Is this what people really want from news anchors?

David Carr, the media critic for the New York Times collapsed and died in the news room on Thursday at the age of 58. There have been many testimonials to the quality of his writing and about the man himself. Not being a regular reader of that newspaper, I did not know much about him but was struck by something he said recently in the wake of the story of NBC News anchor Brian Williams having made up false stories.

Carr was trying to explain why Williams might have done what he did and, although not excusing his actions, blamed it on the impossible requirements of the job, saying:

“We want our anchors to be both good at reading the news and also pretending to be in the middle of it. That’s why, when the forces of man or Mother Nature whip up chaos, both broadcast and cable news outlets are compelled to ship the whole heaving apparatus to far-flung parts of the globe, with an anchor as the flag-bearer. We want our anchors to be everywhere, to be impossibly famous, globe-trotting, hilarious, down-to-earth, and above all, trustworthy. It’s a job description no one can match.”

Is Carr right? Who are the ‘we’ that apparently want this of news anchors? I personally don’t. I just want them to tell me the damn news, nothing more. It is precisely because they try to be all these things that I stopped watching the news at all, seeing it as merely entertainment. Network news executive mourn the loss of viewers, especially young ones, but seem to be trying to give us more of what viewers are turning away from.

I have also been baffled as to why anchors even go to remote places to cover big events when they have reporters already there. Surely they would be better off staying at home and putting together a coherent news story from the reports from their various correspondents who can be on location longer and, unencumbered by all the celebrity baggage, can give more depth?

I don’t care if the news anchors are not good-looking and are not celebrities. As long as they are committed to accuracy and honesty and competence, what more would one want?


  1. Holms says

    “There have been many testimonials to the quality of his wring and about the man himself.”
    Presumed typo for ‘writing’?

    But yes, this trend of mixing entertainment with news has led to one of my local evening news programs incorporating such silliness as a scrolling twitter feed for viewers to get messages on the air, they have a ‘what’s trending’ segment for viral videos, a regular celebrity news section complete with an annoyingly brown-nosing ‘celebrity correspondant’ who constantly provides a spot for celebs to plug their latest album or whatever AND WHAT IS IT WITH ANCHORS TRYING TO HAVE CHIRPY CONVERSATIONS ALL THE TIME?? AND WHY MUST THERE ALWAYS BE A GODDAMN SEGUE? JUST READ THE GODDAMN AUTOCUE AND TELL ME SOME FACTS!

    Unsurprisingly, that is the station that most heavily tries to ‘modernise’ by trying to tie in with internet stuff, and the station most heavily courting younger viewers. I am happy to report that they are also the lowest rated of the commercial channels.

  2. JPS says

    Some years ago I hear a talk to a broadcasting class by the nearby big city’s the most beloved TV newscaster. This was long before the two-“anchor”, chatty newscasts. At the top of the talk he admitted that he was “an actor who read the news”. He said that he is good enough at what he does that he could get to the studio five minutes before the newscast and do a credible show.

    I heard once that on British newscasters the people you see behind the desks are called “news readers”. If true, a description far more accurate that “anchor”.

  3. Katydid says

    Last week, the USA pulled its embassy people out of Yemen. I tuned into the news trying to hear more about this historic and frightening event, and what do I see? 10 minutes on some idiot skydiver who voluntarily jumped out of an airplane and got their parachute caught (temporarily) on an airplane wing. How is this worth 10 minutes? How is this Darwin-award competitor even important?

  4. moarscienceplz says

    I remember after the Loma Prieta earthquake that knocked out he Bay Bridge and started several fires in one district of SF, that Dan Rather flew across the country the next day so he could stand in front of one of the fires. Total waste of effort. We had all seen the fires already. The only thing that Rather contributed was to give the impression that all of SF was burning, which was wrong. Also, he completely ignored Santa Cruz which lost many more lives than SF and had several blocks of its downtown pancaked. So for all his effort, all Rather succeeded in doing was to give the nation a LESS accurate impression of the news.

  5. AdipicAcid says

    Who are the ‘we’ that apparently want this of news anchors? I personally don’t.

    Judging by the ratings, the majority of the viewing public. They have no interest in watching a talking head read the headlines. Also, let us not confuse Mr. Carr’s observation about reality with an endorsement of Mr. Williams’ lying. As I read it, he was simply stating that we have placed our anchors in a position where such lying will be rewarded more than it is punished and that one fix would be adjusting our unrealistic expectations that the newshour needs to be a reality show as well.

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