Jewish World Review May 12, 2000 / 7 Iyar, 5760
Why news executives
are hoping this
'woman' is a hit
THE PEOPLE who have been trying to figure out the
meaning of Ananova's debut seem to be missing the
Ananova is a newscaster -- she's very attractive.
Except she's not human.
Devised by executives at Britain's Press
Association news agency, Ananova made her initial
appearance last week on the Internet. That's where
she lives and works -- people around the world
click on to her Web site, and she delivers the news
She's like a wire service -- but she has human
qualities. One of the news executives responsible
for her said: "She's a lot more than a talking head
that reads the news. She's a computer with a face
in front of it, not a face with nothing much behind
As you might expect, there was considerable
controversy about the advisability of letting a
non-human anchorperson deliver a serious
Ananova's information is fed into her with digital
codes on each story, so that she can show the
proper emotions. If the story is lighthearted, she
will smile and perhaps chuckle; if it is about warfare
or violence, she will appear grim and concerned.
Focus groups determined what her voice should
sound like; the Press Association's division in
charge of creating Ananova even came up with a
fictional description of the type of woman she is.
She is supposed to be 28 years old, 5 feet 8 inches
tall, "quietly intelligent," a woman who enjoys
sports statistics, "The Simpsons," Mozart and the
British rock band Oasis. Everything from her
haircut to her eyes has been designed to make
viewers trust her; news executives decided that in
talking to viewers, she should "look up slightly, and
directly into the camera" (although, of course, there
is no camera; Ananova exists only on a screen).
Her designers made her eyebrows less full and her
lips more full -- it was decided that viewers would
like that better.
So the criticism of Ananova has centered on the
idea that this is all so contrived -- that a respected
news organization has descended into this silliness,
and that the whole thing is beneath the honored
concept of serious journalism.
Which is where the critics, although
well-intentioned, may be missing the point.
Ananova is, in fact, a news executive's dream
She will never ask for a raise. She will never
become so full of her own popularity that she
begins to demand to run the newscast. She will
require no vacations and no days off; she will be
asked to work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and
will not complain.
She won't grow old, unless her bosses decide that
it is time to make her a little older. She won't argue
with news selection, or question her bosses'
priorities, or insist on rewriting the lead story.
Regardless of how successful she may become, she
will not be able to leverage her standing with her
fans into a contract advantage for herself, or
threaten to switch networks.
The open secret in the news business is the
frustration some executives feel about the power
that is gained by men and women who excel on
camera. It has nothing to do with physical beauty --
it has to do with news executives fearing that their
own control will slip away. In many cases, they
believe that they find a journalist, give that journalist
the chance for widespread exposure on television
-- and soon enough the balance has shifted, and the
journalist is demanding big money and a big say in
how the whole operation is run. News executives
don't often talk about this out loud -- but the bane
of their existence is that they may be the bosses on
paper, but the people they put in front of the
cameras develop the real influence with the public.
And now here comes Ananova. She is the potential
answer to every network news division president's
innermost wish, to every local news director's
dilemma: an anchor who will do exactly what he or
she is told, who will never bring an agent in to
negotiate a raise no matter how high the ratings
climb, who can develop a huge following, yet never
challenge the bosses' decisions.
You don't think news executives around the world
are silently cheering for Ananova to succeed? If she
does, you'll see them bringing in their own
Ananovas -- male and female -- in every broadcast
newsroom on the planet.
(Newspaper editors would love to do the same
thing, but being attractive or personable is not a job
requirement for those of us who work for them.
We're just sort of here, slouching around; our
editors aren't worried we will ever take over. Our
bosses know that creating cyber-versions of us
would be more trouble than it would be
JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
05/11/00: Ted Koppel, Hitler, Mellencamp . . . and words of love
05/10/00: Maybe it's time for the right people to hear our cheers
05/09/00: The lesson that they always learn late
05/05/00: 'Excuse me, but there seems to be something in my water'
05/05/00: When your first dream turns out to be your best dream
05/04/00: Even baseball couldn't make light of this superstition
05/03/00: The ringmaster who looks back from your mirror
05/02/00: There they go, just a-yappin' down the street . . .
05/01/00: You must remember this (Unless you don't)
04/24/00: Now that casino ads are allowed to tell the truth . . .
04/13/00: The man in the seat across the airplane aisle
04/11/00: A star is born, but do you know where it's @?
