Anchorwoman & TV's Sleazy Truth

by Rick Rockwell

There is much handwringing today in journalism circles about the premiere of Anchorwoman, the new series on FOX. For those expecting an echo of those sentiments here, forget it.

The battle for journalistic credibility in television news was lost long ago. So why keep crying about it?

For those who haven’t followed the articles about Anchorwoman, the premise is rather simple. FOX has created a reality series (the term “reality” is always used advisably with primetime television programs that aren’t documentaries – often such programs are as manipulated and directed as any fiction series) that follows the reactions of a newsroom after a new anchorwoman arrives. However, the new anchor is Lauren Jones, a former model and competitor in the Miss USA competition (also a stage presenter for The Price is Right) who likes to show off her still model-perfect body on the air. In some ways, the series also borrows some of the themes from the funny and successful satirical film, Anchorman.

The Society of Professional Journalists has led the way in criticizing KYTX-TV, a CBS affiliate in Tyler, Texas, for participating in the series. The Washington Post and other newspapers have also jumped on that bandwagon. (And typical of newspaper criticism, the critics want to have it both ways. The critics poke fun at KYTX for opening the door to the FOX series, but also chastise the journalists who fight the idea as being “too serious.”)

But what’s the point in that criticism?

The debate about the need on television to mix entertainment with information has been tipped in favor of the entertainment side at least since the 1970s. That’s when journalists started welcoming consultants into their newsrooms who cared almost solely about marketing rather than journalism. For instance, at one time, journalists in television newsrooms actually argued against news teases and newsbreaks that were nothing but teases. But watch television news and you’ll see the consultants won that battle long ago.

And likewise the battle over trading sex appeal for television ratings is decades-old too. For instance, when television stations started bringing in former models to do the weather in the 1960s (as opposed to men doing the weather sometimes accompanied by puppets, puppies, birds or other animal mascots) critics also rightly harpooned television for selling out, although that was an early entry point for women into newsrooms that were once all-male.

In the 1980s, Shelly Jamison broke a barrier of sorts as the first television news reporter to pose nude for Playboy. Although Jamison was pressured out of her job at KTSP-TV in Phoenix, this author worked for a news director in the Tampa Bay area who openly contemplated hiring her for the potential ratings boost. Instead, that news director hired a former Miss USA who had thin journalism credentials but who looked good in front of a camera. Nowadays, anchorwomen such as Jennifer Santiago at WFOR-TV in Miami have posed for Playboy and still hold on to their jobs. Some stations, such as KTLA-TV in Los Angeles strongly defend their decisions to employ anchorwomen with sex appeal who also pose for magazine photo spreads which focus on their bodies rather than their journalistic credentials.

With standards at that level, why is there any debate about Anchorwoman? Although there are better documentary projects that uncover the sleaze in how television stations are managed, perhaps this series just shows how laughable local news has become.

(Promotional photo of Lauren Jones in Anchorwoman from FOX. The series debuts tonight at 8 p.m. EDT. To see Good Morning America's take on Anchorwoman, please check below.)

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Stephanie Kanowitz said...

And cut! Anchorwoman has been pulled. Whew!

Anonymous said...

One interesting point. The internet is exploding in growth especially blogging because Americans are realising that they cannot trust their traditional media to deliver any reasonable standard of journalism.

The point has been beaten to death but I cannot resist to point out that journalism at its most basic means telling both sides of the story and letting the reader interpret. American journalism has become so jaded because of the corporation, politics and the need to sell advertising and hit short term targets that its quality is dramatically and notably diluted in the last years. The run up to the Iraq war will long remain a terrible scar on American journalism

The great point is that if you want to find the truth you simply visit blogs like this one.

A tremendous irony is that American journalism is selling out to sell ads and the quality has dropped precipitously and irony of irony, they are selling less adverts while internet adverting revenues take their place!

Its really a pity

Rick Rockwell said...

>>>Yes, it is a pity, but it can also be seen as an opportunity for a new communication age. You have already given the details of how that is happening.

>>>Stephanie, yes, Anchorwoman was pulled after only one show. Perhaps it proved too sleazy even for FOX. The audience proves all the time it is too intelligent for these schemes in the long run... and thankfully sometimes in the short run too. But what do those 2.7 million who watched have to say for themselves?

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