What’s more important: the news, or who reports it?

NBC’s Nightly News, formally anchored by Brian Williams, swept the number one ratings spot for February sweeps.

Even without the famous (or infamous) anchor behind the news desk, the show topped all other evening news programs. So does it really matter who reads the prompter?

Immediately following the BriWi Scandal Nightly News ratings plummeted. The show lost 36 percent of its viewers in the key demographic (25-54 years old). But even with this decline, it was able to stay at the top of the evening news food chain by the end of the month.

Why? I believe there are two possible explanations.

Explanation #1: People simply do not care who is on camera. They only want to hear what is going on in the world. Viewers are familiar to the style of the Nightly News and the cost of changing to a new program is not worth it.

Explanation #2: Viewers tuned into the program to see how the scandal unfolded. People were interested to see who would replace Williams, how they did, and if anything was noticeably different. They cannot look away from drama, and NBC was giving them exactly what they wanted.

Still, even though ratings topped the charts, they were still noticeably lower after new anchor, Lester Holt, took over. Does Nightly News need Brian Williams?

I think a recognizable face certainly helps gain loyal viewers. I experienced this phenomenon even after interning at a local news station this past summer. When I would tell people I was working at WFMY they would immediately ask, “Oh, is that the one with Julie Luck?”

People follow people, not stations. And although having a recognizable brand is important, viewers trust the face that reads the news.

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