ANCHOR

In U.S. television the chief news presenter(s) for network, local, cable and satellite news programming is known as the Anchor. The term distinguishes the presenter-journalist at the newsdesk in the television studio (or above the convention floor, etc.) from the reporter in the field. All news stories in a program are funneled through the anchor as he or she mediates between the public, the network or and other news reporters.

The most commonly cited source of the term is the television news coverage of the 1952 Republican presidential conventions; the metaphor is borrowed, not as one might expect, from the nautical realm, but from the strongest runner of a relay team, the anchorman, who runs the final leg of the race. In the conventional format of broadcast news, when the anchor is not personally delivering a story by directly addressing the viewing audience, or speaking over symbols and visual images of the news, he or she is introducing and calling upon reporters to deliver stories from the field or announcing a commercial break. Moreover, an anchor represents the public and its need to know whenever he or she interrogates and listens to the subject of an interview. National news anchors represent their respective networks and are held accountable for the ratings success of their respective news programs in attracting viewers. In keeping with this serious representational function, the anchor's style of delivery is reserved and his or her appearance is designed to convey credibility. In other words, the anchor is a television host at the top of a hierarchial chain of command with special reportorial credentials and responsibilities centered around "hard" or serious news of the day; celebrity interview and tabloid news shows have hosts, not anchors, even when they are organized similarly in format to network evening news. Journalists in other television news formats without a similar division of labor between studio and field are not anchors strictly speaking.

Being delegated with the daily, prestigious responsibility for presenting national news has brought public exposure that has made some network television news anchors into house-hold names. During his tenure as anchor of the CBS evening news, Walter Cronkite transcended the domain of broadcast news into becoming a widely-admired and "most trusted" national figure, eclipsing the fame of his cohorts, includingthe NBC newsteam Chet Huntley and David Brinkley; contemporary network anchors ABC's Peter Jennings, CBS's Dan Rather, and NBC's Tom Brokaw are national celebrities and highly-paid television stars. However, the role of the network anchor appears to be declining in cultural significance as the broadcast networks lose their dominance over the industry. The sheer numbers of anchors, for instance, the singles and pairs CNN rotates over its twenty-four hours of news programming, dilutes their potential star power.

Aside from abortive attempts to team Barbara Walters with Harry Reasoner and more recently, Connie Chung with Dan Rather, national news presenting has been a white male preserve. However, local anchor teams have long represented diversity in the community through a news couple of different race and gender, supplemented by reporters on the sports and weather beat and in the field. Even in the local context, however, gender distinctions are vital. The highly publicized case of Christine Kraft, anchor of KMBC-TV in Kansas City, Missouri illustrates the willingness of executives to dismiss women considered "too old" or "too unattractive" to fill this highly visible role. Such judgments are rarely, if ever, made in cases involving male anchors, who are seen to develop "authority" and "gravity" as their physical glamour fades.

 

A secondary meaning of anchor comes out of semiology, or the study of signs and meaning. Roland Barthes' "The Rhetoric of the Image" also uses the anchor and relay metaphor to describe two different functions of the caption in relation to a still image: a caption anchors the image when it selectively elucidates its meaning; when it sets out meanings not found in the image itself, it acts as a relay. The television news anchor may be said to function similarly as an "anchor" in this extended sense, by presenting a selection of events as news stories and by providing a framework for the interpretation of their social and cultural meaning.

-Margaret Morse

FURTHER READING

Barnouw, Erik. Tube of Plenty. (New York:Oxford University Press, 1984).

Barthes, Roland. "The Rhetoric of the Image," in Image, Music, Text, transl. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill &Wang, 1977).

Cunningham, Liz. Talking Politics: Choosing the President in the Television Age (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1995)

Fensch, Thomas Fensch. ed., Television News Anchors: An Anthology of Profiles of the Major Figures and Issues in United States Network Reporting, (Jefferson, N.C. : McFarland, c1993)

Goldberg, Robert and Gerald J. Goldberg. Anchors: Brokaw, Jennings, Rather and the Evening News (Secaucus, NJ : Carol Pub. Group, 1990).

Hallin, Dan. We Keep America on Top of the World: Television Journalism and the Public Sphere (London, NY: Routledge, 1994).

James, Doug. Walter Cronkite: His Life and Times (Brentwood, Tenn. : JM Press, c1991).

Matusow, Barbara Matusow. The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor (Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1983)

Morse, Margaret, "The Television News Personality and Credibility: Reflections on the News in Transition," in: Studies in Entertainment: Critical Approaches to Mass Culture (Bloomington: U. of Indiana Press, 1986), pp. 55-79.

Rather, Dan with Mickey Herskowitz. The Camera Never Blinks: Adventures of a TV Journalist (New York: W. Morrow, 1977) .

_________________. The Camera Never Blinks Twice: The Further Adventures of a Television Journalist (New York: W. Morrow, 1994).

Sanders, Marlene and Marcia Rock. Waiting for Prime Time: The Women of Television News (Urbana : University of Illinois Press, c1988).

See also Brokaw, Tom; Brinkley, David; Chung, Connie; Craft, Christine; Cronkite, Walter; Huntley, Chet; Jennings, Peter; Walters, Barbara