Home » Women » Women As News Anchors

Women As News Anchors

Women in all careers are striving to gain equality in the work force
today, and female television news anchors are definitely part of the fight. The
road to television news anchoring is a rocky one, where only a few women survive
and many fail. Where progress was once thought to have been made, there aren’t
many females getting ahead in the world of television news. Today, there is a
very slow, if any, gain in the numbers of women who succeed.
There are many questions surrounding the subject of women in television
news, and I will attempt to answer relevant ones in this paper. How have the
women that actually make it to the top and succeed as anchorwomen, done it?
What does it take to make it? Why do those few endure it/enjoy it? Why has it
been and still is difficult for women? What are the expectations of women in
the field, as opposed to the expectations of men?
I am interested in this topic because I once aspired to become a
television broadcaster. I still have inspiration in me, but not quite as much
due to the negative and discouraging aspects I have heard about in classes and
in the media. I am not sure that I could be happy in a career such as this, and
I know there are great difficulties in “making it” in this profession. I have
read about the incredible ambition of successful females in television news, and
it seems like it takes a special kind of passion to want to keep up in the
I kept my questions in mind when gathering research material. While
focusing on the key questions, I was able to find information that led me to
form answers to them. Christine Craft’s biography told of her individual
experience of being fired on the basis of her looks and her age. I realized
from reading her story that she had a “nose for news”, a passion for telling it
to the world, and a unique spark that made her a good journalist, yet those
qualities weren’t enough in her case. She took that passion and spark, filed a
sexual discrimination case and won.
Hard News: Women in Broadcast Journalism had a few chapters that were
relevant to today, and I could draw on some information for my paper. However,
much of the information was historical and not helpful to answering my questions.
Battling for News concentrated mainly on print journalism. There was
material about the first women in broadcasting in the 1950’s and how they were
hired and fired.
Television News Anchors had very helpful information, in that there were
individual stories from anchorwomen telling of their experiences. This provided
stories about the women who have succeeded within the field–why and how. There
was a round table discussion conducted by The New Mother Jones magazine with
television newswomen Linda Ellerbee, Marion Goldin, Ann Rubenstein, and Meredith
Vieira. This provided first-hand opinions about what these women see going on in
the business.
Women in Television News was published in 1976, and thus, much of the
information was outdated. However, I was able to use some quotes from newswomen
about what they believe one must do to “make it” in broadcast journalism. I also
found some interesting quotes from a former vice president of ABC News regarding
women in the industry.
Waiting for Prime Time had valuable information about Marlene Sander’s
experience and opinions of other anchorwomen and men. It covered possibilities
for the future of women in broadcasting.
Pamela Creedon’s two books were helpful in that they discussed topics of
sexual discrimination in broadcast journalism and included a chapter by Marlene
Sanders, titled “The Face of the Network News is Male.” Here she attempted to
tackle some problems women in television news face: what the problems are, why
they exist, and a bit about what needs to be done to cure these problems.
Liesbet van Zoonen’s book included a chapter titled “Media Production
and the Encoding of Gender.” It showed how society views women in the media.
The expectations of female anchorwomen in part stems from the overall view of
women on television–whether it be in a movie, music video, or soap opera. This
was relevant to my paper in answering the question of why there are certain
expectations of women in television news.
The textbook, Gender, Race and Class in Media had a few chapters
relevant to my paper. Larry Gross wrote a chapter titled, “Out of the
Mainstream: Sexual Minorities and Mass Media.” He discussed various stereotypes
in our society that lead to stereotypes in all areas of our lives.
I found some of my sources from Oasis, and also used a couple of
magazine articles that were relevant to the subject. I focused on the questions
that I wanted to answer and drew points from the material that were relevant and
provided substantial evidence to answer my questions. I found that opinions and
thoughts of women who had been through the business were most helpful.
There was one big limitation I faced if I wanted to prove that women in
television news were discriminated upon based on sex and age. Women have been
fired from their anchor positions, and it has seemed that the reasons were
because of looks or aging. But this is hard to prove. In August, Carol
Schrader, a woman anchor from KETV-TV in Omaha, Nebraska was asked to leave.
She said that it was because of her age, although her bosses didn’t say that was
the reason, stating that she wasn’t doing her job. She was replace by a young,
blond woman. Also, when Marlene Sanders was asked to leave ABC, instead of
saying point-blank that she was too old, her boss told her she had outgrown the
profession. Lynn Sherr of ABC News was also fired, and she believed it was
because of her appearance, as no one told her why she lost her job. It isn’t a
proven fact that every case of a woman getting fired from their professions were
fired because of their age.
The number of women news anchors is scarce. Only a few succeed, and the
reason for this is because what is expected of them is much greater than what is
expected of men. Women must work twice as hard, be twice as beautiful, and go
above and beyond their abilities. The television broadcasting business is
dominated by males, and, in turn, males have the majority of the power. Positive
steps have been taken by women, but they are still far from being equal in the
field. Advances are not being made quickly.
Some men in the world of television news say that women do have a
tougher time. Larry King had this to say:

I know that if I were “Loretta” King instead of
“Larry” King I would be nowhere near where I am
today. I would not have had a national radio
talk show in 1978, a national cable show of my
own, and a national column if I had started out
being the “wrong” gender (Craft 1988, p. 6).

Al Ittleson, former vice-president of ABC News, says that physical
appearance is important for both male and female broadcasters, but emphasizes
the importance of a woman broadcaster’s looks:

Women are supposed to be beautiful. People
anticipate what a woman is supposed to look
like, so when they come to television-I haven’t
seen an unattractive woman on television yet…
In fact, they’re hired, I would say, probably
more because of the way they look and their image
than because of their background. A man with a
very strong journalism background and a man who
has broken stories…can get away with a little
bit of homeliness. Men aren’t supposed to be
attractive. Women have a tougher time (Gelfman
1976, p. 53).

Our society pins importance upon women’s looks. They are
required to retain qualities of femininity, yet must also be professional. van
Zoonen explains the different expectations of men and women in journalism,
saying, “one must assume ‘femininity’ as a feature of female journalists and
‘masculinity’ as a different characteristic of male journalists” (van Zoonen
1994, p. 63). The images that are instilled in society are carried over into
all aspects of life, and are prevalent in television news.
Just as our society is dominated by white, middle and upper-middle class
males, it is so in most professions. The men are the bosses in television news,
and this has made it difficult for women to gain prestige. The men place
expectations upon the women, and punish them if they aren’t exactly what they

One good example of a case where a woman news anchor was fired on the basis
of her looks is Christine Craft. Craft was discriminated against because of her
sex, appearance, and age. She was fired from KMBC in Kansas City and told, “You
don’t hide your intelligence to make guys look smarter” (Craft 1988, p. 66).
Along with this, she was fired because she was “too old, too unattractive, and
not sufficiently deferential to men” (Craft 1988, p. 66). Because her boss
directly told her these things, she felt she had been sexually discriminated
against. She won two court cases, winning a total of $600,000 in damages.
Craft’s case opened the eyes of many anchorwomen, as well as others in
the media and elsewhere. Here is a talented, competent broadcast journalist who
was unfairly treated and took a stand. She comments on her experience, “The men
could be balding, jowly, bespectacled, even fat and encased in double-knit, yet
the women had to be flawless. Moreover, there was the expectation that I should
pretend not to know certain facts just because I was a woman” (Craft 1988, p.

What is disturbing about Craft’s case is that it is so blatantly obvious
that she lost her job on the basis of being a woman, being too old, and not
being pretty enough. At the time, out of all the anchors in the country who were
over 40, men made up ninety-seven percent of that, with three percent being
women who did not look their age. Marlene Sanders writes that what is seen in
Craft’s case is “that wrinkles are ‘seasoning’ in a man but ‘disqualification’
in a woman,” and that while this may not be sexual discrimination, “it is a sad
statement about how women are viewed in our society” (Sanders and Rock 1988, p.

