Wednesday, October 29

Miss Fortune, Miss Take, Miss Management, Miss Apprehension

I know, I know: generalities are verboten. Blanket statements about any one group are worse then unfair—they’re silly. Felix Unger was right: when you “assume” you make an “ass” out of “u” and “me.” So if you assume that “those people” are all alike, you’re a fool.

You know the ones I’m talking about! Those people. Those (fill in the blank) people. We all know about those people!

OK. But grant me the wisdom (ahem!) or forty years in television news when I say that in my experience as a news director AVOID ANYONE WHO HAS EVER WORN A SASH! Hiring “Miss Whatever” is a MIS-TAKE! That's not a generality: remember, I speak from (painful) experience.

Have you noticed how many Miss America and Miss Universe (and Miss Cowchip Toss) contestants say, “I want to be a television news anchor”? When was the last time you heard one of them say “I want to be a reporter.” Or “I want to stand in a freezing drizzle waiting to interview the Mayor.” Or “I want to roll out of bed at 3:00 a.m. to cover a fire.” Or “I want to master the intricacies of reporting on health legislation”? Never, right? Everyone wants to be a star. No one wants to pay the dues.

We got the bubble-headed bleach-blonde who

Comes on at five.

She can tell you ‘bout the plane crash with a gleam

In her eye.

It’s interesting when people die.

Give us dirty laundry.

Ouch! Don Henley has it right, though.

But it wasn’t always that way.

There was a time when people were hired for their journalistic credentials first and foremost. If they happened to be halfway decent looking, so much the better. Remember Jane Pauley, who left Indianapolis for a big-time Chicago anchor job at the age of (if I remember correctly) 26? She was criticized as being all fluff. But I worked at WISH-TV in Indy just after she left—and to a person everyone respected her as a hard-working journalist who paid her dues, happened to be smarter than anyone in the room . . . and just caught a break. No one who worked with her thought of her as a “bubble-headed bleach-blonde.”

So my rule is “TRASH THE SASH!” Every time I’ve interviewed a “Miss Congeniality” or a “Miss Okie from Muskogee” who had that “special light” in her eyes, it didn’t take long to realize it was the sun shining through her ears!

Don’t get me wrong. This isn't about looks. I’ve worked with some great-looking people—women and men—who were real pros. Just to name a few attractive women in my recent experience—some former WBRE colleaguesDia Wallace, Candace Kelly and Charlotte Deleste. Dia is an experienced and aggressive investigative reporter. She works part-time now because she’s raising a (large!) family. Candace, while young and beautiful, is smart as a whip and an aggressive reporter: she's earned her success. Charlotte is now anchoring mornings in Madison, Wisconsin—just had her second son a couple of weeks ago—and is a multiple threat and a hard-worker. She's as dedicated as she is good looking, and was a joy to work with. Oh, and Laurie Monteforte on WYOU is a hard-charging kid with unlimited potential: keep your eye on her.

There are many other "lookers" that I’ve respected and treasured as colleagues over the years. I’m not prejudiced against beauty. I’m prejudiced against SASHES! If you’ve been “Miss Congeniality” or "Miss Anything," in my experience you’re 99% likely to be impossible to work with. For the rest of you in television—admit it, you've got stories of your own about dumb divas.

One of the biggest and best talent agents, Ken Lindner & Associates, bills itself as “THE PREMIER NEWS AND HOSTING AGENCY.” That says it all. These former Miss-Whatevers can be reading the news or turning letters on a board or hosting the infomercial for the colon cleanser—it’s all the same to them as long as the makeup and hairstylists make them look great and the wardrobe consultant sees to it that the clothing allowance is spent on fancy red jackets. Oh, and as long as they can make the big bucks!

Well, I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here.

I just have to look good, I don't have to be clear.

Come and whisper in my ear,

Give us dirty laundry.

Let me carry this forward to a possibly illogical conclusion. When Sarah Palin was named as John McCain’s running mate, my first reaction was, “Who?” When I heard she had been “Miss Congeniality” in a long-ago Miss Alaska pageant I thought, “Uh-Oh.”

And when I heard the Republican National Committee had bought her $150,000 worth of new clothes I thought, “ANCHOR DIVA!” I think she reads off the prompter pretty well. She drops too many “Gs” for my taste (bringin’, goin’, doin’, drillin') and says “betcha” and “didja” and "gonna" too often to be a solid anchor—maybe that’s why she didn’t last long as a sportscaster. And they obviously didn’t have expensive makeup and hair consultants for her in the mid-80s.

Did you notice the eyes? Sort of a "moose caught in the headlights" look. But we apparently demand more of our sportscasters and anchors than we do of our heartbeat-away-from-the-presidency political candidates.

Don't get me wrong. I don't wish the woman ill. But anyone out there who says "I saw her and she's one of us" or "I identify with her" or "I know what she stands for" has just been boondoggled by The Pageant Wave and her saucy wink. You know The Pageant Wave: "Elbow, elbow . . . wrist, wrist . . . cross your chest . . . and then you switch."

I don't want the possible leader of the free world to be "saucy". And although I don't know enough about the Iranian culture to be truly informed, I worry that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad can't differentiate between a "wink" and a "blink." I don't want a Veep who blinks.


Wednesday, October 15

Now Hear This

I did a little reading on the radio this morning . . . sort of.

I've volunteered to read news stories for the blind as part of the "Pell Radio Reading Service," a not-for-profit arm of the local Association for the Blind. Every day volunteers clip the local newspaper and read it aloud for the visually impaired.

The audience is really almost miniscule: just 400-or-so local residents equipped with special radios. You see, the signal is carried as a sub-frequency of the local public radio affiliate. So who knows how many are actually tuned in.

I bring this up because this morning--my first behind the mic--was a real eye-opener.

My more-experienced partner and I took two copies of the morning paper and clipped just about every story. I took the even-numbered pages, he took the odd (the "jump" pages proved a special problem). Then we stacked them into a rough running order and took turns reading them: two hours worth of back-and-forth, with two two-minute breaks and one ten-minute break. And it's hard work! Those narrow newspaper columns with all those hyphens make it difficult to get into any kind of read-ahead-rhythm. Try it sometime!

But I was struck by the fact that over the years newspapers have adapted to the changing times by writing more and more like television! The copy I saw had short, crisp sentences. They were still written, roughly, in "inverted pyramid" form, with the good stuff close to the top. But the idea that the five "W"s and the "H" had to be in the first sentence has gone by the wayside.

And the stories were short: many TV length.

It also turns out Walter Cronkite was right years and years ago when he said that all the copy in a half-hour TV newscast wouldn't fill three columns in a newspaper. I guess I knew that, but I didn't know it until this morning!

And the topic we devoted the most time to, and took the most care with? Obituaries. For a shut-in audience, the obits are important. Attention must be paid, so we paid attention to the lives and the passing of the big and small in our local communities.

I guess it's not like delivering late-breaking news on a 50-thousand-watt clear-channel AM powerhouse, reaching 10 or 12 states each night: but I performed a service this morning, I feel good about it, and it made me feel OK about the news business. I haven't for a long time now.

It was what it was--a simple, pure, straight-forward news delivery system. Go tell that to your demographics!