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Current Trend May Affect Diversity Among TV Anchors

Something rare, at least as far as TV news broadcasting is concerned, is going to happen, and that is seeing on the leading news station in Washington the pairing of two white anchors.

The story on The Washington Post says that as longtime TV newscaster Jim Vance, an African American, steps down from the 11 p.m. newscast on WRC (Channel 4), after anchoring it for 43 years, Jim Handly, a white, will come in as replacement and be paired with Doreen Gentzler, a white and "Vance’s longtime co-pilot at 6 and 11."

The Washington Post article says: "Anchor changes are usually ho-hum affairs, particularly in an age when audiences are deserting TV news for smartphones and other digital alternatives. But the Gentzler-Handly pairing is significant because it runs counter to an unspoken, if more or less rigidly observed, commandment in the TV news business, to wit: In a racially mixed region such as Washington, thou shalt have a mixed anchor “team.”

Diversity still remains top priority at News4, the article continues: News4 will remain diverse after the Handly-for-Vance switch. “We have an extraordinarily diverse staff of accomplished journalists who have spent decades covering issues important to the people who live in the Washington area,” said Matt Glassman, News4’s assistant news director.

However current trends show that diversity may lose being a top priority as Craig M. Allen, an associate professor at Arizona State’s Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, explains: As news audiences have eroded, he said, anchors have become less important as the face of their stations. “Stations aren’t making as much money as they once did, and some of the requirements have dissipated,” said Allen, the author of “News Is People,” a history of local newscasting. “There’s not as much concern about maintaining gender and racial balance among the anchors.”

If this trend continues, there will be a problem, according to the article. The trend is potentially worrisome because news organizations need diverse reporting staffs to fairly and accurately portray their communities, said Russell Contreras, the president of Unity, a coalition of organizations representing minority journalists.

It is good to note that at least for now and in the foreseeable future, News4 is as dedicated as it has been to maintaining diversity in its news programming.Though aside from race, there are other things worth considering in their choice of anchors, the article quotes TV news consultant Laura Clark: “What viewers tell us in our research is that they want someone authentic, someone who has a knowledge of the community, not someone who just reads off a Tele-Prompter,” said Clark, a senior vice president at Frank N. Magid Associates in Kansas City, Mo.

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