US TV pays dearly for its image of anchorwomen

DRIVE INTO any large American city and you will see them - billboards entreating you to watch such and such a television station for the excellence of its evening news. Beaming down at you with impossible smiles will be the faces of that station's newsreaders. Almost always, it will be a man, chisel-chin and serious eyebrows, accompanied by a woman, all glamour and cheekbone.

The faux-family formula has proved irresistible to roughly nine out of 10 local stations across the land. Pair a man (preferably young and attractive) with a woman (obligatorily young and attractive), get some chemistry going between them and the viewers will reward you. Never mind if the practice violates the normal standards of equal opportunity and fairness in hiring and firing. Only ratings count.

Stay tuned, however, because the picture may soon change following the successful suit brought by former star of the Connecticut news market Janet Peckinpaugh, 48, against her old employers at the CBS affiliate in the state capital, Hartford.

Ms Peckinpaugh said she was dumped from the station's prime-time evening newscast in 1994 because she was a woman. Ruling that she had indeed been the victim of gender discrimination, the Hartford jury awarded her damages totalling an astonishing $8.3m (pounds 5.2m) - more than double what she had been seeking.

For a decade, Ms Peckinpaugh was, as it were, the perfect package for WFSB-TV. With blond hair, green eyes and a high-energy manner, she was groomed for stardom as the co-anchor of the station's all-important 6pm Action News. But, eventually, as she passed the dreaded 40th birthday, she began to encounter friction.

Her demise finally came in 1994 when WFSB-TV hired a new male anchor from a competing station and decreed that all three of its existing female newsreaders audition before the cameras with its two male anchors, including the newcomer. Ms Peckinpaugh scored the lowest of the three women and was demoted from the evening show.

The guy-girl format rules on the national breakfast time shows, too, the most celebrated pairing being that of Katie Couric (no longer really young, but perky) and Matt Lauer (puppy-dog face but can look serious) on NBC's ratings runaway, the Today Show.

Where it does not apply is on the nightly network news programmes, broadcast nationally, of ABC, NBC and CBS. Presiding over them alone for more than a decade have been - all men here - Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather. CBS tried pairing Rather with Connie Chung a few years ago but then dumped Ms Chung when ratings dived.

After Thursday's verdict, Ms Peckinpaugh said her battle had been for all women in an industry where nature treats the sexes differently. In TV-land, in other words, women get old while men get distinguished. True, there are some female newscast stars with the national networks, who are, shall we say, no longer in their springtime years - notably Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer, and Leslie Stahl. But as the New York Times noted last week, none among them dares show one grey hair before the cameras.

Although the issues of age and gender were closely linked in the case, the jury dismissed the age discrimination element of Ms Peckinpaugh's suit. This, however, did little to dull the verdict's impact. "This is a major victory for every woman in television, and every woman who wants to go into television," Ms Peckinpaugh said. "It's about time that my industry caught up with the rest of the country."

Those billboards are not coming down just yet, however. David Klatell, of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, warns that it may take more to persuade the industry to change its habits. "I wish I could be more sanguine that this would change the hiring pattern in American TV news. I fear that it may instead result more in changes in the firing pattern, with lawyers instructing news directors to be more careful in the way they let people go," he said.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him
musicIndie music promoter was was a feature at Carter gigs
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Performers dressed as Tunnocks chocolate teacakes, a renowned Scottish confectionary, perform during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
news
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Sport
Arsenal signing Calum Chambers
sportGunners complete £16m transfer of Southampton youngster
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on