I live in Los Angeles, but my wake-up time is not earlier than 7am. So when I read the following story in the L.A. Times by excellent TV reporter Greg Braxton, I was pretty much blown away. Read it, and then I'll have a few thoughts:
"KTLA Morning News" anchor Sharon Tay's seductive gaze from the pages of a men's magazine suggests that the headlines of the day are the last thing on her mind. Bold lipstick accents her prominent lips, and few might disagree that she wears her clothes — what there is of them — well.
a) Hooker? b) News anchor?
But despite posing in various stages of undress in the March issue of Razor magazine, Tay, who anchors the 5 to 7 a.m. edition of the news, insists she has no aspirations to be America's Next Top Model.
"Oh, no, no, NO!" says the petite Tay, shaking her head vigorously. "I'm way too short!"
Now Tay's "fashion" pictorial has revived the debate about the blurring of boundaries between news and entertainment. While some TV newswomen, such as Fox 11's Jillian Barberie and KTLA's Mindy Burbano,
have emphasized sexuality to promote themselves and their newscasts for several years, the emergence of news anchors using magazines and websites to flaunt their physical attributes has heightened concerns about the boundaries between journalism and show business, with academics, news directors and rival anchors denouncing the practice.
In one of the full-page photos of her in Razor — a young men's magazine similar to Maxim and FHM that features scantily clad celebrities — Tay leans against a wall in a tight, backless green outfit that reveals a hint of her rear end. She highlights her cleavage in another photo.
"The pictorial is not Tay's only promotional vehicle. The anchor has a personal website where she touts her "beauty secrets" and health and fitness tips ("Do you want to have a firm butt? A few squats and lunges are great for this 'pow pow' factor"). There is also a Tay photo gallery. Her website bio names Tay as an "in-demand talent for a diverse array of entertainment industry projects," a description absent from her KTLA biography on the station's website, which says that Tay is "always interested in improving her journalist skills."
Meanwhile, KCOP's nightly "UPN News 13" anchor Lauren Sanchez often appears in miniskirts, boots and revealing blouses, delivering stories at a hyper pace underscored by techno music. The station promotes the broadcast — its sole news offering — as "news with attitude." The 11 p.m. UPN newscast has increased in ratings among the key 18-to-49 demographic group since last year, when Sanchez posed for a 10-page layout in Open Your Eyes (OYE), a magazine catering to Latino males. "America's Hottest News Anchor!" declared the article, which featured Sanchez in low-cut or tight-fitting blouses and dresses.
"Newscasters just aren't supposed to be this hot," read an introduction to the layout. "It's downright distracting. How's a man supposed to pay attention to what's going on in the world when the news anchor looks like she belongs on the Big Screen or — better yet — the Victoria's Secret catalog."
Other local news personalities who have come under scrutiny in the last few years include KCBS Channel 2 weather/entertainment reporter Lisa Joyner, KCAL Channel 9 afternoon anchor Mia Lee and, most notably, KTTV Channel 11 weather reporter Barberie, who's parlayed her newscast fame into a career as an entertainer. Joyner and Lee have drawn attention because of their on-air wardrobes, while Barberie and Burbano have appeared in men's magazines.
Still, some industry analysts say that Barberie and the others should not be held to the same standards as Tay and Sanchez since anchors are regarded as the quarterbacks of a newscast. Their ability to convey authority, knowledge and calm is considered central to a newscast's success. Both women are heading up anchor desks in the two of the most competitive time periods in local news. The 5 to 7 a.m. slot in particular, where five stations vie for viewers, has become the most hotly contested time period in local news in the last few years.
"With all that has gone on, the blurring between news and entertainment has become so blatant in terms of the entertainment side of the equation that there really is no longer a blur," said Judith Marlene, a professor in the radio, television and film department of Cal State Northridge and author of the book "Women in Television News Revisited." "What these two women have done has demeaned the whole profession and set women back, undermining all the years of advancement that have been made."
Tay said she is not bothered by the criticism prompted by the Razor layout.
