Love & News
It was covered in the media from Great Britain to South Korea. The
latest fighting in Bosnia? A new twist on the Middle East peace plan?
No, it was a marriage proposal -- a proposal made before tens of
thousands of people. It took place September 9, 1993, on KCNC-TV, the
NBC-owned and operated station in Denver, Colorado. During the 5:00
newscast, the station's legal correspondent ended a report analyzing
issues in a Pepsi tampering case, turned to the anchor and proposed
This case is of particular interest on several different levels. It
draws attention to changing definitions of news values, particularly
local news. Something so personal and seemingly impertinent to
would not have fit into the traditional paradigms of what makes
Yet the proposal was defended as being a very legitimate addition to
this day's newscast.
On another level, the proposal may illustrate some of the gender
issues pervasive in television today. The anchor involved, Aimee
Sporer, had been on the air at KCNC a little more than a year at the
time of the proposal. The legal correspondent, Dan Caplis, is a local
attorney-turned-TV reporter. The on-air proposal raises questions
credibility, power and traditional gender roles. What messages did
proposal send to the audience about the role of an anchor woman in
context of reporting the daily news? And how does this event fit
the larger context of gender in the media?
Because of the response the on-air proposal elicited, some
consideration should be given to the audience's perceived relationship
with television anchors. Several hundred viewers wrote in to voice
their approval, many others called to give encouragement to the couple
and to the station for allowing Caplis to propose on the air. The
overwhelming reaction may tell us something about the parasocial
relationship between the audience and the anchor people they watch each
For purposes of this study, we employed several different
methodological techniques to examine the issues surrounding the
proposal. We performed a textual analysis, examining both the
discursive and non-discursive elements of the proposal itself.
In order to better understand the context of the proposal, we also
conducted interviews with Sporer and Caplis and with KCNC's general
manager, Roger Ogden, who gave the final permission for the proposal to
occur on-air. Each interview was conducted individually, using
generally the same set of open-ended questions.
So we could begin to analyze what the audience reaction might have
been, we also examined a selection of 20 out of about 250 letters
received by the station or by Sporer and Caplis after the proposal.
This was not intended as a representative sample of the letters
received, nor are we trying to generalize about the feelings of the
overall audience. Yet some common themes do emerge in the letters that
may add to our understanding of audience response to this event.
We are attempting to analyze the proposal in three different ways.
First we look at the context (events surrounding the proposal) in
of news values and how they appear to be changing. Next we look at
text itself (the on-air proposal), and use feminist theory as a
point for analysis. Finally, we examine the audience response (the
viewers' mail), and what this might tell us about viewers' parasocial
relationships with newscasters.
What makes news is one of the basic concepts taught in beginning
journalism classes. Though the definition may have never been
universal, the traditional parameters have been expanding in recent
A lot of considerations go into what makes a newscast. Producers are
expected to lead with a story that has impact and interest for the
viewer, then order the rest of the newscast based on the merits of the
individual stories and common bonds between stories.
When KCNC General Manager Roger Ogden agreed to allow Dan Caplis to
propose on the air, the terms he decreed made the proposal itself an
element to be produced into the newscast: it could not be the lead
story, it had to be in a "legitimate setting" and it had to happen
relatively quickly. (It actually lasted a minute and a half and ran
about 20-25 minutes into the newscast, right before weather.)
Reflecting on the proposal later, Ogden critiqued the on-air execution
of it in terms of what he called a production issue. "I might have
advised Dan to not fumble around in his pocket for 20 seconds trying to
find the (ring) box," he says, laughing. "It wasted a lot of air
The guy is usually pretty smooth and self-confident; he didn't come
that way on the air."
Ogden's initial concern of the time the proposal would take also led to
its placement in the hour-long 5:00 p.m. newscast rather than the
35-minute 10:00 p.m. news. He says he was concerned about how the
proposal would be perceived by viewers in terms of the other stories
that couldn't be included in the newscast because of it.
As to his concern about the "legitimate setting" within the newscast,
one might wonder if that criterion was met. Caplis was on the set
his role as KCNC's legal expert, and the story he was analyzing was a
serious issue -- whether a Pepsi tampering case would be tried in
federal or state court. To many observers, the transition from that to
a marriage proposal seemed abrupt.
Aimee Sporer admitted feeling uncomfortable with the setting from the
beginning. Because they were dating, producers would normally
Caplis to sit on the other side of the set, with the other anchor.
Sporer was confused, as is obvious from her reaction on-camera, when
thanked him for his report and he said he had more to say. "I
thought...there was a question that I ought to have asked that I didn't
ask, and I almost felt like maybe he was reprimanding me," she says.
he started talking in more personal terms, she looked at the camera
raised eyebrows and a slight smile, conveying her confusion to the
audience. She says she started wondering if she was dreaming. "The
strangest things go through your mind, but I almost thought we were
on the set. I mean, I kept thinking, this is not really the news."
