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Anchored in L.A. : How to Get Ahead in the TV News Business, Where Looks Count But Aren’t Everything

Legend has it one Los Angeles news anchor found out he was fired the day he went to the station’s tailor . . . and discovered a new blazer had been ordered for every anchor except him. At that moment he no doubt wondered what it is that keeps a news anchor on the air in this competitive market.

In the movie “Broadcast News,” William Hurt’s character describes the key as “selling this idea of you . . . You’re sort of saying, ‘Trust me; I’m credible.’ ” That and a few clever pointers (sitting on the bottom of one’s blazer to keep it from wrinkling, being careful not to make one’s eyes look shifty) seemed to help Hurt make it in the TV news biz.

On the other hand, news specialist Connie Timpson of the media consulting firm Frank N. Magid Associates says, “Gimmicks don’t work. Really good communicators don’t need them,” and the best anchors “care more about the information they’re delivering than they care about themselves.”

Who can really say what gives one anchor 30 years of staying power and has another continually updating his or her resume?

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We asked various Los Angeles anchors what they think keeps people tuning in. All had ideas about what makes a good anchor, yet few could put a finger on what makes viewers like one and dislike another. They described it as a chemical process as mysterious as falling in love.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD ANCHOR?

LINDA ALVAREZ

(Monday-Friday, 4 p.m. KNBC)

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Honesty, ethics.

“One of the things I learned as a teacher is you can’t stand up in front of the kids and pretend you know what you’re talking about; they can tell. (Viewers also know) when someone has done his or her homework.”

JOHN BEARD

(Monday-Friday, 4 p.m. and 11 p.m. KNBC)

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Insatiable curiosity.

“You have to know a little bit about everything because you never know what you’ll be reporting. Nobody was expecting (the day of the Metro Rail tunnel fire) that we’d have to be reporting the timetable of the Metro Rail construction or the cost of its overrun. There are times more often than you think, really, when you may be required to talk for literally half an hour on one topic. So you need to be an information sponge.”

LARRY CARROLL

(Saturday and Sunday, 10 p.m. KCAL)

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Reporting background, analytical skills.

“Technology makes demands on people that have never been made before in this business. You have to gather information virtually instantaneously, analyze it and regurgitate it. We have to be able to write, to deliver written words in a way that’s engaging, that’s magnetic . . . because the easiest thing to do is to change channels on a television set.”

JERRY DUNPHY

(Monday-Friday, 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. KCAL)

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Knowledge, calmness.

“The worst thing that ever happened to me was (a computer failure) where we’d get the first four lines of one story, and the rest of another story. If you took the time to say, “Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know what is happening to me here,” you’d lose half your audience. . . . No matter how much presence you have, you can still look a little klutzy when that happens.”

HAL FISHMAN

(Monday-Friday, 10 p.m. KTLA)

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Knowledge, objectivity.

“I was an assistant professor of government at Cal State L.A. I made a decision to do TV news, but I’ve always been a political scientist. I think that’s the best background you can have for news. . . . We’ve had a lot of stories from the Berlin Wall when it was coming down--I was there when it went up.”

PAT HARVEY

(Monday-Friday, 9 p.m. KCAL)

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Professionalism, credibility.

“I try to think of (talking to) faces sometimes, not just to a camera. I come across better to me when I humanize what I’m doing. I feel a little closer to people. If I were just talking to a camera, then who cares?”

JIM LAMPLEY

(Sunday, 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. KCBS)

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Natural curiosity.

“Every great reporter has had an innate, inexplicable desire to want to know something and be the first to tell people about it. I have that.”

KELLY LANGE

(Monday-Friday, 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. KNBC)

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Knowledge, command of situation in newsroom.

“I’ve seen people come in in a blaze of glory. I can tell you in every single case that if it’s backed up by some substance, it’ll work. If not, it won’t.”

JESS MARLOW

(Monday-Friday, 5 p.m. KNBC)

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Good reporting skills,

knowledge.

"(The best anchor is) a good reporter who acknowledges that the story is more important than the performance. Personality almost ought to be inadvertent--there are some awfully good reporters you still wouldn’t want your sister to date.”

ANN MARTIN

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(Monday-Friday, 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. KABC)

Being oneself, honesty.

“I have an Aunt Eileen and an Uncle Tom in Burbank. When I started doing this, I used to imagine I was telling them what was going on.”

KEITH MORRISON

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(Monday-Friday, 6 p.m. KNBC)

Empathy, ability to tell

a good story.

“I’m not particularly glib, you see, so I get very worried when I strike out on a topic on my own. The problem with being glib is that you do a little verbal dance, without really supplying information. . . . But when you’re up to your behind in alligators, you do say stupid things sometimes.”

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PAUL MOYER

(Monday-Friday, 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. KABC)

Honesty, knowledge, curiosity.

“A lot of people say about local news, ‘They take these bimbos and bimbettes and stick ‘em up there.’ That’s a lot of baloney. Everybody would like to think that you could take somebody literally off the street. You cannot just sit Ken and Barbie up there. It doesn’t work.”

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WARREN OLNEY

(Monday-Friday, 10 p.m. KCOP)

Being oneself.

“I think it’s really presumptuous to think you can add something substantial that the reporter hasn’t included in the story. It’s dangerous. If I know something and feel it’s been left out, I include it. What I don’t like to do is distort the story. As a reporter, I had experiences where anchors distorted a story I did by pontificating on it. They had no idea.”

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BILL RITTER

(Sunday, 11 p.m. KTTV)

Reporting background, trustworthiness.

“Personality isn’t like a shtick. What (good anchors) have is credibility. I think people with a shtick have a short-lived shtick. It works in sports and weather for sure, but in news the shtick is credibility and trustworthiness.”

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WENDY RUTLEDGE

(Monday-Friday, 10 p.m. KCOP)

Knowledge, compassion.

“What sells as an anchor is definitely personality, like the kind conveyed in the ad-lib, lighthearted portion of the news. That’s when people form their opinions about the person themselves. Some of the more homey, relaxed anchors play well. This market is not into pretension. (Viewers like) a genuine appearance--people you’d want to be your neighbors. I aspire to that.”

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TRICIA TOYOTA

(Monday-Friday, noon and 6 p.m. KCBS)

Reliability, community involvement.

One of the most important qualities “is a sense of community, a sense of the history of Southern California and Los Angeles, who lives here, and what the major issues are in this community. It’s important for an anchor to be involved in community activities, to make ourselves accessible to the public so we demystify what we do.”

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BREE WALKER

(Sunday, 6 p.m. and 11 p.m.; Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m. and 11 p.m. KCBS)

Involvement, understanding.

“It’s the (viewer’s) sense that I’m comfortable about a story because I know more about it that I can tell you right now. . . . You convey that through your eyes and your body language. It’s chemistry, an intangible thing. . . . Some anchors have it quite obviously more than others.”

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COLLEEN WILLIAMS

(Monday-Friday, 5 p.m. KNBC)

Rapport with staff; listening to, instead of just reading, the news.

“What makes me work is that I have to like the person I’m on the air with. There needs to be rapport, a certain amount of respect. Some of it has to do with time. You both have to have the same sort of focus, and then time--just like a marriage.”

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