The politics of news appeal
It didn’t really surprise me much to learn this week that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been dating another pretty young news babe. The guy’s got a track record in that regard.
But the revelation about the mayor led me to do a little research on his new girlfriend, Lu Parker of KTLA Channel 5. And that reinforced a growing media trend that might be less obvious to the general audience -- the way some journalists aren’t content to be just journalists.
It’s not shocking that media personalities want to expand their appeal, as audiences fragment and turn to the Internet and other new sources for their information.
Still, what standards are being lost, or whose standards matter, when it comes to measuring the merits of “a multi-faceted talent . . . journalist, actress, author, former Miss USA” like Parker?
Doesn’t it seem odd to anyone else that the same person can furrow her brow in the role of serious newswoman -- chasing fires through the hills, announcing election night tallies and bemoaning gang violence -- and then preen her way through a modeling video?
Luparker.com features a nifty bikini shot, along with a couple of videos of Parker posing. Who said we members of the Fourth Estate had to make do with flat, lifeless hair? This reporter’s got a wind machine! And, man, look at her hair blow.
Luparker.com has a sense of humor. There’s a clip of the reporter accidentally spitting on Bill Cosby, and there are clips of prouder moments in the anchor chair. You can also watch her interview Villaraigosa on election night last November, before the two were dating.
This all made Lu Parker look a bit frivolous. KTLA News director Jason Ball assured me that “there is plenty out there that is a lot more gratuitous than that.” KTLA is owned by Tribune Co., owner of The Times.
Another KTLAer, not authorized to speak for the record, laughed when I pointed out the cheesecake on Luparker.com. “I would go so far as to say that if you spent five minutes on the website of any woman under 45 in a major market you would find a bikini shot,” the news person said. “It wouldn’t be that hard.”
Villaraigosa’s new liaison came to light early Monday, when KNBC Channel 4’s website reported that the pair had been spotted over the weekend at a Larchmont bookstore. The story, including a picture of the mayor beaming behind dark glasses, also led the station’s newscast.
The relationship between the politician and the personality won’t likely have the same political and personal effect of Villaraigosa’s affair a couple of years ago with Mirthala Salinas of Spanish-language broadcaster Telemundo. At the time, Villaraigosa was a married man and Salinas was assigned to cover him as part of a political beat.
Salinas went on the air and reported on the breakup of Villaraigosa’s marriage without acknowledging her connection to him. That obvious conflict eventually led to a two-month suspension. Salinas resigned after being exiled to a bureau in Riverside County.
KTLA news boss Ball pointed out to me that Parker, in contrast, had not focused on politics. He pledged she would not do any stories on local politics in the future, to put the reporter and the station above even the appearance of a conflict of interest.
Parker had read a story from her weekend anchor’s chair Sunday evening about doubts raised over Villaraigosa’s potential run for governor.
Was the news director troubled that the relationship between the mayor and his reporter dated back months but that she told him about it only Monday, after KNBC broke the news to the world?
“There is no issue,” Ball said. “She is not a political reporter. She doesn’t cover politics generally.”
Even if Parker didn’t cover politics per se, she could still encounter any number of stories -- school reform, the performance of the police department, expansion of the airport -- in which Villaraigosa has a stake.
“The mayor doesn’t work in our newsroom,” Ball said. “There will be no conflict.”
A KTLA insider offered the further assurance that Parker usually relies on scripts written by others. So she won’t have a major role in shaping content.
Being told a news reader is just that didn’t surprise me. It didn’t inspire tremendous confidence either.
Several other TV and radio stations and newspapers reported on the Villaraigosa-Parker pairing Monday. Some inside KTLA urged their bosses to do the same on what they considered a story of high public interest.
It seems like something that would be in the sweet spot for Channel 5, particularly its chatty morning news program. I can’t imagine the station would pass on the story if the mayor had been reported dating, say, an anchor from Channel 4.
But Ball told me KTLA had no intention of addressing the subject. He called it a nonstory.
As for Parker, one can’t help but wonder if she missed the Mirthala saga entirely. After making an emergency exit from television, the former Telemundo star has landed on a morning talk radio program.
She’s not talking to the press. But you wonder if she might have some advice for a fellow newswoman about the challenges of balancing work and a personal life.
Rainey’s column also appears Fridays on A2.