Are Stations Choosing Anchor Authenticity Over Diversity?

By Kevin Eck 

After Jim Vance announced he was leaving the WRC 11:00 at the end of May, the Washington, D.C. NBC owned station named his replacement as Jim Handly.

What makes this change significant is that in a market as racially diverse as Washington, D.C., past logic would prompt the station to avoid pairing Handly, who is white, with current 11:00 p.m. anchor Doreen Gentzler, who is also white.

The Washington Post reports, shrinking audiences have forced stations to re-evaluate how they present themselves to their viewers.


“Stations aren’t making as much money as they once did, and some of the requirements have dissipated,” Craig Allen, associate professor at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communications told The Post. “There’s not as much concern about maintaining gender and racial balance among the anchors.”

“Anchors are still important, but the priorities have shifted” to cost cutting and chasing viewers online, where video clips, not anchors, are the most important currency, he said.

The trend is potentially worrisome because news organizations need diverse reporting staffs to fairly and accurately portray their communities, said Russell Contreras, the president of Unity, a coalition of organizations representing minority journalists.

The problem is most pronounced in smaller and middle-size cities, he said; news organizations in smaller markets have trouble retaining talented minority journalists, who are eager to move up.

But TV news consultant Laura Clark says race is not the only consideration in evaluating an anchor.

“What viewers tell us in our research is that they want someone authentic, someone who has a knowledge of the community, not someone who just reads off a Tele-Prompter,” said Clark, a senior vice president at Frank N. Magid Associates in Kansas City, Mo.

Although it “stands to reason” that an anchor’s background would inform his or her perspective, “if the anchor isn’t authentic, he or she won’t be accepted by viewers in the community,” Clark said.

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