Women in all careers are striving to gain equality in the work force today and female television news anchors are definitely part of the fight. The road to television news anchoring is a rocky one where only a few women survive and many fail. Where progress was once thought to have been made, there aren't many females getting ahead in the world of television news. Today, there is a very slow, if any, gain in the numbers of women who succeed. There are many questions surrounding the subject of women in television news, and I will attempt to answer relevant ones in this paper. How have the women that actually make it to the top and succeed as anchorwomen done it? What does it take to make it? Why do those few endure it/enjoy it? Why has it been and still is difficult for women? What are the expectations of women in the field, as opposed to the expectations of men?
I am interested in this topic because I once aspired to become a television broadcaster. I still have inspiration in me, but not quite as much due to the negative and discouraging aspects I have heard about in classes and in the media. I am not sure that I could be happy in a career such as this and I know there are great difficulties in making it in this profession. I have read about the incredible ambition of successful females in television news and it seems like it takes a special kind of passion to want to keep up in the business.
I kept my questions in mind when gathering research material. While focusing on the key questions, I was able to find information that led me to form answers to them. Christine Craft's biography told of her individual experience of being fired on the basis of her looks and her age. I realized from reading her story that she had a nose for news a passion for telling it to the world and a unique spark that made her a good journalist, yet those qualities weren't enough in her case. She took that passion and spark, filed a sexual discrimination case and won.
Hard News : Women in Broadcast Journalism had a few chapters that were relevant to today and I could draw on some information for my paper. However, much of the information was historical and not helpful to answering my questions. Battling for News concentrated mainly on print journalism. There was material about the first women in broadcasting in the 1950's and how they were hired and fired. Television News Anchors had very helpful information in that there were individual stories from anchorwomen telling of their experiences. This provided stories about the women who have succeeded within the field - why and how. There was a round table discussion conducted by The New Mother Jones magazine with television newswomen Linda Ellerbee, Marion Goldin, Ann Rubenstein and Meredith Vieira. This provided first-hand opinions about what these women see going on in the business.
Women in Television News were published in 1976 and thus much of the information was outdated. However, I was able to use some quotes from newswomen about what they believe one must do to make it in broadcast journalism. I also found some interesting quotes from a former vice president of ABC News regarding women in the industry. Waiting for Prime Time had valuable information about Marlene Sander's experience and opinions of other anchorwomen and men. It covered possibilities for the future of women in broadcasting. Pamela Creedon's two books were helpful in that they discussed topics of sexual discrimination in broadcast journalism and included a chapter by Marlene Sanders titled THE FACE OF THE NETWORK NEWS IS MALE. Here she attempted to tackle some problems women in television news face: what the problems are, why they exist and a bit about what needs to be done to cure these problems.
Liesbet van Zoonen's book included a chapter titled Media Production and the Encoding of Gender. It showed how society views women in the media. The expectations of female anchorwomen in part stems from the overall view of women on television - whether it be in a movie, music video or soap opera. This was relevant to my paper in answering the question of why there are certain expectations of women in television news. The textbook, Gender, Race and Class in Media had a few chapters relevant to my paper. Larry Gross wrote a chapter titled OUT OF THE MAINSTREAM: SEXUAL MINORITIES AND MASS MEDIA. He discussed various stereotypes in our society that lead to stereotypes in all areas of our lives. I found some of my sources from Oasis and also used a couple of magazine articles that were relevant to the subject. I focused on the questions that I wanted to answer and drew points from the material that were relevant and provided substantial evidence to answer my questions. I found that opinions and thoughts of women who had been through the business were most helpful.
There was one big limitation I faced if I wanted to prove that women in television news were discriminated upon based on sex and age. Women have been fired from their anchor positions and it has seemed that the reasons were because of looks or aging. But this is hard to prove. In August, Carol Schrader, a woman anchor from KETV-TV in Omaha, Nebraska was asked to leave. She said that it was because of her age, although her bosses didn't say that was the reason, stating that she wasn't doing her job. She was replaced by a young, blond woman. Also, when Marlene Sanders was asked to leave ABC, instead of saying point-blank that she was too old, her boss told her she had outgrown the profession. Lynn Sherr of ABC News was also fired and she believed it was because of her appearance, as no one told her why she lost her job. It isn't a proven fact that every case of a woman getting fired from their professions was fired because of their age.
The number of women news anchors is scarce. Only a few succeed and the reason for this is because what is expected of them is much greater than what is expected of men. Women must work twice as hard, be twice as beautiful and go above and beyond their abilities. The television broadcasting business is dominated by males and in turn males have the majority of the power. Positive steps have been taken by women, but they are still far from being equal in the field. Advances are not being made quickly.
