Revisiting the endangered species of news anchors

One of the most insidious problems with being on television is that one tends to view what one does as defining oneself personally. Trust me, you are not what you do. Nevertheless, the illusion that we are has led many down paths that others wouldn’t even consider in their right minds.

Last night, in what has to be one of the most remarkable of the many signs of the new media times, the primary anchor team of WVII-TV resigned live on the air.

The Bangor Daily News responded with the headline: “Take this job and shove it: Fed-up Bangor TV anchors quit on air.”

“We figured if we had tendered our resignations off the air, we would not have been allowed to say goodbye to the community on the air and that was really important for us to do that,” said (Cindy) Michaels, the station’s news director, who has spent six of her 15 years in Bangor’s radio and TV market at WVII.

Both Michaels, 46, and (Tony) Consiglio, 28, said frustration over the way they were allowed or told to do their jobs — something that has been steadily mounting for the last four years — became too much for them.

“There was a constant disrespecting and belittling of staff and we both felt there was a lack of knowledge from ownership and upper management in running a newsroom to the extent that I was not allowed to structure and direct them professionally,” Michaels explained. “I couldn’t do everything I wanted to as a news director. There was a regular undoing of decisions.”

The station’s GM, Mike Palmer, responded by referencing the big and positive changes the station has made recently, adding that the on-air resignation was “unfortunate, but not unexpected.”

Folks, let me cut through the crap here for you. This is an example of two anchors frustrated with changes to the industry and at their particular station. Rather than accept changes, they decided unemployment was a better option and that this stunt was somehow justified. It was not. Firstly, you never bolt a job without a job waiting, unless it’s not your option. Secondly, you don’t end with a flurry such as this, unless you really don’t care about ever working again in the industry. The issues that are plaguing WVII-TV are no different than those plaguing any other TV station, so who’s going to hire people that disagree with those struggling to change cultures within a TV station? Moreover, these two people held management functions within the newsroom, and therefore were under the authority of the general manager, who functions as the owner’s representative. If they felt unable to continue in that capacity, then they rightly should have informed management and moved to do something else.

In October of 2003, I published an essay called “TV News Anchors, An Endangered Species” in which I laid out the hows and whys of the lesser importance of anchors in the TV News ecosystem. In 2008, I helped write “Live. Local. BROKEN News.” with AR&D, where we laid out the new role of anchors as “chief journalists” within the newsroom.

Today, I feel that the anchor is the least secure of any position in a newsroom, and that we will soon be emphasizing reporters and reporting over the ability of a nice face to curate the news on our behalf. It just makes no sense anymore in the wake of today’s foundational disruptions in not only how news is gathered, but in how it’s presented. Authenticity demands reports from the scene without a go-between, whether that filter is somebody’s fancy infrastructure or another human being. We’re in the age of participation now, and we’re not all that big on experts, which is what anchors (mostly) pretend to be.

So while I admire the courage of Cindy and Tony in bolting this way, there is sometimes a very fine line between courage and foolishness. This, I’m sorry, crosses that line and proves once again that with an unteachable spirit, everybody loses.