Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Live at 10: Girls, Girls and More Girls

Johnny Diaz had to know, when he got up this morning, stretched his nubile limbs and began steeling himself for another long day of filing content-free stories and pimping his latest book (Amazon keywords: mysterious skin, journalism conference, South Beach, Deco Time, Puerto Rican), that I was going to smack him for this story about women news anchors. Either that, or he's not spending enough time Googling himself lately. And that I find hard to believe.

Before unleashing a gallon of haterade on Diaz's latest scrap of journalistic tinsel, I should first confess that I don't watch much TV news. It takes something out of me physically. The last time I accidentally caught a few minutes of Channel 7, I woke up the next day with a tremendous boil on my forehead, which upon further examination, was found to contain a tiny, wriggling Frances Rivera. I find it safest to stick to print journalism, which is damaging enough to one's health.

But being an American living in a major metropolitan area and not in a coma, I feel I have picked up enough on the general zeitgeist to be able to utter the following points with reasonable confidence:

1. Journalism is dying.
2. TV news is getting worse.
3. Men are getting laid off everywhere because they make more money and generally want to be treated like people, an attitude that does not fly in the next Great Depression.
4. T&A sells.

But this is all OK. Indeed, it's great news. Because it all adds up to the increasing dominance of two-woman news anchor teams! And the news-lite formula, which must remain forever unexamined, is that More Women = Good.

Diaz's story reads like a parody of itself. In it, a barely-disguised pastiche of audience-pandering, economic misery and cold, calculating misogyny is whitewashed with almost Onionesque perkiness.

While their managers say they were the best candidates for the jobs, their gender influenced the decisions in some cases. Managers say today's audiences are more willing to accept news from a young woman. As stations lose industry veterans, who typically earn much larger salaries, they turn to younger anchors to cut costs and draw viewers.

Translation: Hey, women: You suck. But you're cheaper.

His station, which has a female news director, Linda Miele, also promoted reporter Sorboni Banerjee as its lone weekend morning anchor.

"We were running short of men," Ansin said. "And we said, 'Gee, let's see how it goes if we had Sorboni go at it alone.' "

I cannot even comment on this without my head spinning entirely around like Linda Blair in the Exorcist.

Some station managers also think they can increase their ratings by putting attractive young women in the anchor chairs, Papper said. "In television, what you look like matters, and that is true for both men and women," he said. "Young women can look more mature than men of the same age. The fact is that the average woman coming out of school, if you dress her up and put makeup on, she looks like an adult. The average guy coming out of school looks like he's coming out of puberty."

Might the perceived maturity of 22-year-old BU Comm grads in tartalicious heels have anything to do with the fact that women in television are generally sent off to the glue factory by the time they hit 40?

"It's not discrimination. It's biology."

If only Sojourner Truth were still alive to kick that statement's sorry, played-out ass.

"Viewers are so used to the yin-yang of a male-female anchor team, and I believe it's easier for people to assume they won't like anything other than that formula," [Rivera] said. "But there's the curiosity factor. Once that's appeased and they realize there is a unique dynamic with a female anchor team, they say they stick around to watch."
Ripped from the headlines of 1763. It Is Not Done Well, But You Are Surprised To Find It Done At All.

I feel it says a great deal about this story that so far, the comments on it are more perceptive than the reporting. I feel, also, that every time the shriveled monkey-paw of pop culture grants you a wish, it takes something precious from you as well. You want women to succeed in the prestigious world of TV news anchoring? Very well then. They shall be clad in pinstriped Spandex, and they shall dance the Macarena on Walter Cronkite's grave.


  1. If you take the average woman just out of school, dress her up, put makeup on her, teach her, say, 25 key phrases, and show her how to hold her eating utensils correctly, she looks almost like a human being. Almost.

  2. "The women on my staff are intelligent, energetic, and totally committed professionals," von Lichtenberg said. ". . . I am looking forward to the day when the economy turns and we can gather more resources to serve the community."

    I know it's a bad economy and all, but this makes it sound like the Road Warrior going out to forage for gasoline and cigarettes.

  3. BU Grad: I've come wiv a mind to be an anchorwoman, I have!

    Papper: By Jove, Pickering, if we just dress her up and put makeup on, she could almost pass for a lady - er, professional journalist.

  4. I love WHDH's ad campaign for Rivera/Khazi, which translates to: "If you watch long enough, they might make out."

  5. I wonder if Diaz pitched this story or had it handed to him by his editor/corporate sponsor. Do a Google AdWords search on the names of the leading New England women anchors, and you will see what kind of page views we are talking about.

  6. I can't believe nobody here brought up-- or even seems to be aware of?-- the piece that Diaz did about Randi "Do you know who the (redacted) I am, you (redacted) mother (redactors)?" Goldklank:

    Not only was this a classic "women do" piece months before Ms. Harris launched this blog, it was also completely content-free-- a puff piece about a hard-charging saleswoman who had landed a news-station-running gig without, apparently, any qualifications whatsoever. Not that Diaz seemed to be concerned at all...