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On air, on edge 

Since Anne Pressly’s death, news stations are taking a closer look at the line between harmless admirer and obsessed fan. Will it change the way they do business?

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It was, by anyone's estimation, an unspeakable crime: On Oct. 20, Anne Pressly — a vivacious, fun-loving young woman with a smile for everyone she met and an up-and-comer at KATV Channel 7 who seemed destined for TV journalism's Big Leagues — was found badly beaten and near death in her own bed, in her tidy house, in one of Little Rock's quietest neighborhoods. Though she hung on, lingering in a coma for five days, Anne died in a Little Rock hospital Oct. 25. 

As of this writing, the motive behind Pressly's murder is still unknown, and her killer is still at large. Police say they have found nothing to indicate that Pressly's assault was at the hands of an obsessed fan or stalker. It may have only been cruel fate that a murderous intruder chose the house of a local celebratity to invade.

But the crime and the inability of the police to quickly catch who did it has many people in Little Rock television news more worried than ever — and they were, as a lot, pretty worried to begin with. Behind the camera, local news directors are thinking deeply about security, and the way they push their on-air talent. Meanwhile, some of those in the harsh glare of the spotlight speak of a newfound sense of fear. The question is: In an age when you can find out almost anything about anybody if you've got five minutes and an Internet connection, where's the line between promotion and privacy? Can a person be both well-known and safe?

 

If this was any other moment in Little Rock, it might strike some as ironic that the woman on the cover of this newspaper — a consummate professional who spends at least six hours of her life every week working live in front of a camera — didn't want her face photographed for this story. It's just one example of the wall of caution, if not outright fear, that has imposed itself around local news stations since Pressly's death, a barrier we hit again and again in writing this story.

Of the local news anchors that we talked to, only one agreed to discuss the issue. Honoring her request for anonymity, we'll call her Jane.

Jane said that since the assault on Pressly, she has lived in an almost constant state of fear. “My whole life has changed,” she said. “I lived on my own for 10 years and now I can't spend a night alone because I'm fearful to even walk out to my car.” 

Jane said that almost everyone she knows has a theory about the motive behind Pressly's murder. Hearing rumors circulate only heightens her frustration and anxiety. She said that while she was always cautious about her privacy — she didn't join the popular online social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace for that reason — Pressly's killing has made her much more cautious about what she says and does, both in front of the camera and in her personal life.

“I don't talk about personal stuff on the air,” Jane said. “I keep my life very private. I'm not necessarily responding to requests for autographed pictures or anything like that. … We were all issued pepper spray, and I carry that with me all the time.”

Jane said that while getting letters and gifts from viewers is just part of being in local, community-based news, even the fans are more mindful of potentially crossing the line. “Most of them are harmless,” Jane said. “But it's funny, because now a lot of people will preface their letter with ‘I'm not a stalker.' They'll say to you: ‘I'm not a stalker, but I really enjoy watching you on the air.' ” 

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