TV News' Ratings Lust

(AP)
In a little under a century, the small town of Tyler, Texas has become the alpha and omega of women in journalism – it giveth to the cause of women reporters and it taketh away. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take a step back.

I'm sure you've noticed it. We've all noticed it. The women reporting the news seem to get easier on the eyes every year. "The Daily Show" even did an inspired segment on the rise of "NILF"s last week. (As for my trend-spotting self, I first noticed the trend a few years back, when I actually stayed on Telemundo for a few moments, despite not speaking a lick of Spanish.) Even today's New York Post, in reporting on CNN's Paula Zahn contract status, adds "attractive anchor-babes are lined up like dominoes to fill the resulting vacancies."

Anchor-babes, NILFs, whichever word you choose -- many of these attractive anchors and correspondents have considerable journalistic bona fides and do excellent work. If they draw in an extra viewer here or there, I'm sure the number-crunchers who watch the ratings approve as well.

But the trend has hit rock bottom in Tyler. (And to make matters worse, it's gotten a reality TV tie-in as well.) KYTX-TV, the CBS affiliate there has decided to hire a model and former World Wrestling Entertainment performer/diva/athlete/babe Lauren Jones to (A) boost its flagging ratings and (B) be the fodder for a late Summer Fox series reality TV show called Anchorwoman. CUT Fox publicity materials bill the show as something like journalism's answer to "The Simple Life."

Former Miss New York and über-vixen LAUREN JONES packs up her Versace dresses and heads to the middle of nowhere – Tyler, Texas – to start a new career. Can this bombshell cut it as a serious reporter? Will she save KYTX, or make it the laughingstock of the Lone Star State?
This naked grab for ratings and exposure would be pathetic if it happened in any other town in the country, but what takes it from sad to bitterly ironic is that Tyler is the birthplace of the late Sarah McClendon, a pioneer in the field of journalism who Helen Thomas called "one of the greatest newspaperwomen Washington ever saw." McClendon -- for whom this reporter worked immediately out of college -- covered the White House as one of the first women in the press corps and was fearless in her questioning of presidents, going so far as to say to Richard Nixon: "Maybe the people you appointed to office aren't giving you the right information." Another retrospective of Sarah, from the Columbia Journalism Review, quotes her as telling a young woman reporter: "Women can make a difference and you must use your education to be a voice for the little people. The men don't want us in here, so we're just going to have to push our way in."

And now McClendon's hometown is the location where Taking Women Journalists Seriously has finally reached its nadir. As KYTX tries to exploit its anchorbabe for a handful of extra ratings points, I thought it was worth taking a moment to reflect on the contributions of McClendon, who died in 2003. You can read more about her here.
  • Matthew Felling

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