Some men in the world of television news say that women do have a tougher time. Larry King had this to say….I know that if I were Loretta King instead of Larry King I would be nowhere near where I am today. I would not have had a national radio talk show in 1978, a national cable show of my own, and a national column if I had started out being the wrong gender. Al Ittleson, former vice-president of ABC News, says that physical appearance is important for both male and female broadcasters, but emphasizes the importance of a woman broadcaster's looks.
Women are supposed to be beautiful. People anticipate what a woman is supposed to look like, so when they come to television-I haven't seen an unattractive woman on television yet. In fact, they're hired, I would say, probably more because of the way they look and their image than because of their background. A man with a very strong journalism background and a man who has broken stories can get away with a little bit of homeliness. Men aren't supposed to be attractive. Women have a tougher time.
Our society pins importance upon women's looks. They are required to retain qualities of femininity, yet must also be professional. Van Zoonen explains the different expectations of men and women in journalism saying….one must assume femininity as a feature of female journalists and masculinity as a different characteristic of male journalists. The images that are instilled in society are carried over into all aspects of life and are prevalent in television news….Just as our society is dominated by white, middle and upper-middle class males. It is so in most professions. The men are the bosses in television news and this has made it difficult for women to gain prestige. The men place expectations upon the women and punish them if they aren't exactly what they want. One good example of a case where a woman news anchor was fired on the basis of her looks is Christine Craft. Craft was discriminated against because of her sex, appearance and age. She was fired from KMBC in Kansas City and told…..You don't hide your intelligence to make guys look smarter. Along with this, she was fired because she was too old, too unattractive and not sufficiently deferential to men. Because her boss directly told her these things, she felt she had been sexually discriminated against. She won two court cases, winning a total of $600,000 in damages.
Craft's case opened the eyes of many anchorwomen, as well as others in the media and elsewhere. Here is a talented, competent broadcast journalist who was unfairly treated and took a stand. She comments on her experience….The men could be balding, jowly, bespectacled and even fat and encased in double-knit, yet the women had to be flawless. Moreover, there was the expectation that I should pretend not to know certain facts just because I was a woman.
What is disturbing about Craft's case is that it is so blatantly obvious that she lost her job on the basis of being a woman, being too old, and not being pretty enough. At the time, out of all the anchors in the country who were over 40, men made up ninety-seven percent of that with three percent being women who did not look their age. Marlene Sanders writes that what is seen in Craft's case is that wrinkles are seasoning in a man but disqualification in a woman and that while this may not be sexual discrimination…..it is a sad statement about how women are viewed in our society.
The world of television news is an unstable one where women take chances, not knowing if or how long they can thrive in the business. Marlene Sanders puts it plainly….The message is clear…we can all be replaced. There are no guarantees of longevity, and no obvious destination where news professionals can translate their experience and knowledge into new and satisfying careers.
Before she took the job at KMBC in Kansas City, Craft was working at a smaller station in Santa Barbara, where she had a positive experience. She says…..I was content to be in a place where the emphasis was on getting the stories and getting them right. Only once did management mention my appearance, and that was to tell me to pull my hair back a bit. Craft was attracted to the Kansas City station in a larger market. However, she made clear before taking the job that first and foremost she did not want to change her appearance. They promised her it wouldn't happen, yet within the first week they had a beauty consultant piling the make-up onto her face.
Sexual discrimination is evident in television news. KMBC practically begged Christine Craft to come to their station. Women are rewarded more than men for changing news shops often or for moving to larger markets more because of their gender than because of their journalistic qualifications.
During the first trial, a former news producer at KMBC, Sherry Chastain, testified, saying that her bosses instructed her to monitor the appearance of female anchors and reporters, but never males...the male counterpart was bald with a bad toupee and thick glasses, yet nothing was ever mentioned about monitoring his appearance.
Diane Sawyer says that equal pay for equal work is a more serious issue than aging on the air. The reason this is such a difficult challenge is because the number of women on a news staff as well as their ages can be easily established. However, salaries tend to be confidential and the dollar value of experience and other qualifications are hard to determine. Therefore, while it is possible that aging may not be a major issue for women broadcasters ten years from now, equal pay for equal work will most likely linger on.
Some of the blame for all anchorwomen's problems was voiced by cynical male television executives in the 1980's. Jon Katz, former executive director of CBS Morning News, tells of another executive who had a way of deciding which women to interview for anchor positions. He would look at their tapes in the VCR for eight seconds and he would ask himself….Do I want to fuck them? This was his basis in deciding who to hire.
Catherine Crier experienced tinges of sexism at CNN. A former lawyer and judge, she was criticized for being just another pretty face entering the field of broadcasting. She had no previous experience in journalism, yet her political experience provided the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. She says…Journalists couched their reaction in terms of experience and background, but those same journalists have failed to voice similar criticisms of Pierre Salinger of Bill Moyers, two men who jumped from politics into broadcast news. Crier says that the gains of women in television news are being made very slowly and that it is still a frustration for most women. Jane Pauley is an exception to the negativity women broadcasters often receive. The public loves her. It is precisely because Pauley is so down-to-earth and easy-going that Americans loved waking up with her. She possesses the feminine quality that is appealing to the mass audience. She was replaced by Deborah Norville, a younger, blonder woman on the Today show and viewers were upset to see her go. Now she is a success on NBC Nightly News. There are certain qualities a woman needs to have in order to be able to survive in television news. Ann Rubenstein of NBC Nightly News says…..You must really decide for yourself what you're going to do and not do. And what price you are willing to pay for whatever they're offering. Hard work and undying ambition are important qualities of anchorwomen. Mary Alice Williams of CNN and NBC gave it her all the first day she went to work for NBC….appearing on camera, as an anchor of the evening news breaks and by the end of her first three weeks she had anchored every network news show. A passion for telling the news is important, and is one reason why the successful women stay in the field.
Diane Sawyer explains….I really love what you learn every day in the business. I love the breathtaking way we walk into people's lives and ask them anything we want and then leave. For a moment you have available to you the whole universe of a person's life-the pain and the suffering and the joy and the struggle. You can learn from it and take it with you and then come back the next day with somebody else. That's what I like to do. Sawyer's never-ending ambition carried her from news correspondent to network star. While working for CBS Morning News and covering the negotiations to free Iran hostages, she would sleep all night on two secret arial chairs so I could get up at 4 a.m., stalk the halls and see what I could get. The will to endure any obstacles and believe in themselves keeps the few successful anchorwomen going.
Sally Quinn, CBS anchorwoman says….You've got to have self-confidence. If I didn't have an enormous amount of self-confidence, I would have been destroyed by this whole experience...You can't learn to be a perfect anchorwoman in one day and I knew that I wasn't going to be perfect and that people were just going to crucify me because I wasn't perfect. Michael Gartner, NBC News president, explains what is important in television news anchoring. You have to have a special combination of person to be the focal point of a successful show. You have to be a good journalist and you have to be able to deliver the message-which a print person doesn't have to do-in person in somebody's house. Barbara Walters is an exception to the rule that older women do not succeed in television news. She is a successful television newswoman who is well over the age of 40. Even she had to take the hard road to make it to the top, starting out as a secretary at a small advertising agency, working in public relations and then in public affairs for CBS. Walters recognizes the tough times women in television news face. She says….You have to work harder. It's been said before, but it's true. You are taken less seriously and you are very often scorned by your own co-workers. It’s a tougher job for a woman because a woman has to be awfully good. She really does. A man can be much more excused. Women are not rising to the top quickly in television news, although there is slow improvement and anchormen say they are fine with the idea of women at the top. Walter Cronkite says of a woman anchor in the future…Fine, why not? I think it likely...I think by the time the next change comes, the next generation of anchor people, I would think that the barrier would be down and that women would have as good a chance as men.
Yet there are still roadblocks standing in the way of women striving to make it to the top. They begin at low-level jobs, such as researchers and logistics persons and hope to take the right paths to get to the top of the ladder. Sanders writes….For years there were few women above the level of researcher. While that has changed, the amount of frustration for those who do not move ahead has driven many people out of the business altogether.
Lesley Stahl of CBS News points out that anchorwomen are most often workaholics, with a never-ending drive to do their job. She says it’s one reason we do succeed in this business. We just give it everything...Maybe it's because our kinds of personalities are attracted to this industry, compulsive, deadline-oriented people who keep pushing ourselves to see how much work we can do. We love work. It's not just a symptom in the early stage, it goes on.
Society's expectations of female news anchors are very much like that of any woman in a powerful and successful career. While the women must portray a glamorous, yet friendly image, expectations of men in the business are not near as high. Jon Katz says in his article…The men who anchor today look, dress and act almost precisely the same way they did 50 years ago. They only have to reflect a single trait to succeed-gravitas. They wouldn't dream of being intimate, glamorous or coy. Nor would anyone expect that of them. Katz goes on to say that men who make it in the business usually never fail. He says of anchormen….Old anchors never fade away. And they can't be killed by mortal means.
Sadly, forward movements aren't apparent today by women in television news. Forty years ago, a female gaining the anchor position on the evening news was a leap forward. Today it feels more like a step backward, an attempt to stuff accomplished, contemporary women into an ill-fitting straightjacket. It is apparent that women news anchors face many more struggles than men in the field. It takes a unique individual to fight through those struggles and strive for what they want most to relay news throughout the world. Equality with men is far from being reached, but a few females have stood their ground and hopefully made a difference for others that follow. If people open their eyes and realize there are plenty of women who are just as, if not more, competent than men at holding an anchor position, women could gain respect within the field. For now, the few women who find success and are willing to endure the hardships that come along will likely survive in the business, at least until age hinders their physical appearance.