Thursday, December 27, 2007

Anchors Away: TV Personalities Are Losing Their Grips on Reality

Thanks to the good people at TVSpy (see link to right) I keep a steady watch over the happenings in my former business...television broadcasting. And quite frankly, I'm seriously concerned. It seems that every week there is another TV anchor/reporter embroiled in controversy. Whether it is a DUI arrest, a forged report or a scandalous relationship with a source, it seems that today's TV journalists are sliding out of control. This stems from the celebrity they receive. You see, TV anchors/reporters are just simple folks. But they are on television...people recognize them and that sort of ego-push drives those that lack a sense of humility into a place of entitlement. Suddenly it seems people in the business are losing their grips on reality at an alarming rate.

Want proof? You need look no further than the ridiculous and tragic case of Alycia Lane, the troubled anchor at Channel 3 in Philly. After reportedly insulting then assaulting an undercover officer during a visit to New York City, Lane called PA Governor Ed Rendell to profess her innocence. Talk about a clear abuse of perceived power with a source! This is just the latest expose regarding Ms. Lane. This past May, she allegedly emailed pictures of her in a bikini to NFL Network host (of ESPN fame) Rich Eisen, which Mrs. Eisen discovered and was...displeased. Lane said the two were 'platonic friends' and that the pics were harmless. Harmless or not, there is a clear pattern here. Lane is unstable. But she's a looker with a bright smile and a shining 'on-air' persona. Lane is currently on a 'planned vacation' from Channel 3.

But Lane is not alone.

This past July, Amy Jacobson, a reporter for WMAQ in Chicago was caught on tape (by a rival TV station no less) at the residence of one Craig Stebic. Stebic's wife Lisa went missing in April and Mr. Stebic is 'person of interest' in the investigation. Jacobson is seen in the video wearing a bikini and claims she was invited by Mr. Stebic to bring her kids swimming. Jacobson also claims she was there for professional reasons, developing a potential story source. This may be the most egregious of any offense I've seen. Mrs. Jacobson endangered her own children...for a story? I doubt it. One could assume she was developing a personal relationship. The ultimate conflict of interest for any reporter. Neighbors have been on record saying that Jacobson was often at the residence after Stebic's wife went missing. Obviously, Jacobson's credibility was destroyed and she was rightfully dismissed from WMAQ. But what does this say about TV personalities? (By the way, she's trying to go into the 'acting' occupation...who knew?)

Last month, a week before his retirement from WFLA-8 in Tampa, Bob Hite (legendary anchor in the region) was charged with a DUI. Hite's case is noteworthy because apologized on-air the next day. His crime could have cost someone their life. As it did in Tolly Carr's case.

Carr was an up-and-coming morning anchor at WXII in Winston-Salem, NC. His demeanor, looks and personality were evident and his talent unlimited. Until this past March 11th, when Carr and a few friends went out on the town. After a night of drinking Carr went to drive home. He was intoxicated. He lost control of his vehicle. 26-year old Casey Bokhoven happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Casey died. A devastated Carr reached out to the Bokhoven family, admitting his shame and his guilt. Carr spoke eloquently in court, choking back his emotions and his despair. He was sincere and now he is serving time.

There are countless cases like these. DUIs, conflicts of interest, inappropriate source relationships, etc. It's frightening. It's evident that in some cases, pseudo-celebrities (Lane and Jacobson especially) feel they are above the law. I feel this sets a dangerous example for our future journalists at schools across the country.

I understand that TV reporters/anchors are just normal people and that normal people make mistakes. But it is a very small and select profession. The number of major market anchors/reporters that have recently found themselves on the wrong side of the law is disturbing. The fact that some of these cases are occurring at major market TV stations should not go unnoticed. To me it makes a clear point. The news directors and management at these stations are actively hiring personas and looks over skills and talent. The hard-driving investigative reporters are being relegated to 'back of the newsroom' jobs while the good-looking have become the face of television news.

A message to all current and future TV reporters: You are a journalist first and foremost. You serve the public. And while that may bring a level of recognition and fame, it does not place you on a societal pedestal. You owe your jobs to the people watching at home. Remember that. No audience, no paycheck. Be sure to act professionally at all times. You represent more than just yourselves; you represent your colleagues, station and most important a proud occupation.

A messages to viewers: You hold the key. React in the public forum to make your voice heard. Don't stand for sub-par reporting or journalism. And rail against station managers who allow looks to replace writing ability and hard work.

There is a reason why print reporters despise their counterparts in television. It is because the majority of TV on-air reporters are coming to believe they are primarily personalities, not journalists. A smile may get you air-time but your ability to get a great story ethically and with skill keeps you employed. And beyond that, it keeps the profession reputable.

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