Saturday, October 12, 2013

anchorman and news reader

I'm reading the Guardian Weekend magazine, as I often do on a Saturday afternoon, and within the first paragraph of Simon Hattenstone's interview with Piers Morgan, I'm so distracted that I need to blog. This is what happens when I read UK articles about things in America. So very often things are not quite right. And, of course, the lesson to take from this is that probably most news articles about other places are not quite right.

The problem for me was Hattenstone's question of how Morgan came to be "CNN's leading anchorman". Morgan isn't an (AmE) anchorman. An anchorman is the equivalent of a BrE news reader or news presenter. The person who is an 'anchor' for all the correspondents filing reports from other places, who sits at a desk and reads the news. (In the UK, though, a lot of them seem to stand these days. Has this also changed in the US? The problem with this is that they then have nothing to anchor them. And they have no where to hide the ream of photocopying paper they picked up on the way to the studio.)

It's not actually the case that anchor(man) isn't used in the UK. As the OED entry for anchor indicates (below), it's 'chiefly' AmE, but also found in the UK. (For instance, in the Independent's story about the ream-of-paper incident uses anchor.)


The OED entry uses a word one rarely hears in AmE: compère. In AmE, one is more likely to use emcee (or Master of Ceremonies). I find both a little odd in the news context; both words are more suited to (BrE) light entertainment.

But back to the Piers Morgan interview, the question is: does Hattenstone have a broader use of anchorman than I, as an AmE user of the term, have? Or has he just never watched the program(me) to know that Morgan is not a news reader? Morgan is, in AmE terms, a talk show host. As discussed a bit before here, the American understanding of talk shows is broader than the BrE notion of chat shows. American use talk shows for serious, newsy interviews and topics as well as for entertainment. 


In other news, I'm doing an Untranslatables October on Twitter again. If you have any suggestions of AmE or BrE words or expressions for which there's no real equivalent in the other dialect (and which I haven't covered in the previous Octobers), please let me know. I'll post a list of the 'untranslatables' after the end of the month.

34 comments:

n0aaa said...

I think you're right. Anchor(men) read the news and give the feed to correspondents then wrap it up and introduce the next program (ala Wolf Blitzer, Don Lemon, John King, etc.). Most of the folks on the various named news shows on CNN/Fox/MSNBC etc. I think are referred to nowadays as "hosts". (so the other folks are parasites?)

Anonymous said...

The anchors of the major news broadcasts are not just readers; they are usually also the editors. (I know that's how it works at the Big Three, local TV news is different.) This is seen today as a job for a (specific kind of) journalist, not just an authoritative voice artist.

Dru said...

Does the word 'emcee' really exist as a serious word, rather than a joke one?

David Crosbie said...

More up to date than the OED is Oxford Dictionaries Online. Their list of example sentences is interesting: a lot of instances of the sporting use (especially the final runner in a relay team); some examples of the US newsroom use; some which seem to be a figurative use 'key performer in a team'.

1 The anchorman on Coach McDonnell's team was South African, Alistair Cragg, who holds dual Irish citizenship and ran for Ireland in the World Cross-country Championships in Croatia last December.

2 America's 4x100m team clinched world championship gold after anchorman JJ Johnson pipped Britain's Dwain Chambers on the line.

3 Tomorrow England could play half as well and win and the outcome may depend on which team's anchorman, Nicky Butt or Gilberto Silva, drags his chain less.

4 Weber, the anchorman of this immortal team, was the essence of unmuscled execution.

5 As for complaining about aches and pains, ‘She doesn't do it more than anyone else,’ says Sam Norwood, anchorman on Talley's team.

6 In February of 2001, Benshoof glided to his first career Senior International medal as the anchorman in a bronze medal performance by Team USA at the 35th Luge World Championships.

7 I didn't even know what was going on, even after I finished my third game as the team's anchorman.

8 The buzz out of Washington is that she and the anchorman had been tattletaling on each other.

9 Superannuated anchorman Dan Rather plays the toast.

10 They talk as if the anchorman was eased out of his job merely for some error of fact such as any journalist is statistically certain to make every now and then.

