I've decided to write a different kind of column today. I've decided to write for my younger readers — not men and women who are already settled in careers, but high school and college students who are dreaming of one day becoming TV news anchors. I've decided to give you some advice.
Here is Eric Burns' list of the five most important steps to take to ensure your eventual success as a reader in the glorious world of broadcast journalism:
1. Study history.
2. Learn current events.
3. Dress well.
4. Speak clearly and calmly into the microphone.
5. Strengthen your leg muscles.
Since the latter is the most important, I'll devote the rest of the column to it.
The latest trend in TV news is not longer, more detailed reports. It is not selection of more meaningful subjects for those reports. It is not less sensational presentation. The latest trend in TV news is — da-da-da-da-da-da! — standing anchors.
CNN's Judy Woodruff stands on the roof to read the teleprompter on Inside Politics. NBC's Tom Brokaw stands in the studio to introduce a variety of Nightly News subjects. So does Fox News Channel's Shepard Smith. MSNBC's daytime anchors not only stand but walk around the studio, as if they can't make up their minds where the hell to be.
Among other highly paid network news standees are CNN's Bill Hemmer and Joie Chen, NBC's Jane Pauley and Stone Phillips, and CBS' Dan Rather, who plants himself on his feet to lead into his "Eye on America" segments, then ducks behind the desk when it's time for the Chandra Levy update.
Rather first rose from his chair for a brief period in 1989, saying that the new position helped his "vocalization." I think he meant “speaking."
David Doss, a producer at ABC News, which may soon pull the seat out from under Peter Jennings, goes even further. He says that a standing anchor means "a more energized program." And Judy Woodruff echoes the sentiment. "You're literally on your toes more." And when Woodruff gets up on those toes out there on the roof for Inside Politics, she says, "I feel more a part of what's going on, rather than insulated in an isolated studio."
Ed Murrow, however, is not standing. Ed Murrow is rolling over in his grave. Ed Murrow is banging off one side of the coffin and then the other, wondering how television news, this medium he used to care so deeply about, ever got to the point at which some of its major figures were discussing with a straight face whether it's better to report the news standing or sitting. The stories they report are getting less and less relevant all the time, the accuracy is decreasing, the objectivity diminishing, and even the grammar is heading for the abyss.
And Judy Woodruff and David Doss and Dan Rather and who-knows-how-many other TV journalists are trying to figure out whether they should stand on their feet or sit on their butts.
Maybe they're thinking about moonlighting. Maybe they're trying to figure out how to make a few extra bucks, and they're hoping for commercials:
"Hi, I'm Judy Woodruff, and the only way I can get through breaking coverage of an endless Israeli air attack on Palestinian headquarters is with Dr. Scholl's air-cushion insoles."
"Good evenin', everyone, I'm Dan Rather, an' when I'm walkin' aroun' in my new Florsheim Wingtip Extraordinaires, I feel like a pig doin' the minuet in a pasture fulla' slop after a big rain, by golly!"
The moral of the story is this: You don't have to sit on your you-know-what to be one.