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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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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