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OPINION - The news from Ron Burgundy

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU)  She’s young and cute, and I don’t know if she’s a good news reporter or not. Amber Schaltz works at WXMB-TV in Bismarck, North Dakota. And on Saturday night she was the straight-man to Will Ferrell’s punch line.

As you may have heard, Ferrell’s movie character Ron Burgundy appeared as the anchorman on a real live newscast. Schaltz was the poor sap who was supposed to anchor the newscast. She got to co-anchor the newscast opposite Ferrell.

By all outward appearances, she doesn’t seem to mind. On her Facebook page, she thinks it’s funny. It’s certainly more publicity than she’d ever get doing weekend newscasts in the Dakotas.

So what’s my problem here?

Let’s start with Schaltz herself. She doesn’t seem to realize why she was picked. Or, more pointedly, why they didn’t they try this stunt on a weeknight with the TV station’s star anchor. Well, because that person, whoever they are, needs to have credibility and can’t be part of a publicity stunt for a movie. So what does that say about the staff member who was chosen?

And at a time when broadcast news credibility couldn’t be lower, here we are doing comedy during the news. What if real news happened that night? Oh, there wasn’t any real news? Well what does that say about the state of small-market TV newscasts? If it’s all just about PR and comedy, why not lift the Weekend Update segment from Saturday Night Live and use it as a real newscast? They actually present real news stories, and then crack jokes about the news. Never mind that sometimes the cast members burst into songs or dive off into comedy sketches. It would certainly liven up those slow news nights in Bismarck.

I’m actually surprised that more broadcast news professionals don’t have a problem with this. I personally know several newswomen who’d resign on the spot if they were told that they were co-anchoring with Ron Burgundy. I know many general managers who’d refuse to let their newsroom be turned into a joke. If it’s such a good idea for the CBS affiliate, why not let Ron fill in for Scott Pelley on the CBS Evening News? Trust me… I’ve seen their ratings; they’d go up.

I have the privilege of being part of a radio morning show where we tell jokes and have lots of fun. But I also have the privilege of doing real, serious newscasts. And at the top and bottom of the hour, I’m a reporter. Fun and games gets set aside. I suppose that’s my biggest problem with the WXMB newscast. The entire newscast tries to have a foot in both words… part gag… part news. The ultimate blurred line.

If this is the way things are going to be, I volunteer to help promote the next Hunger Games movie. Can Jennifer Lawrence be my co-anchor?

Chris Conley
12/3/13