Friday, September 14, 2007

My response to Anchorwoman

Barbara Walters. Diane Sawyer. Katie Couric. Lauren Jones?

On an ordinary Wednesday evening in August, Lauren Jones became the newest anchorwoman mass-marketed to American audiences. The catch: small-town CBS news station KYTX in Tyler Texas hired Jones because she was a former bikini model and WWE Diva; her lack of journalistic credentials would have disqualified her for the position if the station’s ratings hadn’t been lagging.

Hyped by the Fox Broadcasting Company as a scripted reality/comedy show similar to The Simple Life, Anchorwoman was supposed to highlight Jones’s transformation from “B” celebrity to a respectable member of the news media. However, Fox made some miscalculations and cancelled the series after the first two episodes aired for its premiere.

It is easy to see why Anchorwoman was a bad idea for KYTX and Fox. Jones wasn’t the kind of woman most of the conservative members of Tyler wanted to see on the evening news. When the station used sex appeal in their billboard campaign, citizens complained. Her low-cut blouses made managers and reporters in the station worry about the image they were sending out to viewers. And, by the second episode, Jones proved her lack of professionalism by goofing around while another reporter taped a segment in the newsroom. The tape shows Jones falling out of her chair, waving her arms in the air, and dancing in the background.

While Jones displayed enthusiasm for the position (she said the anchorwoman position was a dream come true), she was over her head in a job where the audience’s first impression can make or break a career. In an era where survey after survey states the American public does not trust the news media, Jones was put in an unfair position where she could not gain her audience’s trust. Her superiors made other reporters write her stories, and by the second episode it was clear she was hired over existing reporters at the station who couldn’t fill out a swimsuit quite as well as her.

In a sitcom world where Americans tune into Paris Hilton living The Simple Life and Hogan Knows Best and The Osbournes showcase dysfunctional family life, the questions becomes “Why didn’t Anchorwoman work?”

Bad press may be to blame. Journalists all over the United States publicly gasped in horror when the show was unveiled. Critics from Newsday to blasted the show before it aired, then giddily reported on the its failure.

Eric Deggans of the St. Petersburg Times reported female anchors at a seminar at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies were less than impressed with Anchorwoman and its star. Martha Hunn from WBTW in Myrtle Beach, S.C. said the show played up negative stereotypes and “bastardized” her career.

In a media market inundated with shallow attempts to gain viewers and a line blurring reality and fiction more each day, why should Lauren Jones’s attempt to diversify her career skills and take a step up the job ladder strike an unhappy chord with so many people?

I think it’s the message the media is trying desperately to get out there: You can trust us. Most of us are ethical professionals who care about the news and informing our viewers.

By jumping over the heads of more qualified applicants for the news anchor job, it sends the message that a beautiful face will trump a keen intellect any day of the week, no matter what position they’re going for. It says that it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a women, a pretty girl will win out in a competition. In a world full of Plain Jane and Johns struggling to grasp at beauty through cosmetics, treatments, and surgeries, this is a dangerous message indeed.

Will Jones become America’s next top news anchor?

At least this question can be answered with a resounding “no.” reported in July that Jones returned to the world of modeling after her stint as an anchor. One day, if she works her way up through the ranks of a news station, writing reports under pressure and for little praise, Jones may prove her ability to get back into the anchor game. Until then, I wish her luck. At least she tried.

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