More than a decade ago, when I first proposed a Poynter seminar for television news anchors, the response from a few of my print-oriented colleagues was somewhat snarky.
"What are you going to do? A day on hair, a day on makeup and a day on wardrobe? What else is there?" they asked. I am paraphrasing only slightly.
The notion of anchors as newsroom leaders was somewhat novel. Network anchors had been using titles like managing editor for a number of years, but at the local level, too many anchors were "talent" first and foremost — paid to look pretty and sound good, in the irreverent opinion of many.
Yet there was no denying that, in markets of all sizes, anchors were traditionally the most experienced, inevitably the best paid and sometimes the most underutilized people in the newsroom. But resources were shrinking. The days of private offices for anchors were pretty much over. And these "faces of the station" were being pressed into service doing things they'd never really been trained to do: editing copy, coaching reporters, making ethical decisions and more. Being an anchor was starting to require off-camera skills.
In fact expectations of anchors were escalating, and it was becoming clear to some that investment in them ought to increase, too — not necessarily in what they're paid, but in how they're prepared for their expanded responsibilities.
That's why Jill Geisler and I got such a great response from stations when we started talking about anchors as "leaders, not readers." Management recognized the stake it had in those who were the embodiment of the brand. Compared with salary, benefits and promotion, the cost of training was almost trivial. But the benefits could be huge.
I ended up leaving Poynter for a new newsroom of my own just as the inaugural anchor leadership seminar was coming together, but it couldn't have been in better hands than Jill's, and she was kind enough to bring me back as visiting faculty. Over the years, the feedback we got from the anchors who came to learn "skills without script" — and from the newsrooms they returned to — was wonderfully positive.
Poynter has moved into new, exciting and important other areas, and it's been a few years now since the last anchor seminar there. But demands on anchors certainly haven't diminished, and the need for leadership has never been greater. Social media, "fake news" and declining trust in institutions of all kinds — including journalism — have only heightened the need for anchors who lead as effectively as they read.
So next summer in Chicago, Jill and I will gather an all-star faculty of experts from across the country for an intensive two-day program. We'll include on-camera leadership, too. But there will be nothing cosmetic about the content of this seminar.
Because, as any anchor can tell you: Hair, makeup and wardrobe are the easy part of the job.
The first RTDNA/Loyola University Chicago Anchor Leadership Summit was held in July 2018. Subscribe here to be the first to know when the next leadership training is scheduled.