Traditions tend to be consistent and predictable. Back to school starts in the fall. Halloween is celebrated in October, retail shopping picks up near Christmas, summer unveils blockbuster movie theater releases, and Macy’s wows us with their spectacular Thanksgiving Day parade floats.
We love our traditions in part because they bring a sense of security, comfort and warm memories in troubling times. They speak to a society with a dynamic cultural value when properly embraced.
But when is it good time to break with tradition?
One school of thought is when the activity or celebration is no longer valid or if the new pathway is clearly an improvement over the past.
Aren’t you glad the World Wide Web and electronic technology has changed the way you communicate? Would you like to go back to buying newspapers every day to receive your news? How often would you casually communicate if instead of doing so by email, you had to mail a letter each time?
History was made recently in an industry where tradition ruled with an iron fist. The news media has been instrumental in shaping our cultural values and in times past the faces we have watched and listened to from the anchor position have typically been one male, one female, two males, one male and a female or a revolving team of high profile reporters.
There has been a break in tradition.[pullquoteleft] Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay.
PBS announced that Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff would take over the nightly newscast in September, 2013, putting an end to the rotating anchor format that has been in effect for several years. Ms. Ifill and Ms. Woodruff will also share the managing editor responsibilities for the program.
PBS’s nightly newscast began in 1975 and eventually became best known as The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour, with Jim Lehrer and Robert MacNeil co-anchoring the program until 1995 when MacNeil retired and Lehrer ran the show solo until 2011. Their company, MacNeil/Lehrer Productions, remains in charge of the hour-long newscast and they were both reportedly involved in the decision to pair Ifill and Woodruff behind the news desk.
In a press release Pbs.org shares that Paula Kerger, president and CEO of PBS, announced the veteran correspondents were also named managing editors of the weekly news program. Kerger made the announcement at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Los Angeles.
“This marks an exciting new chapter in the history of PBS NEWSHOUR,” said Linda Winslow, executive producer for PBS NEWSHOUR. “Gwen and Judy have been the heart and soul of NEWSHOUR for years, so it’s wonderful to formalize these new roles and give them an opportunity to provide even more input on the content and direction of the show.
“I am so pleased to be taking on this new role alongside my colleague and dear friend Judy Woodruff,” Ifill said. “We’ve successfully worked side-by-side for many years covering conventions, elections and countless other news events. We make a great team.”
“Gwen and I love working together and appreciate the trust viewers put in the PBS NEWSHOUR, both on TV and online,” said Woodruff. “Working with Linda and this entire terrific team, we’ll do our best to make sure the next chapter for the NEWSHOUR upholds its reputation for excellence, independence and integrity.”
As quoted in Buffalonews.com such a pairing is “a no-brainer,” given the duo’s experience and familiarity to “NewsHour” viewers, Woodruff said. “If you have two people on your team who really click, what difference does it really make” if they happen to be women?
Nevertheless, Woodruff, 66, acknowledges the symbolic import of the moment. Coming in with the first wave of female TV reporters and anchors in the early 1970s, she recalls looking for her first job and being brushed off by news directors with some variation of “We don’t believe a woman’s voice is authoritative.”
The New York Times contributes, Ms. Ifill, 57, a veteran of newspapers including The New York Times, was a Washington correspondent for NBC before becoming the moderator of PBS’s “Washington Week” and a senior correspondent for “NewsHour” in 1999. Ms. Woodruff, 66, was the chief Washington correspondent for “NewsHour” in the 1980s. After a dozen years at CNN and some outside work, she rejoined the program as a senior correspondent in 2007.
In 2012 Ms. Ifill and Ms. Woodruff were chosen to anchor PBS’s coverage of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. “You never know until you’re elbow to elbow how well it’s going to work,” Ms. Ifill said. “It worked really well for us. We sat next to each other and had a ball.”
Focus-group research into anchor combinations indicates that viewers look for “a balance of power” among anchor teams, said Craig Allen, an associate professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University. This balance, he notes, has been most easy to achieve with a male-female combination, mimicking the traditional mom-dad/boy-girl dynamic.
This announcement follows the recent announcement of PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND, which will feature a summary of the day’s national and international news, using renowned experts to offer analysis. Each weekend broadcast will contain original, in-depth field reporting on topics including education, healthcare, the economy, energy, science and technology, religion, finance and the arts.
PBS NEWSHOUR is seen by over five million weekly viewers and is also available online, via public radio in select markets and via podcast. The program is produced with WETA Washington, D.C., and in association WNET in New York.
The position of the female anchor has come a long way since Patricia “Pat” Harper became a fixture for nearly two decades on two New York City television stations. In 1975, she became the first woman to anchor a television news program in New York.
Wikipedia shares Ms. Harper, who grew up in New York, worked at TV stations in Chicago and Philadelphia before making history as the first female news anchor in New York when she joined WPIX in 1975.
She was initially paired at the anchor desk with her then husband, Joe Harper, who had anchored the station’s nightly newscast since 1973.
In 1985, Ms. Harper left WPIX for WNBC-TV, where she replaced John Hambrick as Chuck Scarborough’s co-anchor on the 6 P.M. edition of News 4 New York. In her years with channel 4, the station won five consecutive Emmy Awards for best local newscast. Harper herself won an Emmy for a special report in which she spent a week on the streets of New York as a homeless bag lady, as part of a look at the homeless problem that was then plaguing the city.
After Ms. Harper’s run on WNBC ended in April 1991, she retired from the news business and moved to Capileira, Spain. She died there three years later of a heart attack at age 59. She was survived by three children and several grandchildren.
Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”
Unlike most current evening network newscasts in the United States, each weeknight edition of the PBS NewsHour is one hour long. The program also runs longer segments than most other news outlets in the U.S. The PBS NewsHour is known for its in-depth coverage of the subjects involved, and avoids the use of sound bites, instead playing back extended portions of news conferences and holding interviews that last several minutes.
Pbs.org shares, “For 35 years, millions of Americans and citizens of the world have turned to MacNeil/Lehrer Productions for the solid, reliable reporting that has made the PBS NewsHour one of the most trusted news programs in television.”
Female Competition International, fciwomenswrestling.com views dignified, competitive women’s wrestling as a break from traditional thought where women may have been seen in a negative light if they are involved in activities that involve aggression, no matter how positive or beneficial.
There has been a break in tradition in the television newsroom and over time we are confident many will agree it is a clear improvement.
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Sources: www.slate.com, www.buffalonews.com, Wikipedia, www.sfgate.com, www.cleveland.com, www.nytimes.com, womensissues.about.com, www.pbs.org/newshour, photos thanks to Wikimedia Commons.