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Anchors are Performers
...not journalists

Local stations spend a great deal of their promotional effort to convince you that their anchors are super news people.  They're just like you--friendly, trusted, and attractive, and also great journalists.

In fact, most anchors are journalists-turned-actors who are highly paid for their poised images and their studio delivery.  More than a few are not so poised off-camera and few anchors go out on stories or make phone calls to gather news.  Those tasks are designated to much more junior people--many of whom, themselves, aspire to sit in the anchor chair someday.

Full time performers - part time reporters

 Most anchors only treks away from the studio are for pet image projects, celebrity guest appearances at dinners or other special events where stations wish to extend their presence.  What few stories anchors do cover are specifically to demonstrate that they can do news and you'll see as much video of them in the stories as you will the interview subjects.   In some ways, that's too bad because some anchors are highly qualified journalists--they've paid their dues and reported earlier in their careers.  Others have not.   They landed studio jobs too early in their careers to have learned the lessons of newsgathering and writing.

The more experienced anchors provide input at afternoon editorial meetings where the decisions are made as to what stories should be covered.  This depends completely on their capabilities and the News Director's view of them.  In some stations, anchors are "included" in decisions to feed their fragile egos.  But in other stations, anchors are more experienced than the rest of the staff and so their input is badly needed.  It is difficult for the viewer to determine which anchors are 'readers' and which are 'journalists' because they are all promoted as journalists.   Usually, only TV insiders know the truth.

Often anchors will re-write some national wire copy for the evening broadcasts but otherwise, they are not pushed because they need to be fresh for their main job--to front for the news organization.    An hour before airtime, they put on their makeup and go over the copy others have written for them.

Morning and noon-show anchors, being more junior and aspiring for better newscasts, are assigned to contribute much more.  They make editorial decisions and write much of the copy for the early newscasts.  They hope for openings on the weekend shows and eventually a shot at evenings.  They send out tapes of their best newscasts to TV stations in other cities, hoping for a move up.

Polished, cordial, and believable

 As performers, anchors have generous clothing allowances, guidance in hair care, and applying the makeup required to make them look professional, human, and unruffled under the glaring studio lights.  Consultants coach them to polish their news deliveries and the friendly chit-chat with their co-anchors.  Anchors develop skills to use their intonation, facial expressions and body language in a variety of ways to communicate many things.  They can read an important story one way, a tragic story another, and transition quickly to a lighter delivery--all to portray the mood of the moment.  Their turns from one camera to another are well-practiced.  They learn to deliberately hold their hands in a natural way.    With poise, they can glance to their co-anchor to show concern or humor--in all cases they must be believable, likable and convincing that they are close friends with their fellow pals on the set.  Every detail is important.  Anchors review the nightly tapes of their performances, studying the smallest details from the opening wideshot to their the good-natured smile following the last feature story of the broadcast.

  For some anchors, this is not difficult because they are pretty much what you see--they are terrific, respectable, bright people who have reached the pinnacle of their careers and who stand out above all others.  Other anchors will just look the part--but they read the news better than they actually understand it.   In any case, anchor teams are to be convincing when the studio cameras' red lights are lit.  Their tasks are be show hosts for the newscasts--to deliver the news and extend their persona images to the viewers.

Anchors reflect a station's image

When they're not in front of the news studio cameras, they're reading magazines, wandering around the station, or before the promotion department's camera.  It is promotion's task to portray the anchors as mature, believable journalists, active newsroom decision-makers, and also friendly hail-fellows-well-met elsewhere.  News promos will feature them at community-fundraisers, pretending to wisely guide their newsroom colleagues, bantering with co-anchors around a holiday tree, or being busy practicing journalists at high profile news events like political conventions and city-wide celebrations.

The anchors' roles are to assure they are the personification of the station's image, to assure the newscasts go well despite occasional technical nightmares, to deliver the news product with authority, and make the viewers feel they are familiar friends welcome each night in their living rooms.  Their last act is to leave viewers with the impression that no matter how many bad things were reported, all will be well with the world overnight so they can sleep well.  For this, they earn six figure salaries and pray their ratings will hold until they become icons in their community.

Who are the other people who bring you the news?

   Other than anchors, local stations do not generally pay most of their people well.  Hence, most reporters and the producers who write the newscasts are young and they don't stay long.  Their background knowledge is slight in the many facets of society about which they will report.  Their experience is in producing television stories--not understanding history, law, economics, business, education, medicine and the other disciplines which make up your community.  The result is that neophytes will write simplistic copy--telling you pretty much all they know about their stories.   To people familiar with the industries being covered, copywriters will commit minor but obvious errors and their word-choices will lack the perspective of someone more familiar with the subject matter.  People NOT familiar with those industries won't know the difference and will accept what they're told at face value.