The world of television news is an unstable one, where women take
chances, not knowing if or how long they can thrive in the business. Marlene
Sanders puts it plainly, “The message is clear; we can all be replaced. There
are no guarantees of longevity, and no obvious destination where news
professionals can translate their experience and knowledge into new and
satisfying careers” (Sanders and Rock 1988, p. 205).
Before she took the job at KMBC in Kansas City, Craft was working at a
smaller station in Santa Barbara, where she had a positive experience. She says,
“I was content to be in a place where the emphasis was on getting the stories
and getting them right. Only once did management mention my appearance, and
that was to tell me to pull my hair back a bit” (Craft 1988, p. 28).
Craft was attracted to the Kansas City station in a larger market.
However, she made clear before taking the job that first and foremost she did
not want to change her appearance. They promised her it wouldn’t happen, yet
within the first week they had a beauty consultant piling the make-up onto her
Sexual discrimination is evident in television news. KMBC practically
begged Christine Craft to come to their station. “Women are rewarded more than
men for changing news shops often or for moving to larger markets more because
of their gender than because of their journalistic qualifications” (Creedon:
Smith, Fredin, Ferguson Nardone 1993, p. 174).
During the first trial, a former news producer at KMBC, Sherry Chastain,
testified, saying that her bosses “instructed her to monitor the appearance of
female anchors and reporters, but never males…the male counterpart was bald
with a bad toupee and thick glasses, yet nothing was ever mentioned about
monitoring his appearance” (Craft 1988, p. 118).
Diane Sawyer says that equal pay for equal work is a more serious issue
than aging on the air. The reason this is such a difficult challenge is because
the number of women on a news staff, as well as their ages can be easily
established. However, salaries tend to be confidential, and the dollar value of
experience and other qualifications are hard to determine. Therefore, while it
is possible that aging may not be a major issue for women broadcasters ten years
from now, equal pay for equal work will most likely linger on (Hosley and Yamada
1987, p. 152-154).
Some of the blame for all anchorwomen’s problems were voiced by cynical
male television executives in the 1980’s. Jon Katz, former executive director
of CBS Morning News, tells of another executive who had a way of deciding which
women to interview for anchor positions. He would look at their tapes in the VCR
for eight seconds and he would ask himself, “Do I want to fuck them?” This was
his basis in deciding who to hire (Katz 1995, p. 158).
Catherine Crier experienced tinges of sexism at CNN. A former lawyer and
judge, she was criticized for being just another pretty face entering the field
of broadcasting. She had no previous experience in journalism, yet her
political experience provided the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed.
She says, “Journalists couched their reaction in terms of experience and
background, but those same journalists have failed to voice similar criticisms
of Pierre Salinger of Bill Moyers, two men who jumped from politics into
broadcast news” (Fensch: McHargue 1993, p. 182). Crier says that the gains of
women in television news is being made very slowly, and that “it is still a
frustration for most women” (Fensch: McHargue 1993, p. 184).
Jane Pauley is an exception to the negativity women broadcasters often
receive. The public loves her. “It is precisely because Pauley is so down-to-
earth and easy-going that Americans loved waking up with her” (Fensch: Holloway
1993, p. 249). She possesses the feminine quality that is appealing to the mass
audience. She was replaced by Deborah Norville, a younger, blonder woman on the
Today show, and viewers were upset to see her go. Now she is a success on NBC
Nightly News.
There are certain qualities a woman needs to have in order to be able to
survive in television news. Ann Rubenstein of NBC Nightly News says, “You must
really decide for yourself what you’re going to do and not do. And what price
you are willing to pay for whatever they’re offering” (Fensch: Orenstein 1993, p.
Hard work and undying ambition are important qualities of anchorwomen.
Mary Alice Williams, of CNN and NBC, gave it her all the first day she went to
work for NBC, “appearing on camera, as an anchor of the evening news breaks, and
by the end of her first three weeks she had anchored every network news show”
(Fensch: White 1993, p. 289).
A passion for telling the news is important, and is one reason why the
successful women stay in the field. Diane Sawyer explains,

“I really love what you learn every day in the
business. I love the breathtaking way we walk
into people’s lives and ask them anything we
want and then      leave. For a moment you have
available to you the whole universe of a person’s
life-the pain and the suffering and the joy and
the struggle. You can learn      from it and take
it with you and then come back the next day
with somebody else. That’s what I like to do”
(Fensch: Zoglin 1993, p. 278).

