS after 15 successful and highly-rated years on NBC’s “Today Show.” Her skill set, which stretched from interviewing chefs to book authors to heads of state – not to mention her relative youth, famous smile, and gender – was considered possibly the perfect lure.

Now, however, some observers are saying that breadth may be better suited to a daytime, talk-show format, and there is widespread speculation that Oprah Winfrey’s exit from the daytime syndication schedule has opened a door for Couric.

When she took over, the “CBS Evening News” was in third place. It has stayed there for five years but earned, in this past quarter, its lowest ratings since 1992, reaching only some 6.4 million viewers.

“People wonder why Couric could have been so successful in the morning at the ‘Today Show’ but couldn't generate ratings in the evening. The main reason is that different audiences are involved,” says Jeffrey McCall, media studies professor at DePauw University in Indiana.

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