"I need to be myself, and when I'm myself, viewers respond," Tay said in a recent interview. "I can show that I can be girly. I can be funny. I can be sexy. I can be honest. I can relate to them on a friend level. They can trust me. I have a lot of credibility because I'm real."
That's not the view of Ron Fineman, who runs a website, http://www.ronfineman.com, that casts a critical eye on the journalism practiced on TV newscasts. "If a journalist is a serious news anchor, a certain public image should be maintained, and 'sex kitten' shouldn't be one of them," he said.
News versus entertainment
While few are willing to speak publicly, several news directors, anchors, reporters and news executives at rival stations are privately blasting Sanchez, Tay and their respective stations for what they called irresponsibility and prioritizing shallowness above journalistic integrity. Said one rival station executive: "Either you're going to be in the news business or you're in the entertainment business. But you can't do both."
But another prominent news executive called the issue a complex one. "It's real tough, because you can't always put set rules on whether layouts or websites are proper," the executive said. "A person in the news business should not only be able to perform their job, but they should be allowed to be an individual. The underlying factor has to be that whatever happens, it can't hurt the station."
Staying out of the debate, for now, are the two stations. UPN executives and Sanchez declined to comment. And while Tay says she received management approval for the Razor layout, executives at KTLA (which is owned by Tribune Co., which also owns the Los Angeles Times) declined comment.
In November 2001, KTLA executives expressed regret over Tay's participation in a segment in which she rolled around on a bar. The morning news segment was a tie-in to the WB network series "Charmed," and Tay was trying on costumes worn by the three young lead actresses, who play sibling witches.
"It was very theatrical," Tay now recalls. "The costumes were very sexy, and I was reenacting a scene where one of the witches was possessed and dancing on the bar. So I did it, and it dissolved to the real scene."
Marcia Brandwynne, who was then executive producer of the morning news and is currently assistant news director, at that time called the segment inappropriate. "I don't want to see her [presented] like that," she told The Times in 2001. "She's our early-morning anchor.... We made a mistake." Brandwynne would not comment for this article.
One local on-air broadcaster was among those who felt that Tay has compromised her credibility: "She's doing cheesecake."
Martha Lauzen, a professor at San Diego State University who has monitored female roles in prime-time entertainment, noted that "anchors become celebrities, and celebrities become news. But appearing in men's magazines influences how viewers may perceive them. It can cause confusion, and a news organization has to take responsibility for that."
Part of the reason for her personal endeavors, Tay says, is her uncertainty over the future: "I don't know if I want to be a news anchor for the rest of my life. Job security doesn't exist. I'd like to host a news and information show. And I'm not ruling out being an actress."
She laughed. "But probably if I weren't doing this, I would be going to culinary school. I've always wanted to be a chef." -- by Greg Braxton, copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times.
Here is a link to Sharon Tay's personal web site: Click here Tell me if you love it.
By now, each of you obviously have your thoughts about this issue. I'll tell you briefly what I think, and I hope you'll pile on with your responses. And I'm NOT going to be politically correct.
First of all, an anchor or reporter who looks beautiful, let's go as far as to say arousing, of either sex, is not only fine by me, it's good for ratings. Chic clothing, great hairstyling -- fantastic. But that's where I stop. Posing in magazines and showing skins is grossly inappropriate, and by the way, many years ago, Meredith Vieira did it. Not with the utterly disgusting lack of taste displayed by Sharon Tay, but Meredith bared a leg pretty much all the way up in a full page photo, and was shown in provocative poses.
I hate to say this, but today's sexpot anchors are mostly Chinese women. What's this about? Do these Tay-alikes think they're going to have a future anywhere at all? Rolling around on cars in field pieces? What's the plan? To do a year on E! as the next Brooke Burke? Sorry, that job requires big boobs. Maybe it's just to land a rich husband and chuck the business. It's certainly not a shot at White House correspondent.
A word to the wise: look your best. But keep sexy out of your on-air persona. If your boss asks for it, refuse. Maintain your dignity. These women are further damaging the credibility of broadcast journalists. What viewers want is your brain, an easy to grasp and likeable personality, and pleasant looks. Work on that.