Even on the day of a Presidential Debate, one of the most talked about stories in America is about a local TV news anchor in Lacrosse, Wisconsin (market #128) who responded to a viewer email about her weight. This video is being replayed on other local newscasts, on national broadcasts and being shared on social media.
In 24 hours, her on-air commentary has generated conversation on bullying, obesity and, within the TV business, about the comments that anchors and reporters receive from viewers. I know from talking to TV people almost every day that they routinely hear receive emails and Facebook messages that make talk radio calls and online story comments seem articulate, rational and respectful. Rarely, if ever, is news time given to address any of these comments on the air. This piece by the Poynter Institute takes a look at the decision to devote the news time to the email and response, including insight from the station’s news director.
This story has me asking a question I have been quietly asking for years – why don’t we see more “overweight” anchors and reporters on TV? We live in the most overweight country in the world. So it is just pure hypocrisy that makes our culture demand that only thin people should deliver us news and information? Why do we, as a culture, insist on other forms of diversity, such as race and gender, so our TV journalists “look like the community,” but, in this regard, it’s a negative?
I began to first consider this when a TV sports reporter, who distinguished himself through his journalism and storytelling, didn’t have his contract renewed. The “word on the street” was that management didn’t want “a fat guy” on TV. So, they didn’t want a reporter talking to their audience who looks like their audience? Had they been to a game in their market? Same goes for ESPN. How many anchors or reporters or even analysts are on TV there who are “overweight.” Except for a few ex-football players, there aren’t any. So talented people are supposed to work “someplace else” because of their weight?
Stereotypes about “overweight” people are as bad as those about any other stereotypes. Not all are unhealthy. Not all are addicted to junk food or their sofas. Some gain weight because their metabolism changed as they got older. Others because of side effects of medications. Some have endocrine issues. Should those things prevent them from delivering you news and information on TV?
I have had TV friends over the years who have literally feared for their jobs if they gained a few pounds. They worry about looking older, while growing older, and how that could affect their employment. As a viewer, is that what you want keeping them up at night?
The anchor in Wisconsin, based on this one clip, seems like a solid communicator. She has built an audience over ten years. Perhaps most importantly, she has the support of her station’s management. And maybe now, she’ll help make a difference in her own industry.