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Jane Ahlin, Published October 22 2011

Ahlin: Male anchors age gracefully; female anchors out the door

Robin Huebner’s unceremonious exit from KVLY certainly has the Fargo-Moorhead community abuzz. Although we aren’t privy to all the details, the shape of the story fits the well-worn outline of a tiresome tale: Female anchor reaches middle age and is out the door.

Nobody at KVLY complained that Huebner was hard to work with or that her performance as an anchor had slipped. Quite the opposite, colleagues describe her as professional and pleasant. Nobody even said that the 10 p.m. news ratings for Channels 4 and 11 had been dropping. Of course, ratings would be a hard thing to claim, anyway, because Huebner’s co-anchor for the 10 p.m. news, Mike Morken, remains in his position. (Did I mention he’s 52?) That the replacement female co-anchor is 26 also fits the old, old story.

Subtracting 26 from 53 brought to mind a funny thought I had some years back concerning another longtime anchor turned co-anchor and one of my personal heroes, Marv Bossart. Marv started with WDAY television news in 1958 and in many ways was this region’s “Walter Cronkite.” Viewers liked him and liked getting their news from him, in large part because he was utterly dependable. The sun came up, the sun went down, and Marv did the news. He was sole anchor until the mid-1970s when he was joined by the first of many female co-anchors, Claudia Danovic.

Pause here to imagine that the WDAY co-anchor chairs have been occupied by members of one family. In fact, let’s say that Marv and Claudia were siblings from a big farm family. In this scenario, Marv might have been third from the oldest and a high school student when Claudia – the baby of the family – was born, their age spread not unlike that between Morken and Goetz.

After Claudia came co-anchor Maureen Zimmerman. Looked at as a family member, Maureen could have been a niece, perhaps the daughter of Marv’s oldest sister. After Maureen came Stacie Schaible. In our fanciful imagining, Stacie probably was the right age to be Marv’s daughter. Following Stacie, Najla Amundson was co-anchor and could have been a younger daughter replacing the older daughter.

However, when Kerstin Kealy took the chair as the last of Marv’s co-anchors, she was young enough to be his granddaughter.

No doubt Marv would attest to the professionalism of all his co-anchors, as they would to his. I’m guessing Morken would do the same in speaking of Huebner and Goetz, too. However, the dichotomy of ages between the genders in news anchoring is significant – appalling, really – in an era when we pretend to have accomplished gender equality.

That’s not to say that every female co-anchor was forced out. Most were not. And yet, it is impossible to look at the durability of male news anchors and the turnaround of female anchors and not think something is askew. We ought to wonder why it is that changes in women’s lives as they age are not compatible with careers as news anchors even as changes for men are.

That brings us to SheSays. Perhaps the flap over the new Forum section would have flared up and settled down without much to-do had Huebner’s unpleasant exit not coincided with the first weeks of the new section. As it is, Huebner’s departure from KVLY provided context to that doubtful sense many readers have about the return of a designated women’s section to the newspaper. The good intention of adding zip and sparkle to regular features with the addition of new and younger female voices – at least in this moment – is overshadowed by how suddenly women of substance and experience can be marginalized for dubious reasons.

After more than 20 years in the anchor chair, Huebner was something of a “Marv” for our community; we trusted her. However, in the words of a friend, “check out the management and executive rosters of companies around town if you think middle-aged women getting pushed out only happens in TV news.”

Ahlin writes a Sunday column for The Forum.