- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Is the era of the white network-television anchorman coming to an end? Probably not.

Dan Rather announced plans yesterday to relinquish his “CBS Evening News” anchor chair in March. By many accounts, the top candidates to replace him are White House reporter John Roberts and “60 Minutes” correspondent Scott Pelley.

Across the dial, Brian Williams is set to succeed Tom Brokaw as the anchor of the “NBC Nightly News” Dec. 2, while Peter Jennings appears entrenched at ABC’s “World News Tonight.”

So, more than likely, the evening newscasts on the major broadcast networks will continue to be anchored by white men for the foreseeable future. With few exceptions, it has been this way since John Cameron Swayze and Douglas Edwards anchored the first newscasts in the 1940s.

This raises some questions.

Should TV anchors reflect their audience’s makeup? Why are female and minority anchors more common in local television than at the networks? Does an anchor chair still represent the pinnacle of broadcast journalism in the era of the Internet and the 24-hour cable news channels?

“If you look at how far society has come in the last 20 years, it’s surprising that all three network newscasts are still anchored by white men. On the other hand, those jobs don’t open up that often,” said Joe Foote, a University of Oklahoma journalism professor who is completing a 20-year study on women and minorities in network news.

According to his research, between 1983 and 2002, the typical male correspondent on the network news spent about eight years on the job, compared with about five years for the average female reporter.

The less time a woman spends on a newscast, the fewer opportunities she has to be assigned to the big stories. “That’s the main thing working against women,” Mr. Foote said.

The number of white correspondents on the network news has dropped sharply, and the number of minorities has increased steadily, he said.

Two women — Barbara Walters and Connie Chung — and Max Robinson, the late black journalist, each took stabs at co-anchoring network news between 1976 and 1995, but none lasted more than a few years.

In many cities, women and minorities thrive in local news.

Jim Vance, who is black, has been a main anchor at NBC’s Washington-area station, WRC-TV (Channel 4), since 1969. Maureen Bunyan, who is black, has held top anchor jobs at two local stations — CBS affiliate WUSA-TV (Channel 9) and ABC affiliate WJLA-TV (Channel 7).

The cable channels have featured more diversity, too. Two of CNN’s early stars, for example, were Bernard Shaw, a black man, and Judy Woodruff.

The broadcast network newscasts don’t carry the weight they did when they were the main source of TV news, but they still matter. “If all three anchor chairs remain in the hands of white men forever, that would be a tragedy,” Mr. Foote said.

A network could stem the loss of viewers by hiring a minority anchor to distinguish itself, said Ernest R. Sotomayor, president of UNITY: Journalists of Color Inc., a consortium of groups that represent minority reporters.

“A lot of people watch those broadcasts, and they don’t see people that look like them. That’s a powerfully negative message the networks are sending out,” he said.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to [email protected]

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