Veteran TV journalist Mark Effron spells out the characteristics news directors should be looking for when adding to their anchor desks. Some of these attributes date back to Walter Cronkite, but others are as new as the latest social media app.
Earlier this month, I was a guest on CNN’s Reliable Sources to discuss Lester Holt, who has been filling in as anchor on the NBC Nightly News during the suspension of Brian Williams. I am an unabashed Holt fan, dating back to the time when I ran daytime news at MSNBC, and Holt was the man you called when something happened; he was a pitch-perfect anchor, never better than when the news was big and the facts were elusive.
My appearance got me thinking about what it means to anchor in 2015, and what I look for in hiring anchors in this fragmented, why-do-I-need-to-watch-TV-news-anyway media environment. Some of these attributes date back to Walter Cronkite, but others are as new as the latest social media app.
Passionate about the news, great at writing it, presenting it, dissecting it. It’s still the same old story, a tale of truth and glory. What’s new is that the audience has less time for phonies and time wasters.
Journalist first, personality second. While journalism is No. 1, personality comes right behind. There’s a reason that lots of great print journalists fizzle out when they go on television. You need to express who you are not just in what you write, but how you connect.
Vanilla is yesterday. I think it’s time for TV stations to take bigger risks in hiring anchors. So many TV station anchors are stamped from a certain mold and perform within that mold. What about hiring someone from the outside — like talk radio? Or sports? I think there’s money to be made in finding the right kind of local personality who has journalistic chops but doesn’t come from the same place as every other anchor.
Anchors need to do more than embrace social media. They need to hug it and kiss it and make it their own. The days of having to push an anchor into tweeting or being active on Facebook are long past. That’s the new price of admission if you want to work for a multi-platform TV station.
What is the value-add? It’s not enough to sit in the studio twice a day. Is the anchor an investigative reporter? Does she have a high-profile beat? Riding the community service luncheon circuit doesn’t constitute a value-add. Anchors need to be rooted into communities, and reflect those communities. There’s a need for multi-talented people, for whom anchoring the news is one of many talents is they bring to the position.
If an anchor isn’t a newsroom leader, they don’t deserve to be leading a newscast. Anchors still make considerably more money than virtually anyone else in the TV station. To earn that money, they need to be demonstrated leaders, daily, but certainly in times of crisis. They need to mentor young producers and reporters, work closely with the news director on direction and projects.
Anchors need to embrace—and lead—change. They are not the anchors of 20 years ago; not even five years ago. They must understand that the daily TV newscast is shrinking in importance, while other platforms are exponentially increasing. They must be able to have ideas, write those ideas, and communicate those ideas every day in multiple ways. The one-trick-pony has been consigned to the glue factory!
Good human beings needed. All of the obituaries on David Goldberg, Sheryl Sandberg’s late husband, referred to how he was a mensch — a good human being. Now more than ever, as business is more fragmented, and hiring gets tougher, the anchor must be a good human being, an integral member of the team who pushes for the common good. Of course, that holds true for everybody in the station.
Mark Effron is a consultant at Effron & Associates. He can be reached at [email protected].