Men, Signing Off

In Washington, Wendy Rieger, left, and Susan Kidd co-anchor the 5 p.m. news on WRC. Having two women as co-anchors is not uncommon in local markets.
In Washington, Wendy Rieger, left, and Susan Kidd co-anchor the 5 p.m. news on WRC. Having two women as co-anchors is not uncommon in local markets. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 23, 2006

As the news director of WTTG-Fox5, Katherine Green gets stacks of tapes and résumés from reporters and anchors who want to work in her newsroom. Some applicants are young and green, some older and seasoned. But the most common characteristic is: Most are women.

By Green's estimate, women applicants outnumber men about 3 to 1. Bill Lord, Green's counterpart at WJLA (Channel 7), sees much the same ratio, and he says the percentage of women has increased year by year.

"It's actually more difficult now to find a strong male anchor than a strong female," Green says. "Why? I'm not really sure I can answer that."

People in the TV news business have been wondering the same thing.

When women made their first strides into television newsrooms some four decades ago, their presence was something of a shock to the male establishment (a period of change humorously portrayed in "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and more recently in the Will Ferrell film "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy"). But nowadays, the gender roles are reversed. Women make up the majority of anchors and TV reporters and have many key behind-the-scenes jobs. And, as Lord and Green have found, that trend is increasing.

And men? Outside of a few traditionally male bastions -- the sports guy, the weathercaster, the boss -- men are disappearing from TV newsrooms.

Perhaps the most visible symbol of the ascendancy of women is Katie Couric, who in September will become the lead anchor of CBS News -- the first woman to hold such a job without a male co-anchor at a traditional broadcast network. But the trend is apparent across the country, in cities large and small. Although the male-female anchor pair is still the industry standard, two-female setups aren't unusual in local markets. Wendy Rieger and Susan Kidd co-anchor the 5 p.m. news on WRC, and women deliver the news solo on various newscasts throughout the week. Viewers rarely see men paired as anchors, or even going it alone -- the norm a generation ago.

Women reached statistical parity with men on the anchor desk in the early 1990s, and their ranks have been climbing since. The number of female anchors reached a record high last year, accounting for 57 percent of the positions in a nationwide survey conducted by the Radio and Television News Directors Association. Just as impressive are the gains in the rest of the newsroom. Women account for more than half of TV reporters (58 percent) and such middle managers as executive producers (55 percent), news producers (66 percent) and news writers (56 percent).

At the bottom of the career ladder are even more women: Almost two-thirds of bachelor's degrees in journalism and mass communications were awarded to women in 2004, according to research by Lee Becker of the University of Georgia. These days, when educators like Becker or Craig Allen of Arizona State University look over their broadcast journalism classes, they often don't see a single male student looking back.

"Young men are just not interested," says Allen, who runs the broadcast news program at ASU's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism. "There's been almost an evacuation of men from this field."

News managers look on these numbers with a mixture of pride and mild alarm. Pride because decades of equal-opportunity employment rules, inclusive hiring policies and viewer acceptance of diversity have opened up what had once been a preserve of men, and primarily white men. But concern, too, since the male exodus threatens the traditional anchor model, in which a male-female duo is sitting at the head of a symbolic nuclear family. There is also some debate about whether the "feminization" of the newsroom has led to a more female-oriented news agenda.

"We're not at the four- or five-alarm stage yet, but I do think the trends are very concerning," says Jerry Gumbert, chief executive of Audience Research & Development, a Fort Worth-based consulting firm. "There's a growing sense in newsrooms that good men are becoming harder to find, and that we're becoming too female-heavy."


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© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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