NEW YORK - A month into her new job as "World News" anchor, and Diane Sawyer has piled up enough frequent flier miles to impress even George Clooney's character in "Up in the Air."
Her desire to get out of ABC's New York studio has already set Sawyer apart from her more homebound predecessor, Charles Gibson, who retired in December. She travelled to Copenhagen to interview Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for her first show, and has been to Afghanistan and Haiti.
Monday will be a shuttle flight to Washington to interview President Barack Obama. She'll anchor the broadcast from the capital.
"They have to restrain me," said Sawyer, 64. "I will get on the plane at the drop of a story."
She's giving her first interviews since taking over the broadcast on Dec. 21, a launch done without fanfare because ABC was spooked by expectations raised and dashed surrounding Katie Couric's CBS debut.
Sawyer's tired blue eyes betray the grueling nature of her Kabul to Port-Au-Prince trip. She and her team were preparing to leave Afghanistan after several days of reporting on the war when they heard about the Haitian earthquake that has killed over 200,000 people. She flew into New York and didn't leave the airline terminal, aides passing on replacements to the glasses she lost, Blackberry she broke and midwinter clothing inappropriate to tropical heat.
From the Dominican Republic, it took two helicopters and a plane to reach Haiti, since airports there were closed.
The destruction and suffering, she said, "was something so profoundly shattering."
She saw her role in Haiti to push for answers about delays in relief supplies and to convey to viewers the "sensory trauma" of the heat, the smells and the suffering. The former "60 Minutes" correspondent recognizes the importance of being a reporter even with the most important anchor job on the network.
"I love the field," she said. "I love to be there, sense it, experience it. I love, from my years of doing it, what people say to you and how it affects your understanding of the story. They say it to you where they live, not where you live."
That's fine with ABC News President David Westin, who envisioned when he paired Elizabeth Vargas and Bob Woodruff as "World News" co-anchors four years ago that one of them would usually be on the road. That team lasted barely a month before Woodruff was seriously injured in January 2006 by a roadside bomb in Iraq.
"I'm very happy with (Sawyer); I'm very happy with the broadcast," Westin said. "She's just so good in the field. It's a combination of how knowledgeable she is and how curious she is going in."
As an anchor, Sawyer is more reminiscent of CBS' globe-trotting Dan Rather than the cool sophistication of longtime ABC anchor Peter Jennings, said Andrew Tyndall, a consultant who studies the content of evening news programs.
She's more active in the newscasts, too, questioning correspondents on the air instead of just presenting their reports, he said. Tyndall has noticed that reporters Kate Snow and David Muir have been given a higher profile in her newscasts.
"I know that they like to be surprised and I think the viewer can sense when you are genuinely learning something," Sawyer said. "I like learning from them and I like being able to go wherever the conversation naturally takes us on the air."
Sawyer has noticeably picked up the pace of her broadcast since she started, a recognition that the slower, folksier style that works in a two-hour "Good Morning America" may not be appropriate to the evening news.
Her presence has yet to change the ratings pecking order in the evening, where Brian Williams on NBC's "Nightly News" is dominant, followed by ABC and Couric. (Both Williams and Couric also travelled to Haiti.)
Sawyer hasn't received the ratings "bump" that often occurs when viewers check out something new. During her month on the job, Williams has slightly increased NBC's edge on ABC to 14 per cent from the average of 11 per cent before she took over this season, according to the Nielsen Co.
Couric was the first woman to be sole anchor on a network evening newscast. Her initial ratings problems suggested that some older, more traditional viewers were not embracing the concept.
Now that he's the only man in the job, does that give Williams a small advantage?
Sawyer dismissed the idea. "I hope that we're seen as three individual journalists, and that each can bring something to that time slot that is beyond gender. ... I think that each of us feels like what we do is so much more important than who we are."
However, she said, "it gives Brian a lot of good punch lines."