Hotties First, Skills Optional?

I’m fairly sure we’ve been through this discussion before, but the Globe and Mail’s William Houston has clacked out a piece about the conflict between the skills and attractiveness metrics for women in sports journalism. It’s somewhat Canuck-specific, but does go into Erin Andrews, Hazel Mae, and gets quotes from both Linda Cohn and Andrea Kremer.

Yes, we crack about sideline reporters being attractive all the time, but it’s obvious when someone, male or female, has been hired for looks and lack of skill — it shows up in their announcing, analysis, or interviews, and is plain for all to see.

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Speaking as someone who works in TV, the attractiveness metric is not going to change a whole lot. Every single person considered on-air “talent” for many news and sports organizations, particularly the women, has to be attractive in some way to convey warmth to the audience. Looks are one way to do it, and obviously we have plenty of examples of dudes on TV who wouldn’t pass that basic attractiveness test. The double standard just doesn’t exist in the same way, which is why it’s a double standard. Dudes can get away with appearing knowledgeable and/or being boisterous.

It’s kind of a sad truth, but if you’re going to get into a visual medium, these are the lines you have to walk very carefully. I wouldn’t advise that any woman at any level of journalism do this:

[Rogers SportsNet’s Jody] Vance, former Sportsnet colleague Hazel Mae and Kathryn Humphreys of CITY-TV in Toronto once posed for a magazine photo spread in which Humphreys wore leather, appearing as a sort of dominatrix; Mae showed some of her underwear; and Vance was portrayed reclining, glasses off and holding her hair.

I’ve not seen the spread. However, it’s in the best interest of any journalism professional to control their image to a hyper-sensitive extent to maintain credibility. It also helps to avoid pulling a Hazel Mae or Carolyn Hughes as far as dating the people you cover.

Secondary issue: are we as the consumers and target demographic for sports coverage responsible for the prevailing attitude of “hire a hottie and watch the ratings pour in”? Houston cites both leads to blog posts and comments attached to posts on Deadspin, and there’s definitely a line to cross in my mind — everyone’s going to opine about whether someone on TV is attractive or not, but I can understand why someone like Kremer would say much of the commentary is frightening in terms of its tone.

The moral of this if you’re in the business: ignore the bluster of drooling morons like us if you can, keep serious control over what you can, and veer on the side of caution, always.

Looks first, knowledge second [Globe and Mail]

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