04/06/00: Through the eyes of Norman Rockwell
03/21/00: 10 good reasons to avoid making this list
03/21/00: 'I tell myself that they've gone on vacation'
03/21/00: Monday Night Football memories
03/02/00: This report card deserves an 'A' in every subject
02/29/00: What really happened on New Year's eve
02/23/00: Of paste pots, Denver sandwiches and finding Dr. Sam
02/17/00: What would you like to stay exactly the same?
02/04/00: Politics: When did the stagehands step onto the stage?
02/01/00: An awesome idea to make you sound better
01/26/00: Y3K already? We haven't yet recovered from Y2K
01/21/00: Watching the pot that always boils
01/19/00:The story behind the men on the museum steps
01/13/00: Here's to the students who never hear a cheer
01/11/00: The oh-so-sweet sound of modems in the morning
01/04/00: The person in your mirror just got wiser
12/31/99: A lesson -- and a memory -- to last a millennium
12/29/99: Racing the clock, even when it's running backwards
12/13/99: The right to bear coffee
12/08/99: From teen idol to ink-stained wretch: Can you Dig it?
12/02/99: Human 'search engines'
11/30/99: Here's looking at you -- now hand over the cash
11/23/99: Who'll say 'I'm sorry' to the other Decatur students?
11/18/99: "From bad things, good can come"
11/16/99: The man who didn't know the meaning of 'whatever'
11/12/99: Is this progress? We have made the weekend obsolete
11/09/99: Today he would probably be called Kyle Kramden
11/04/99: And you thought the IRS was heartless
11/02/99: When it's free, what will the real price be?
10/29/99: The tissue-thin decisions that define who we are
10/26/99: One way to cut road rage down to size
10/22/99: Asking all the right questions takes a special pitch
10/18/99: The signs are talking to you; Are you listening?
10/12/99: Even Capone would be disgusted
10/08/99: Don't ever look your neighborhood bear in the eye
10/06/99: Land of the free and marketplace of the brave
10/04/99: German warplanes in
09/30/99: While you fret, something is sneaking up on you
09/28/99: In these busy times, why not bring back a certain buzz?
09/24/99: The storms whose paths no one can track
09/21/99: Who's minding the store? Oh . . . never mind
09/17/99:Here's another place where you can't smoke
09/14/99: As certainly as `lovely Rita' follows `when I'm 64' . . .
09/09/99: Why is patience no longer a virtue?
09/07/99: Once upon a time, in an airport close to you . . .
09/03/99: The answers? They are right in front of us
09/01/99: Up the creek with a paddle--and cussing up a storm
08/30/99: $1 Million Question: How'd we get to be so stup-d?
08/27/99: Fun and games at Camp Umbilical Cord
08/25/99: How life has been changed by the woodpecker effect
08/23/99: If you don't like this story, blame the robot who wrote it
08/20/99: A four-letter word that has helped both Bob and Rhonda
08/18/99: They have picked the wrong country
08/16/99: From paperboy to stalker--how the news has changed
08/12/99: Why wasn't anyone watching his brothers?
08/10/99: Come to think of it, stars seldom are the retiring type
08/05/99: The national gaper's block is always jammed
07/29/99: 'Can you imagine the gift you gave me?'
07/27/99: A view to a kill -- but is this really necessary?
07/23/99: Some cream and sugar with your turbulence?
07/21/99: When your name is JFK jr., how do you choose to use it?
07/19/99: The real world is declared not real enough
07/15/99: The real victims of cruel and unusual punishment
07/13/99: A 21st Century idea for schools: log off and learn
07/09/99: Are life's sweetest mysteries still around the bend?
07/07/99: Of great minds, cream cheese and Freddy Cannon
07/02/99: The perfect spokesman for the American way
06/30/99: 'He's 9 years old . . . he trusts people'
06/28/99: A $581 million jackpot in the courthouse casino
06/25/99: A nighttime walk to a House that feels like a cage
06/23/99: At least give men credit for being more morose
06/18/99: On Father's Day, a few words about mothers
06/16/99: If work is a dance, how's
your partner doing?
06/14/99: Should a dictionary ever tell you to keep quiet?
06/10/99: A story of Sex, the SuperBowl and your wife
06/07/99: Take a guess where "California Sun" is from
06/03/99: Of summer days, summer nights and pebbles in a jar
06/01/99: Putting your money where their mouths are
05/27/99: Pressed between wooden covers, the summer of her life
05/25/99:The lingering song of a certain summer
05/24/99:We could all use a return to the Buddy system
05/20/99: Now, this is enough to make James Bond double-0 depressed
05/17/99: It's midnight -- do you know where your parents are?
05/13/99: And now even saying "thank you" creates a problem
05/11/99: The answer was standing at the front door
©1999, Tribune Media Services