Monday, July 16, 2012

Age of Discrimination-- or We'll All Look Old on Facebook One Day

I used to love watching Ann Curry on the Today Show on the rare occasions I had to watch a little morning, mid-week TV. Smart, witty, self-deprecating, she has an unspoiled quality even after years in front of a camera. I grew to love her sincerity.

I even loved her perceived flaws-- she occasionally stutters, and since I do, too, I found that deviation from perfection endearing. She sometimes got emotional, but reporting on some of the horrendous stories that make up the news, her wet eyes and cracking voice seemed to me to show heart, not weakness. Ann is the opposite of a plastic, highlighted blonde, interchangeable news anchor.

I’m allowed to say that, because I’m blonde, by the way.

Now that Ann has been busted back to the infantry, or whatever you call her dismissal from the Today Show anchor position, I look at the younger women on the show with sadness and a bit of dread. Savannah Guthrie, Ann’s perky replacement, is 40 years old (she looks 30 to me!), to Ann’s 55. Savannah is smart, a lawyer, and looks great in the de rigueur sheath dress. Natalie Morales, 40, is the news reader, wearing her own sleek sheath. Ann can rock a sheath, too, no doubt. Looking great in a sheath is, after all, imperative—buckets of brains and charm are no substitute.

I have nothing against Savannah and Natalie, but they do seem a tad giddy that they are the heirs to Ann’s years of hard work.   

I don’t want to believe that Ann was fired because of her age. But I am beyond certain that this was the case. Even though Ann is a beautiful woman, she is in mid-life, in an industry where mid-life women are few and far between. Of the very few mid-life female news anchors, the vast majority conform to America’s skewed ideas of beauty. Most look like they spend countless hours in the gym, and eat only arugula. Gray hair is practically unheard of for on-camera female reporters.

Matt Lauer, at 54, is allowed to age. He is balding, and his hair is naturally salt and pepper gray. He does stay in shape, but that may be more to keep up with his wife, a former model, than to retain his job. Al Roker also is permitted to show his age, 57, has had very public battles with his weight, but his position seems secure.

Most of us will never be in contention for a job on the Today Show. So we can relax about age or other hiring biases, right? Not exactly.

Consider the influence social media is beginning to have on the way we, the masses, get our next gigs.
The Brave New World of social media is about to bite us where it hurts.

Apparently, paper resumes are on the way out. Employers will soon use social media to peruse prospective employees. While I use and abuse social media daily, I was appalled to realize that an employer would see what I look like before reading my <cough> outstanding resume credentials.

Anyone looking at my photo will see not only am I middle-aged, but my BMI is on the high side. They’ll see my race, my hairstyle, my lack of fashion sense, or that I remind them of their mother-in-law, and can then discriminate against me for any or all of those reasons.

My friend Melissa argued, well, discrimination can happen at any point in the hiring process—that even if an employer calls me in not knowing my age, once I’m interviewed the hiring manager can at that point discriminate against me. Melissa has a valid point, but my meager hope was at least some employers may show a measure of caution at repeatedly discriminating against prospective employees who’ve made it to the interview process-- if only for fear of a lawsuit. That was my tiny shred of optimism to cling to, and it admittedly isn’t much. Now that employers can plainly see that I’ve had one Krispy Kreme too many, what is left?

Perhaps you, like me, have friends over 45 who are job hunting, and hunting. The employment search once the chill winds of mid-life begin to blow can seem like pushing a boulder over Pike’s Peak in winter. If I were to lose my job, I shudder to think how hard finding another in my field would be.

Ann Curry still has a job. They left her with a few crumbs. She will be a roving reporter on “special assignments.” By chance, I saw her last day on the job. Why is Ann crying, I wondered, listening to her say goodbye. She apologized to her fans for not being able to “go the distance.” Don’t apologize, Ann. Some events are worth crying about. I would have cried too. 


  1. Well, I suspect the way TV works is a numbers game. Or actually it is a $$$’s game. So for advertising dollars, the desired demographics apparently are the 18-49 age group. That seems so strange to me because when I watch TV it seems as though every other commercial seems to be some kind of pharmaceutical product, which I am sure the 18-49er’s are not taking. I have to admit I have not taken particular notice of what they are advertising during the Today show’s commercial breaks. Perhaps that will really tell the story of why Ann Curry is now on “special assignments. BTW, Ann walked away with a multi million dollar deal. And PS the numbers are not any better after a week with Savannah Guthrie.

  2. Absolutely a $$$ game and yet with all the polls and Neilson's available they still don't know what people want much of the time. Yes, I'm so glad Ann Curry can take a few million to the bank. Thanks for reading me blowing off some steam!

  3. Ann Curry is one of my journalism sheroes. I didn't know Ann had become an on-the-couch anchor, but I was saddened to hear about her leaving. I do think of her as more of a hard news reporter and interviewer, though. I can't wait to see which stories she'll cover next!

    I also didn't realize she was 55. She looks fabulous! Matt Lauer, not so much anymore...

    I think my husband said Katie Couric's replacement wasn't doing so well in the CBS evening anchor position? (My work schedule has me lost on TV news, so I'm not 100% sure.) I'd love to see Ann become a nightly news anchor. I think she'd be excellent at that as well. Personally I think she could do better than the Today Show--it's all husband murderer stories and Al joking about drinking in the morning anyway.

    Another note on news anchors and looks: My husband watches English-language France 24 and Russian news programming sometimes, and it amazes me that anchors in other countries look more like "regular people." I'm not sure if I've seen a lot of older women on those shows, but I suspect it would be more likely than on the US shows.

    1. Hi Danielle-- So true what you're saying. The Today Show is far from hard news nowadays, and maybe this change will bring even bigger and better things for Ann.
      Isn't it interesting that in other countries some anchors are allowed to be regular looking? When I think back to ancient days-- the 1970s-- the men on the news in those days were often far from "good looking" but we didn't seem to need or expect model-perfect men (too few women were on news back then) to deliver the news of the day.
      I was getting a haircut today and there was a magazine story (Ladies Home Journal?) on Ann with a nice spread of photos. The story had been written before the Today show dumped her. Made me mad all over again. She's a strong person, though, and you have restored my faith that she'll prevail!