Ron Burgundy could learn a thing or two from the real anchors!
'I'm Ron Burgundy?" Will Ferrell's confused sign-off provides the movie Anchorman with a memorable line. It is delivered in the pitched tones of a man who is not so sure about who, or where, he is. While the hapless news anchor reads whatever appears on the autocue, stick by that rule in real life and you could find yourself in trouble.
I learnt my lesson early on, when I had a momentary identity crisis behind a live mic. It happened during a lunchtime radio news bulletin at the Dublin station where I worked. The headlines rolled, but then I made a fatal error. I introduced myself with the wrong name – that of my co-anchor. To make it worse it was my boss, and she was sitting beside me. Quickly I corrected myself, while she did a name-check for good measure. Through the sound-proofed double doors I swear I could hear the snorts of laughter.
That mortifying moment aside, the reality of life behind the lens could not be further from Ron Burgundy's world. The movie is essentially a vehicle for Will Ferrell's egotistical yet insecure anchorman character, backed up by a band of merry men. It is reassuring to know the industry in which we work has no shortage of strong female anchors and reporters. Banish the myth of the newsreader who strides down the corridor ready to relay the big stories without so much as glancing at a script.
In the modern newsroom, those who read also write and produce content across online and on-air news updates. Presenters must engage with topics with the viewer in mind. It's a far cry from the Anchorman crew whose expanding egos grow at an opposing rate to their word count.
You could, of course, question the credibility of your job when it becomes the inspiration behind one of the most successful movie spoofs of all time. It rips into the profession, leaving no cliché unused. This is the team that brings you talent strops, news wars and Panda Watch. A wise man (or was it a jaded news editor) once said never underestimate the 'dog on skates' story. Recently we had a pig on wheels. There is room to mix the light with the heavy, as long as you ensure you get the order right.
I can't speak for Ron Burgundy's polyester suits, but admittedly big hair dos have a place on the news set. Wearing rollers in your hair during the workday can attract strange looks, especially among late-night guests, who are probably wondering if Vincent Browne embarks on similar grooming rituals.
Autocue disasters are sadly not a figment of Hollywood imagination either. The humble teleprompter, helping news anchors stay cool, calm and collected since 1962, can be your best friend or the type who will stand you up at the last minute. Most will have suffered that awful moment mid-read, when the screen in front of the camera goes awry, leaving viewers quite literally hanging on mid-sentence.
Silence ensues, and then a fumble through your scripts where you hope to find those little words that will bring you back from hell. A second can feel like a minute, a minute can feel like a P45. In rare moments of technical failure, hard copy is your saviour.
The real perils of the job reveal themselves when news leaves the cosy confines of the studio. A former colleague, Jerome Hughes, became an unintentional viral video star when a man in a hoodie approached him during a live report, and threatened him with a gun gesture.
Footage of the hairy moment has to date received some 2.6 million hits on YouTube. It attests to the popularity that greets the unplanned on-air mishap, also known as the blooper. It could be the young child dressed in a Santa suit taking a tumble at Dublin Airport, or the man who had the misfortune to slip on ice in the glare of a news camera.
There is a lot to be said for the faux-pas. Like any mistake, it reveals a human side in a profession where being straight-laced is the default position.
The anchor's role is to read the news and remain unbiased, rightly setting views aside for the sake of the credibility of the programme. By its nature, it leaves little or no room for personality. We can tweet, but not express opinions.
Occasionally the rule book is thrown out, to wonderful effect. BBC's Newsnight anchor, Kirsty Wark, broke a major taboo when she ended a show last month, dancing to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller'.
She was assisted in her Halloween homage by a full team of choreographed zombies. On MTV, it would have been standard; on one of the Beeb's flagship news programmes, it was inspired.
The Washington DC Newseum, a museum devoted to very serious journalism, has honoured Will Ferrell's comedy with its own exhibit. Visitors can sift through the 1970s power wardrobe, and even view Ron Burgundy's famed jazz flute. In real life, what goes on behind the scenes is not as outrageous as Hollywood might have you believe. The daily drama of live news is even more compelling.
Claire Brock is a producer and anchor at TV3.