Field Reporters

Reporters go out each day spending most of that time--not digging--but actually producing the video they have been assigned to bring back by the in-house decision-makers.  Many reporters would love to do serious news if they were only given the time.   Reporters are mostly hired based on videotapes of some of their best stories from their previous job.  They are hired primarily for the polish of their on-camera presentations, and to a lessor degree, their writing ability, work ethic, and general common sense.  Few reporters today are hired with an academic background or  industry experience--other than broadcast journalism.  Most of them move from city to city every two or three years as they move up in their careers to larger markets and better pay.  So the experience they finally gain in learning a community is often lost because of this movement.

The differences between seasoned long-time local reporters who know their community and the parade of transitory light-weights are obvious if you can visit with them in person.  Unfortunately,  most viewers only see their carefully-crafted, written stories.   Some of those cub reporters are so journalistically weak, the managing editor will give them interview questions to ask and later rewrite their copy when they return to the station.  Often, news photographers who tend to stay in the same city for years, will know more than these average reporters do. The lightweight reporters are sometimes paired up with seasoned photographers who can gently guide them without insulting their egos.   To keep some experience on the staff, stations will generally try to keep one or two seasoned reporters from being stolen away.  Those get the high visibility stories each day so long as they aren't already committed to other ones.  The lightweights, the barbie-and-ken look-alikes, will be kept on staff so long as they stay to cover the easier, quick and dirty stories to fill the rest of the newscasts.

Show Producers

   Producers write most of the newscast copy.  They, with their managing editors or "executive producers" decide newscast content and they spend long days in the newsroom--not out in the community where the news is.  These people don't get out at all.  They are primarily re-writers and show strategists whose view of the world is from the newsroom.   Show producers seek promotions to become Executive Producers who seek jobs to become News Directors.  The main reason why television news around country tends to look the same is because many of these people--often involuntarily--move from television market to market.   They all learned their news judgement from the same half-dozen national consultants.  Most seek jobs in larger markets because they pay better and carry more prestige.   Because of this group-think, "news"  is defined about same way in all but the very smallest markets or the very largest ones.

Assignment Editors

In most newsrooms, Assigment Editors are the gate keepers.  Those working the 'assignment desk' answer the phones, listen to the police scanners, open and file the handout news releases and help develop story ideas.  When you call the small station newsroom, you'll likely get the assignment editor.  If you call a larger station's newsroom, the call volume may be such that you'll first get a desk assistant who will evaluate your call and decide to take notes for the "AE",  pass you on to someone else, or disregard your call.

 Assignment editors spend the rest of their shifts making check calls, mostly on law enforcement agencies, and performing follow-up checks about continuing stories.  If the station is too small for a 'managing editor', the assignment editor will have a great deal of say about what stories will be pursued.  A good AE will develop several daily stories because of his/her common sense, thoroughness, and tenacity.  Tht best Assignment Editor works day shift, and the second-best works evenings.  And most stations will find any warm body with common sense to work the nightshift, if the station is large enough to even be staffed at night.

Top Management

The News Director is in charge of the gathering and presentation of the news.  He or she reports to station management and is usually responsible for hiring and firing, equipment and staff salary budgeting, and also responsible for both content and ratings.  Very hands-on ND's will make final decisions on all the major stories which run each day.  Others hand that off to a team of producers.

Top local station managers, usually called General Managers, come most often from a Sales Manager position because advertising revenue is the heart of a television station.  GM's with a news background tend to back their news teams better with more staff and higher standards.   Those with sales background insist on only enough journalistic excellence to score high enough ratings to garner a high advertising rate card.   Promotion Directors are are the periphery of decision-making.  Their task is to sell the station's news department to the viewers by creating effective and inticing little commercials to run throughout the day promoting big stories scheduled for that night.  They also create 'image' commercials to build trust and credibility in the news operation as a whole.  They schedule ads in the TV guides and rent billboards plastering the faces of the anchors before drivers to make them more familiar.

Local versus absentee ownership.  It is this author's view that news is most often of the best quality when stations are locally owned or owned by networks which already have a deep news commitment.   More frequently, however, stations are now owned by out-of-state investors who have little commitment to the communities where the properties are located.  Many don't even care if they are in third place at newstime.  They tend to be mostly interested in maximizing profits and minimizing expenses. News staff is "expense".

News Excellence is professional pride and commitment not measured in profit.   It is a hard sell to get a GM to add news staff for the purpose of gaining journalistic excellence for it's own sake.  Stations which actually have it should be congratulated, and watched!

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