Media World: Local TV is losing experienced anchors

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New York TV news anchor Chuck Scarborough's tenure dates to the Nixon era, while Jim Gardner has broadcast the 11 o'clock news in Philadelphia since Jimmy Carter was president. Unfortunately, in today's media market, where advertising and profits at TV stations are shrinking, venerable professionals like Scarborough and Gardner are becoming the exceptions rather than the rule.

Across the country, many longtime anchors are being squeezed out. Last year, Denver anchor Ernie Bjorkman left after 26 years behind the desk. He reportedly became a veterinary technician, taking about a $100,000 pay cut. Meanwhile, Phoenix's Kent Dana is out after more than 30 years and Tampa Bay anchor Bill Ratliff resigned in April rather than take a cut in pay and hours. A few months ago, there were even rumors that Scarborough was being axed, which were denied by the station.
"There has been a huge adjustment for salaries," said Erik Sorenson, head of the jobs Web site Vault.com and a former president of MSNBC. "Salaries are going to continue to come down. . . I don't think [layoffs] are getting better. . . . The second quarter was not as drastic as the two previous ones. Stations and station groups are adjusting."

Longtime anchors have been squeezed out in Boston, Chicago and New York, giving way to cheaper, younger talent. However, some of the people being kept on the air do not inspire confidence. For example, even after decimating its staff, Los Angeles' Fox 11 decided to retain its well-known "weather babe" Jillian Barberie Reynolds. Although trained in broadcast journalism, the Canadian actress has drawn the ire of news watchers, including James Rainey of the Los Angeles Times, who calls her "the Medusa-haired, wailing siren who epitomizes the noxious celebrification of what we once called news."

The situation in cable is slightly different, as channel revenue comes from affiliate fees in addition to advertising. However, there have been layoffs there, too. Earlier this month, it was reported that TruTV was planning to axe half of its staff in New York City, and even CNBC has had job cuts.

According to the Radio Television News Directors Association, about 1,200 people in TV news lost their jobs last year. This figure, approximately 4.3 percent of the total workforce, has led to staffs that are increasingly stretched thin. Even as more layoffs loom, stations are turning to low-cost news programs to fill in holes in their schedule that used to be filled by syndicated shows.

"It is VERY tough for third and fourth place stations to keep going--it is tougher on stations that are associated with newspapers than those who are pure-play broadcast or have a multi dimensional owner like GE or Disney," said Al Tompkins, the Poynter Institute's Broadcasting/Online Group Leader.
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