The predictable mourning of departed anchors (or why newsreaders are like Batman)

As a rule, humans don’t like change. We see this in children who turn up their noses to new foods, in the groan that accompanies a road layout change and in the stubborn refusal of work colleagues to move to a new desk (or building).        

Social psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson explains in a Huffington Post piece that our reluctance to accept change is derived from giving up something old (or familiar) for something new.

We are psychologically wired to have a higher estimation of things that have been around for a longer time.

This psychological quirk is at play in a study Halvorson describes, which found that people were more likely to approve of a piece of chocolate if they were told that it had first been produced in a region 73 years ago rather than three years ago. This same rule applied when exactly the same painting was described in one instance as being ancient and in another as being relatively new (hence the use of “since *insert year here*” on logos around the world). 

The recent flurry of articles on the departure of Hilary Barry from MediaWorks, and the corresponding social mourning, again provided a reminder of how important familiarity is to us.

Barry had been a presence on TV3 for 23 years, roughly 11 of which were spent as the co-anchor on 3News.

By all modern comparisons, Barry has had a very good run as news anchor.

It might not be quite as long as the 15 years Paul Holmes spent as the anchor of Holmes or the 27 years that Peter Jennings spent as an anchor at ABC in the United States, but her stint is nonetheless impressive.  

  • Check out the various spans of news anchors in the US here

When compared to the previous 3News anchors, Barry stands out as a veritable veteran.

Philip Sherry only served from 1989 to 1990, Joanna Paul from 1990 to 1992, John Hawkesby from 1992 to 1998, and John Campbell and Carol Hisrchfeld fronted the news from 1998 to 2005.

Audiences survived the departure of each of these news anchors and we will no doubt also survive the ‘new mother of the nation’ shaped hole left by Barry.

MediaWorks also survived (only just). And somebody new will presumably relish the opportunity to take the seat Barry vacated. 

Personalities are very important in media, and especially in television, something chief executive Mark Weldon admitted to underestimating following the furore over John Campbell’s departure. It might prove a significant challenge to find a replacement capable of—or perhaps willing to—go toe to toe with Paul Henry in the mornings, but in the same way that Barry emerged 11 years ago to become one of the most loved people on television, someone new will inevitably grow into the next talent that we will eventually mourn the departure of. Admittedly, there has been a fair bit of mourning in a short space of time at MediaWorks, with an array of high-profile departures across the business, something various commentators (and very often competitors) seem to have relished. But media networks are more than just one person. As Colin Peacock wrote, the show will probably go on (although, judging by the company’s direction, that show will presumably involve less news and more entertainment). 

In many ways, news anchors could be likened to the actors chosen to play James Bond or Batman.

At first there’s outrage. ‘He doesn’t fit the part’, ‘He doesn’t have the voice’, ‘He doesn’t have the experience’, ‘He’s not Timothy Dalton’, ‘He’s not Christian Bale’ all follow on from the announcement of the new actor. 

But then the rage, the mourning and the tributes eventually die out. And if the Batman franchise could survive the directorial assault of Joel Schumacher, then MediaWorks will almost certainly make it through this blip. The MediaWorks board certainly seems to think so and has continued to back Weldon’s quest to shake things up, something he has unequivocally done with the hiring of an almost entirely new management team, a rebrand to Newshub, the launch of Story, Bravo and, ahem, Scout, the revamping of 3Now and the introduction of one-sided photocopying.

Barry will be missed. But let’s just hope the public’s fear of change doesn’t make a ‘sad Ben Affleck’ of the next person to read the news on Newshub (although, judging by the reviews, Affleck deserved what he got). 


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