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The Buzz is at it again: Ranking local news anchors and reporters into a March-madness-like tournament bracket where only the hottest advance. It's a yearly tradition, put on by morning show hosts David Bazzel and Tommy Smith, and the Buzz's website boasts, “The ladies of Little Rock media prepare all year for this time — the Edward R. Murrow Award has nothing on the Babe Bracket!”
Last year, we took notice of the bracket because the organizers gave an honorary spot to the late Anne Pressly, a particularly tacky move in an all-around tacky enterprise. This year, despite the general grumblings we've heard from those in the media community around Little Rock, we found another reason to write about the Buzz's annual contest: One station has asked that its on-air talent not be placed in the bracket.
KARK Channel 4 creative services director Phil Wrobel says his station decided to not participate for a couple of reasons.
“For one thing, they're a partner with Channel 7 and that's our competition,” Wrobel says. “I'm not saying I don't want to affiliate ourselves with the Buzz. But for the most part, we have a good radio partnership with Clear Channel and we're looking to see how we can work with them and advance that partnership.”
“Also, what we stand for is a station you can count on to do certain things, and being in the Babe Bracket is not something you should count on from your local news reporters. That's not the image that we're going after. We want people to think of us as a credible news organization and the Babe Bracket is not something we're looking to be a part of.”
On its surface, it's the old morning show shtick: an all-in-good-fun contest that draws lots of listeners and even helps promote the stations involved. On the other hand, it's a completely superficial beauty contest for women whose job requires they be taken seriously on the air.
Over the past two years, I've talked with women who were included in the bracket and some who weren't. The general consensus, from what I've been told, is that it's a popularity contest that some are more comfortable with than others.
“I believe they're doing it all in good fun, but some people could perceive it as chauvinistic,” one reporter told me. “It's a fine line.”
But Bazzel says the Buzz is walking the right side of that line.
“This is our contest,” he says. “This is something we decide to do. They're not the ones who chose to do this. If they want to say they don't want to be in it, that's fine, but their credibility shouldn't be questioned because we're using their names. People like to get to know the local girls and this is a good way to do it.”
But what about the credibility issue? Will local anchors who participate in the Babe Bracket be taken any less seriously than those who don't? Bazzel says it's unlikely.
“This is just a fun, silly, guy-thing for us to do. We're a guy station,” says Bazzel. “I can give you the list of past winners: Karen Fuller, Dawn Scott, Anne Jansen, Christina Munoz. And my point is, how much credibility have those girls lost for two weeks out of the year?”
Bazzel says he's not worried about losing other stations because of the Buzz's partnership with KATV because the Buzz has such a strong audience.
Fox 16 general manager Chuck Spohn agrees. He says the Babe Bracket is harmless.
“From our perspective it's fun,” Spohn says. “We recognize the value our talent has and their skills and we recognize the Buzz is tied in with Channel 7, but it doesn't harm our product in any way. It's not going to change viewers' habits of watching our newscast because our talent participates in a ‘Babe Bracket.' ”
But KARK, for one, thinks it made the right decision.
“Quite frankly, we want to affiliate ourselves with things that are more community-oriented like volunteerism, feeding families, and spending our time playing in a ‘Babe Bracket' is not what we're focused on in terms of our market strategy,” Wrobel says.
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