The Newsreader as Star of the Show

Aug 25, 2006

Terrestrial broadcaster KBS’s flagship entertainment news program Entertainment Weekly devoted 20 minutes of a recent broadcast to newsreader No Hyun-jung’s teary goodbyes on her final broadcast and marriage talk. No got her job after winning an open call for applications, but several gossip shows devoted whole segments to her marriage to a scion of the Hyundai owner family and time off, just as if she were a big star herself.

TV news anchors have commonly relayed news reports and social information, but for some time now that definition has applied only in the broadest sense. As TV anchors see their turf invaded, they have had to turn themselves into celebrities by venturing into the celebrity news and amusement programs. And there is the rub. KBS anchor Kang Su-jung appeared not as the presenter but as a guest on the show "Happy Sunday," and the appearance drew criticism from those who did not like their newsreaders turned into events in themselves. Some said that outcry itself merely fueled the phenomenon, but others maintain it is valid to lament the passing of the scrupulously neutral and authoritative news anchor, and that the concept of celebrity is also being devalued in the process.

Anchor Kim Joo-hee of the SBS’ news show Morning Wide left to compete in the Miss Universe contest in July and a recent photo spread in a men’s magazine shows MBC’s Lee Jung-min, SBS’s Kim Ji-yeon, and KBS’s Kim Kyoung-ran all dolled up to emphasize their sex appeal. But it is No Hyun-jung who has been the most successful. "Without losing her images as a serious and restrained news anchor, she has somehow succesfully made viewers laugh on various comedy shows filled with all kinds of jokes," notes a senior presenter at a network.

Some like No tactfully avoid the kind of activity breaking down the barrier between presenter and entertainer who sometimes garners forced laughter. MBC’s chief anchor Seong Kyoung-hwan says, "Even if anchors have maintained their identity by always speaking properly, it has become completely normal for them to cross the broadcast boundaries and appear on the comedy shows." If this is true, who will be next to follow in the footsteps of No Hyun-jung? Chae Ji-young from the Korea Culture & Tourism Policy Institute says, "No hyun-jung has shown that even amongst celebrities she can maintain intellectual and cultured image and appeal to the general public."

But she adds, "No was just successful in a niche market, and has limitations as a new role model for anchors." If they can’t establish their identity as anchors on their own, they could "degrade themselves into entertainers who merely look sophisticated." That is already happening in Japan. An online bookstore advertises a Fuji TV anchors photo albums with a price tag of 1,890 yen including VAT. "The theme of this year is ‘princess,’" the blurb gushes. "Choosing from their own wardrobes, the anchors are dressed in party clothes. Attachment includes 130 photos showing them at rest in the company or intensely at work. Of course, all are in color."

Korea’s newsreaders, thankfully, have some way yet to go to reach that level.

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