11 The headline, ‘The Last Anchor,’ is a play on words: ‘anchor’ as in anchorman and also any object that secures firmly.

12 We cut back to the splitscreen view so we can also see the studio anchorman, who's obviously similarly at a loss by the outburst of profanity.

13 When Bruce is passed over for the news anchorman job he covets, he turns his gaze heavenward and curses God for his ill fortune.

14 His father's career as an anchorman and TV news reporter was clearly formative, but his own early career in sitcoms and soaps is likely more crucial.

15 While that works in a movie as unreal as Anchorman or Elf, it feels out of place in an alleged family comedy.

16 From the very beginning, the anchorman ripped into the famous bickerers and was unrelenting throughout.

17 In part that's because a blogger is the sole content provider for his or her blog, whereas a columnist - or even an anchorman - is only a cog in a larger media machine.

18 Because that wasn't the case in the relays, where the field would be widely spread by the time the anchorman hit the water, he had no backwash to contend with - and he could fly.

David Crosbie said...

1965 Guardian 20 Sept. 4/8 ‘Panorama’ will continue... Richard Dimbleby remains the anchor.

This won't mean much to American readers. To British readers it may be misleading — unless, like me, they are old enough to remember Panorama as it was under Richard Dimleby,

As it is now, Panorama was a journalistic show. However, it was a studio-based show. In a typical edition, Richard Dimbleby (father of David and Jonathan) sat at a desk in the studio and introduced a filmed report or reports on a particular topic in or related to the news. But these weren't up-to-the-minute news reports — rather they were features filmed in time to be manually edited a day or so before the programme went out.

The most famous Panorama report was surely this report on the spaghetti harvest. The voice is Dimbleby's own. I strongly suspect the programme started with a solemn introduction from Richard D sat (regional BrE) at his desk.

As far as I know, Dimbleby was never a news reader. His most famous serious assignment was as the principle commentator in the BBC television coverage of the Queen's coronation in 1953. He was magnificent.

The broadcaster who comes closest to Dimbleby's Panorama role nowadays is, I would say, Kate Adie on From Our Own Correspondent.

(Like Dimbleby, Adie is a former reporter. The joke was that you knew the situation had become a dangerous crisis when you saw Kate Adie show up.)

She is described as the presenter, not the anchor.

Nancy Friedman said...

In the US, a relay team (in swimming, track, etc.) always has an "anchor," never an "anchorman" (or -woman), no doubt because of potential confusion with the TV usage.

David Crosbie said...

In the UK, though, a lot of them seem to stand these days.

This is believed to be a fashion started by Kirsty Young, who actually went one further and rested herself. The introduction to an interview by John Walsh in the Independent dated January 2008 states:

... but for much of her career she was The Woman Who Sat On Her Desk. The moment, in 1997, that she first parked her chic, East Kilbride derrière on a studio table to read the Channel 5 News, a chorus of HM Bateman-style mutterings ran round the nation. Standards, people complained, were slipping. British newsreaders were supposed to keep their distance, sit behind their desks, and deliver their bulletins like bank managers discussing a loan. They did not get excited. They did not walk around or wave their hands while apprising the country of the latest threat to its existence. They certainly didn't perch in that forward, chatty, in-your-face manner newly adopted by Ms Young. The Channel 5 News studio's choice of kid's-nursery colours and its jumping disco music also drew protests that the news was becoming "trivialised," but the perching is what stuck in the collective mind. A decade later, when bulletins are routinely delivered by newscasters standing, relaxing on sofas, even hovering in packs around a table like strap-hangers on the Tube, memories of the Kirsty revolution remain.

Adrian Morgan said...

Re 'emcee' (inspired more by Dru's comment than by the post):

I personally favour getting rid of the term "Master of Ceremonies" and replacing it with the more accurate but less glorified "Microphone Coordinator" (which -- happily -- can still be abbreviated to "emcee").

"Microphone coordinator" sums up precisely what your typical emcee does: controls who gets to use the microphone when, and ensures that everyone has a fair turn.

Next time you where "you" = "whoever's reading this") write a blog post about the speeches at a wedding reception you attended, or something like that, why not quietly adopt the term?

David Crosbie said...

If I'd looked further at my link to the spaghetti harvest spoof, I'd have seen the long introduction, actually plagiarised from the Museum of Hoaxes site. This includes a full description of the 1957 Panorama programme that contained the April fool. There were four disparate and unrelated reports of various lengths with Dimbleby providing the introductions and comments.

This site — completed in its present revision no earlier than 2007 — uses the noun anchor for Dimbleby and the verb anchor for what he did. The 1965 OED quote from the Guardian also calls him an anchor, but he clearly not an anchorman as perceived by Lynne, n0aaa and Anonymous above. In fact he was exactly what Anonymous said an anchorman isn't when he wrote 'not just an authoritative voice artist'.

Although the Guardian used the word anchor, I think most Guardian readers at the time would have seen him as a studio presenter. In its non-technical sense, anchor is pretty transparent. The connection with news broadcasting seems to have come to us from America — making it familiar to some journalists in 1965.

I have a vague memory of hearing the specific, narrowly understood term anchorman for the first time much later than 1965. In my ignorance, I thought that Larry King — the broadcaster that Piers Morgan replaced — was an anchorman. Or was he an anchorman before his final role? It seems that Simon Hattenstone had the same idea.

David Crosbie said...

when he wrote 'not just an authoritative voice artist'

Sorry! Make that

when he or she wrote

Mindy said...

He is a Talk Show Host!

David Crosbie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Crosbie said...

Mindy

Why the exclamation mark?

I know he's a talk show host. Simon Hatterstpne knows he's a talk show host. What neither of us knew was the precise definition of anchorman as understood in the US television industry. That's what made it a suitable subject for Lynne's blog.

PW said...

I can't speak for Mindy, of course, but if I had to guess the reason for the exclamation mark,it would be because he's generally not particularly well liked here in the US. I've never heard/read anything from anyone who enjoys his show, but have seen headlines of lots of complaints about it. It may stem from cultural differences that don't translate well, but the consensus seems to be that he comes across as smug and superior, the sort of person who loves to tell everyone else how much more he knows than they do and all the things they should change. I don't watch him, so this is hearsay rather than observation.

David Crosbie said...

Lynne

Morgan is, in AmE terms, a talk show host. As discussed a bit before here, the American understanding of talk shows is broader than the BrE notion of chat shows. American use talk shows for serious, newsy interviews and topics as well as for entertainment.

Unfortunately that link doesn't help British readers much. However, the point made here about talk shows being (possibly) serious does explain the difference. There's discussion in this thread, but that tells us more about frequency.

The reason we use different terms for television roles is that our television is so different. I can't think of anything that corresponds to US talk shows as described in the blog. Nor can I think of regular use of anchormen as here described. I say 'regular' because the term would seem to cover what British TV presenters do in the studio when there's a major election programme with results and reports coming in with a need for coordination and summary by a single broadcaster.

For most news and current affairs programmes, there was a shift in British television way from studio journalists taking to experts in the studio — a practice dismissed as 'talking heads'. There's been a return to something more like the old practice with the rise of 24 hour news. Plus, the newsreaders now work in pairs in American fashion and they do a lot more interviewing. But the term anchor hasn't caught on. I think because we still see the presenters as mouthpieces set in motion by their editors receiving running orders from the director through their earphones.

Yes, we have lots of serious programmes with lots of talk held together by a figurehead broadcaster, usually with a background in journalism. We call him or her a presenter.

Piers Morgan is still identified here as a former tabloid editor with a new — and still somewhat surprising — role as an interviewer.

A British chat show has an interviewer also known as a host talking — for purposes of entertainment — to a number of guests.

We Brits may have confused the roles of US television host and anchor.

David Crosbie said...

Lynne

Morgan is, in AmE terms, a talk show host. As discussed a bit before here, the American understanding of talk shows is broader than the BrE notion of chat shows. American use talk shows for serious, newsy interviews and topics as well as for entertainment.

Unfortunately that link doesn't help British readers much. However, the point made here about talk shows being (possibly) serious does explain the difference. There's discussion in this thread, but that tells us more about frequency.

The reason we use different terms for television roles is that our television is so different. I can't think of anything that corresponds to US talk shows as described in the blog. Nor can I think of regular use of anchormen as here described. I say 'regular' because the term would seem to cover what British TV presenters do in the studio when there's a major election programme with results and reports coming in with a need for coordination and summary by a single broadcaster.

For most news and current affairs programmes, there was a shift in British television way from studio journalists taking to experts in the studio — a practice dismissed as 'talking heads'. There's been a return to something more like the old practice with the rise of 24 hour news. Plus, the newsreaders now work in pairs in American fashion and they do a lot more interviewing. But the term anchor hasn't caught on. I think because we still see the presenters as mouthpieces set in motion by their editors receiving running orders from the director through their earphones.

Yes, we have lots of serious programmes with lots of talk held together by a figurehead broadcaster, usually with a background in journalism. We call him or her a presenter.

Piers Morgan is still identified here as a former tabloid editor with a new — and still somewhat surprising — role as an interviewer.

A British chat show has an interviewer also known as a host talking — for purposes of entertainment — to a number of guests.

We Brits may have confused the roles of US television host and anchor.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Way back in the days before the main evening news on both BBC1 and ITV1 (there was only one ITV channel back then!) were at the same time, we sometimes watched the ITV news if our evening viewing worked out that way. They used to sign off by saying the "Newscaster" was, and then give the person's name.

Is "Newscaster" originally AmE, or was it something ITN made up?

David Crosbie said...

Annabel

The earliest quote in the OED is from 1930, describing an American broadcaster

Graham MacNamee, the news-caster of our American newspaper newsreel, takes the part of an unseen dramatist.

This quote from 1972 mixes the word with a term that must even then have sounded archaic: wireless set:

He, too, momentarily disbelieved the B.B.C. newscaster... The wireless set continued to broadcast the news item.

The OED reports that newscaster was also used to denote an illuminated display of news headlines etc.

Roger Owen Green said...

In Walter Cronkite's autobiography, he said believes he was the one dubbed (not by himself) as an anchorman re his role at both the Democratic and Republican National Conventions in 1952.

David Crosbie said...

Some Wikipedia contributors discuss many of the terms mentioned on this thread under the heading News presenter.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Thanks, David. I grew up calling it "The wireless", but by the time I left school I said "radio" like most people.

I think the BBC used to call them newsreaders, didn't it, and ITN said "newscaster"? These days, of course, they are all "presenters", which is such a catch-all term that it irritates me rather.

Anonymous said...

One local 5:00 news program (in Chicago) is shot in a studio with windows out to the sidewalk, so passersby can clearly see that the anchormen are wearing coats and ties above their desk, and jeans and sneakers below. They'd probably rather not stand up.

David Crosbie said...

Anonymous

When the BBC started television broadcasts in the late 1930's, announcers were required to wear evening dress. The autocratic Director General, Lord Reith, insisted that the BBC must dress for dinner when it entered people's homes.

(Actually, there were so few television sets — all of them in the London area — than the rich trendy viewers did, many of them, lead that formal upper-middle class lifestyle. One of my uncles had a wireless+television set, not because he was rich and posh but because he was in the cinema business. It had a tiny eight inch screen, and was still working in 1953. I watched the Coronation on it)

Male announcers would wear a BrE dinner jacket / AmE tuxedo — but only the jacket, not the dress trousers.

Annabel

Yes I too grew up with the phrase on the wireless and the object a wireless set. The former is still occasionally used in a facetious way of speaking. And, allegedly, by some even older than me who are set in their ways. But I haven't said or heard wireless set for a very, very long time.

Kate Bunting said...

I've always thought it odd that the BBC's listings journal has always been "Radio Times" even though, until the early '60s, we all talked about "the wireless".

David Crosbie said...

