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Do You Have To Be A Good Reporter to be a Good Anchor? (and vice versa)

Pretty much every news director and agent I’ve ever met have said the same thing: That you can’t be a good anchor unless you’re a good reporter.

In my experience, as both a primary news anchor and an Emmy-award winning reporter, is that – other than getting the facts straight and meeting deadlines - the two crafts are nothing alike.

anchoring vs reporting karen carlson news anchor reporter comparison

When you’re a reporter, it’s your job to know everything about that one story you’re working on – you need to know who has ever talked about it or would be able to comment on it. You need to schedule in the press conferences and news releases and make sure your photographer has enough time to edit the piece and feed it back to the station. It doesn’t matter what your colleagues are working on – all that matters is that you get every detail of that one story, stay ahead of the other reporters and get your butt in front of that camera so your producer can see you. There were plenty of days when I had no idea what else was going on in the news world when I was reporting – but I always made my deadline and very rarely, if ever, got scooped.

As a news anchor, it was my job to know a little about everything – not only the important stories that were happening in our cities, but also the big national headlines – a plane that went missing or a big vote on Capitol Hill. And you have to be ready at a moment’s notice to go on TV. I made it my regular practice to show up to work an hour in advance, get my “face” on and start reading through the news wires before the shows were even produced. My odd thing is that I would clip on my IFB (that earpiece you sometimes see sticking out of a news anchor’s ear) when I got to the station, even though the first show was hours away. Even though I’ve been off the air for years, I still carry an IFB in my purse at all times, in the off chance I’ll be the only person somewhere when a news event breaks.

Crazy I know. But in a charming way? Let’s hope.

The bottom line is, there is very little about these two practices that are the same, contrary to popular belief. It doesn't mean you can’t be good at both. But when you’re reporting, even if you’re a little flustered, you only have to be on camera for 15-seconds to 2 minutes. But as an anchor, you have to power through the entire newscast, hopefully with a little grace. As an anchor, you have to be able to ad lib around script failures, incorrect information in your teleprompter and technical errors that are far beyond your control. As a reporter, you are in charge of reporting the facts and controlling what comes out of your mouth. This is why I’m always a huge fan of the audio guy. HUGE fan. Suffice it to say I’m grateful YouTube wasn’t around when I first started reporting. Oh the humanity!


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