In the movie Anchorman Christina Applegate played the only competent and professional person in a newsroom of deranged, egotistical men. Photo: Leigh Henningham
I did my journalism cadetship ten years ago, but sometimes I wonder if I have yet qualified as a ‘‘serious’’ journalist. Thankfully, a column written for The Age by retired journalist Geoffrey Barker has cleared it up for me. Barker’s piece, which rails against the superficiality and ‘‘empty chatter’’ of the ‘‘post-pubescent babes’’ who litter commercial television journalism, makes a clear distinction between serious and non-serious lady-journos.
The latter have breasts which are ‘‘pert and perky’’ and teeth of ‘‘arctic white’’. They have degrees from ‘‘undistinguished’’ universities and they are cheap to employ. The others (we’ll call them the clever hags) work for the ABC and SBS.
Every woman knows the best way to test the sag of her bosom is to place a pencil under it. If it clatters to the floor, you are perky of breast, and a bad journo. If it doesn’t, well, you may not be as pert as you once were, but you can comfort yourself with the thought that you are more likely to win a Walkley award.
Barker’s piece, which has this morning gone viral in a ‘‘Oh dear God, really?’’ kinda way, purports to be a criticism of the vacuity of television news journalism. He says these blonded girlies with their perma-tans and their boobs (did I mention the boobs? So perky...) do not relay proper factual accounts of news events. They have no idea how to gather information and when they attempt to convey it, they are ‘‘barely coherent’’. They are narcissists whose primary interest is in celebrity, not in the noble pursuit of public interest journalism. You can’t expect ‘‘the babes’’ to speak truth to power or to hold politicians to account. They’re too busy pouting at the camera and adjusting their bra straps.
If one is being charitable, one imagines Barker was trying to make the point that some television news is sensationalised and superficial. This may well be true, and maybe there is an argument there, but it is utterly drowned in the sexist sea of Barker’s babes-versus-boilers language, in which he equates attractiveness with stupidity and a lack of intellectual seriousness. Which makes him sound more like a Talibani than a former Fairfax journalist who, one presumes, occasionally had to work with women.
There probably is an interesting debate to be had about the pressures on women in television to maintain a certain appearance, and the fact that there seem to be more older male faces on our screens than there are older female faces. Not having worked in a television newsroom (Perhaps I am not pretty enough? I’ll send Geoff a headshot and he can let me know.), I am not best placed to comment on that.
That debate is probably best led by female television journalists. I know plenty of them well equipped to do so - they’re smart, ambitious and passionate about their jobs. All journalists have to start somewhere. I spent hours writing entertainment listings and weather stories, and I’m glad I didn’t have to maintain a perfect blow-dry whilst doing it.
The young women on television who cover floods and fires, who do live crosses outside court-rooms and chase crooks down streets may well be attractive. That’s not what will stop them from growing into excellent senior journalists. It’s the views of newsroom dinosaurs like Barker that will do that.