Kate

I believe radio was the normal choice before a noun when referring to broadcast output. There was a comic called Radio Fun, not Wireless Fun, strangely full of adventures of people who no longer broadcasted. The auditorium inside Broadcasting House was (and still is) called The Radio Theatre, not The Wireless Theatre. I think I remember we spoke of radio plays, radio talks, radio comedians etc, not wireless plays, wireless talks, wireless comedians — although we might say plays / talks / comedians on the wireless.

This preference did not extend to the physical apparatus of broadcasting. We would, when I was very young, speak of wireless sets, wireless masts, wireless repairs, wireless operators etc — although radio was also a possibility.

Radio was also the choice for naming a station — e.g. Radio Luxembourg, Radio Eirann etc. I don't think there was ever a name on the lines of Wireless Ruritania.

enitharmon said...

"Wireless" use to comic effect in this skit from the satirical show (was AmE) Not the Nine o'Clock News thirty-something years ago. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZbQ3lTObas

On the road
You must be brave and tireless
On the road
You can listen to the wireless

AdminNet said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

In light of the 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination and all the coverage of the period, have been trying to explain exactly this difference to my Brit friends who keep calling Walter Cronkite (Walter Cronkite!) a newsreader. No, no, no!

David Crosbie said...

Anonymous

have been trying to explain exactly this difference to my Brit friends who keep calling Walter Cronkite (Walter Cronkite!) a newsreader. No, no, no!

Well, No, no, no! is hardly an explanation. In what way is being an anchorman incompatible with being a newsreader?

David Crosbie said...

I've been doing a thought experiment...

Supposing that some very important politician were assassinated while a British news magazine programme were on air. And suppose the programme to be one with a presenter (or two) in a role analogous to a US TV anchor. I reckon things would happen in this sequence:

1. A text flash would announce that X is reported to have been assassinated.

2. The anchor-type presenter would inform us of the reports.

3. The news reader would announce it.

For us Brits, it's [3] that counts. Only a news reader has the authority to turn hearsay into reality.

We can't imaging how Walter Cronkite could have been a lesser figure than a news reader, and yet be given the task of announcing such a historic event.

Anonymous said...

David Crosbie,
An anchor is an experienced journalist who oversees the collection, writing, and editing of the news by a team, which he then presents. He or she doesn't simply read copy, he or she decides what will be on the news. I could be a news reader, although not a very good one. I could never be an anchor.
Walter Cronkite was the person who made the call that the news flash was credible, and decided when and how to put it on the air. The fact that he also presented it doesn't make him a reader, who is simply reading copy someone else has written. That comes across as demeaning and insulting, when referring to our much-revered Cronkite. I believe his official title was managing editor.
The present-day anchors such as Brian Williams and Gwen Ifill also fill these much larger roles than simply being readers. Any fool can read the news. Cronkite WAS the authority. I think what you are calling an anchor is what we would call a host, who may relay breaking news, while in the course of hosting a talk show, but essentially repeats what he's told by others, which I believe is the point of the post. So, for us in the US, in order of importance, experience, and authority, from highest to least:
1. Anchor
2. Host
3. News reader
Hope this helps!

Anonymous said...

David,
In short, Cronkite wasn't given the task of announcing it by anyone; he was the person in charge who made the decision to announce it. That is the role of the anchor.

lynneguist said...

Except, Anonymous, that 'newsreader' isn't a title that's used in the US. (There are only 29 examples in the Corpus of Contemporary American English, most of which are by or referring to English people. Compare 689 for 'news anchor' and 404 for 'anchorman'.) So it doesn't make a lot of sense to put it on a totem pole of AmE job titles.

The thing about Cronkite, for me, is that he was Cronkite. No one else had the same authority and humanity that he did at that time, or maybe even since. I feel lucky to have grown up with him on my television...

David Crosbie said...

Anonymous

You can't explain to us Brits what Cronkite was without using the notion of newsreader. That's what we understand.

Reading the news may have been only part of his role, but it's the part we recognise and respect.

Explaining his role through the term anchor makes him sound comparatively trivial. That's why Simon Hattenstone unthinkingly used the world to describe the trivial role performed by Piers Morgan.

You say that 'any fool can read the news'. Well yes, but that doesn't make him or her a newsreader.