Sawyer’s never-ending ambition carried her from news correspondent to
network star. While working for CBS Morning News and covering the negotiations
to free Iran hostages, she “would sleep all night on two secretarial chairs so I
could get up at 4 a.m., stalk the halls and see what I could get” (Fensch:
Zoglin 1993, p. 284).
The will to endure any obstacles and believe in themselves keeps the few
successful anchorwomen going. Sally Quinn, CBS anchorwoman says

You’ve got to have self-confidence. If I didn’t
have an enormous amount of self-confidence, I
would have been destroyed by this whole
experience…You can’t learn to be a perfect
anchorwoman in one day, and I knew that I wasn’t
going to be perfect and that people were just
going to crucify me because I wasn’t perfect”
(Gelfman      1976, p. 75).

Michael Gartner, NBC News president, explains what is important in
television news anchoring. “You have to have a special combination of person to
be the focal point of a successful show. You have to be a good journalist, and
you have to be able to deliver the message-which a print person doesn’t have to
do-in person, in somebody’s house” (Fensch: Zoglin 1993, p. 281).
Barbara Walters is an exception to the rule that older women do not
succeed in television news. She is a successful television newswoman who is
well over the age of 40. Even she had to take the hard road to make it to the
top, starting out as a secretary at a small advertising agency, working in
public relations and then in public affairs for CBS. Walters recognizes the
tough times women in television news face. She says

You have to work harder. It’s been said before,
but it’s true. You are taken less seriously and
you are very often scorned by your own co-workers
…it’s a tougher job for a woman because a woman
has to be awfully good. She really does. A man
can be much more excused” (Gelfman 1976, p. 88).

Women are not rising to the top quickly in television news, although
there is slow improvement, and anchormen say they are fine with the idea of
women at the top. Walter Cronkite says of a woman anchor in the future, “Fine,
why not? I think it likely…I think by the time the next change comes, the
next generation of anchor people, I would think that the barrier would be down
and that women would have as good a chance as men” (Sanders and Rock 1988, p.
Yet there are still roadblocks standing in the way of women striving to
make it to the top. They begin at low-level jobs, such as researchers and
logistics persons and hope to take the right paths to get to the top of the
ladder. Sanders writes, “For years there were few women above the level of
researcher. While that has changed, the amount of frustration for those who do
not move ahead has driven many people out of the business altogether” (Sanders
and Rock 1988, p. 198-199).
Lesley Stahl of CBS News points out that anchorwomen are most often
workaholics, with a never-ending drive to do their job. She says

It’s one reason we do succeed in this business.
We just give it everything…Maybe it’s because
our      kind of personalities are attracted to this
industry, compulsive, deadline-oriented people
who      keep pushing ourselves to see how much work
we can do. We love work…It’s not just a symptom
in the early stage, it goes on” (Sanders and Rock
1988, p. 81).

Society’s expectations of female news anchors is very much like that of
any woman in a powerful and successful career. While the women must portray a
glamorous, yet friendly image, expectations of men in the business are not near
as high. Jon Katz says in his article

The men who anchor today look, dress, and act
almost precisely the same way they did 50 years
ago. They only have to reflect a single trait
to succeed-gravitas. They wouldn’t dream of
being intimate, glamorous, or coy. Nor would
anyone expect that of them” (Katz 1995, p. 162).

Katz goes on to say that men who make it in the business usually never
fail. He says of anchormen, “Old anchors never fade away. And they can’t be
killed by mortal means” (Katz 1995, p. 164).
Sadly, forward movements aren’t apparent today by women in television
news. Forty years ago, a female gaining the anchor position on the evening news
was a leap forward. Today “it feels more like a step backward, an attempt to
stuff accomplished, contemporary women into an ill-fitting straightjacket” (Katz
1995, p. 164).
It is apparent that women news anchors face many more struggles than men
in the field. It takes a unique individual to fight through those struggles and
strive for what they want most: to relay news throughout the world. Equality
with men is far from being reached, but a few females have stood their ground
and hopefully made a difference for others that follow. If people open their
eyes and realize there are plenty of women who are just as, if not more,
competent than men at holding an anchor position, women could gain respect
within the field. For now, the few women who find success and are willing to
endure the hardships that come along will likely survive in the business, at
least until age hinders their physical appearance.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment