TV News Anchors and Journalistic Tradition: How Journalists Adapt to Technology. Kimberly Meltzer. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2010. 215 pp.
Their audience may be declining—and old enough that most advertisers avoid appearing on their programs—but we can’t seem to read enough about television network evening news anchor people. Over the years, they have been subject to their own shelf of analytic studies, let alone show-business gossip.
Comes now Kimberly Meltzer, a visiting professor at Georgetown University, with a revision of her Annenberg School (Pennsylvania) dissertation to add to the accumulation.
She appears to have read nearly everything written on the topic, providing a readable assessment of what is known or presumed about anchor people past and present, in local markets and national networks. Two appendices make clear how she searched through the trade and newspaper writings about news anchors and supplemented that with interviews.
Chapters survey the emergence of TV journalists generally, and anchor people more generally; their appearance, personality and emotions; the impact and consequences of anchor appearance, personality, and emotion; how journalism “restores order” when its borders of practice are crossed; and what community discussion about anchors reveals about journalism.
The book’s tone varies from arch academic assessment to the almost anecdotal, making for easy and even compelling reading. In the end, Meltzer concludes that “the news” will clearly continue, though its form and formats are changing and will continue to do so. That the three legacy networks retained their anchors for two decades through the 1980s and 1990s, for example, may have masked the substantial changes going on with the rise of competition from 24/7 news resources.
TV network audiences have long been made up of the above-50 (or even 60) crowd, and that’s even truer today. That two of those networks’ newscasts are now headlined by women—Katie Couric on CBS and Diane Sawyer for ABC—is yet another indicator of change in what was once a male-dominated business.
In all, there isn’t much that is wholly new in this book, as the topic has been well plowed by others over the years. But Meltzer does provide a useful survey of just what we do know about the changes in news structure and reporting going on behind the familiar faces.
Christopher H. Sterling
George Washington University