Of course, it really was. And that was not the end of it. If the
original intent was merely to allow time during the newscast for Caplis
to propose, before long the proposal itself became news. Part of it
replayed at the end of the 5:00 p.m. news, and it aired on KCNC
newscasts for the next 24 hours. It even became part of the promotional
news teases the station runs during the evening to encourage viewers
watch the 10:00 p.m. news. And the next day, reaction to the
was the lead story at 4:00 p.m., beating out for that distinction a
murder/suicide at a housing complex for the elderly.
So did the proposal belong in the context of a newscast? The answer
for Rocky Mountain News TV critic Dusty Saunders was a resounding
I've seen some embarrassing things on Denver television, but this
takes the cake -- or the ring. Was this really part of a
on a highly rated, NBC-owned station that boasts of being
Colorado's News Channel? Channel 4 president and general manager
Roger Ogden should be ashamed.
Ogden says similar criticisms came from members of his own staff,
specifically some men in the newsroom. "(They) thought it was a waste
of our time, and that it was sort of a ratings-driven ploy to get
attention for a new anchor." He admits he was aware that the proposal
could have a positive effect on Sporer's image in the community, but
points out that it did not happen during a television ratings
It occurred to me that this could come off as pretty contrived,
self-promoting...you've got a new anchor, here's a way you can
some exposure for her, having her fianc propose to her on the
It could be perceived as something we cooked up as opposed to Dan
coming to us. It just had the potential to have the smell of
something contrived. Knowing that wasn't the case, I thought we
would be successful telling people that it wasn't the case.
Ogden agreed to allow the proposal. While it's clear the proposal was
not suggested by the station, Ogden did think it would add a
image to the newscast. It's an issue he is acutely aware of, based
viewer complaints about too many negative images in news. He says
negative stories are what defines news in a lot of ways, yet he says
viewers are asking for more of a balance. "We're continuing to look
very, very hard for ways that don't change the basic structure of the
newscast yet allow us to weave a fabric of positive images through
newscasts," he says. And indeed, just weeks after this interview,
announced a concerted campaign to make room in their newscasts for
Complaints about negativity in news are not a recent development, nor
is the trend by news organizations to seek more of a balance between
positive and negative. A TV news assignment editor told a researcher
1981, "Straight news is often so negative that material must be
in that 'brightens up the world a bit'" (Turow, 1983).
Broadcasting students are often taught early on the value of balancing
the good with the bad. A chapter on producing in one television
journalism textbook put it this way:
Typically, stories carry an 'emotional charge' that is either good,
bad, or neutral, so most producers try to avoid strings of any
given type of story within the newscast. They also strive to
a 'ping pong' story order, which results in a rapidly
series of good news-bad news-good news stories. For one thing,
long string of negative stories will leave viewers in an
frame of mind. No one enjoys being subjected to an unending
of stories whose predominant emotional impact is negative.
1989, p. 220)
Some researchers suggest part of the resistance to negative images lies
in the nature of the television medium. English psychologist James
Stephenson developed the play theory of mass communications (in
Diamond). He posits that people consume television as part of their
leisure hours, or play, rather than their work hours; therefore, it is
for relaxation and fun, not something to be taken seriously. Using
analysis, media critic Edwin Diamond theorized that the television
audience has to be fed with a sugar-coated pill, extra-strength at that,
because "no one has ever trained the audience to ingest serious
information from television" (Diamond, p. 93).
It was this same idea upon which Group W built the concept of PM
Magazine in the late 1970s. PM Magazine was a hybrid of syndicated
material and locally-generated stories that looked like a modified
version of a newscast. But it was purposely designed to offer different
fare from the standard newscast. In the PM Newsletter to stations
running the program in 1981, Group W suggested that PM Magazine
producers stay away from unpleasant topics:
"People watch our show as they are winding down from a hard day at
work, after the hard news of the day is over. We want to remind them
what's positive and bright about life." (Turow, p. 116)
People who worked on a PM Magazine staff in a midwestern market told
researcher Joseph Turow that their goal for the program was to be
positive and friendly and that controversy simply did not fit into the
While mainstream newscasts clearly tackle some controversy, Ogden's
comments about the criticisms of negative news indicate a keen
of how the audience is accepting the messages sent out. The concept
how those messages may reflect back on the station sending them is
old as the story of Persian generals killing the messenger who
bad news. Stone and Beell (1975) found an audience forms less
opinions of a newscaster who delivers bad news rather than good.
their findings built on previous research which showed that "the
and content of messages are evaluated in light of each other, and
attitudes toward a communicator are not maintained without reference
what he or she says and does." (Stone & Beell, p. 111)
Shook suggested much the same theory when advocating that student
producers learn to strike a balance between positive and negative
stories: "If the range of viewer emotions is predominantly negative,
some viewers may tend to blame the anchors or the newscast itself."
(Shook, p. 220)
For KCNC's Ogden, the viewer feedback that says news is too negative,
along with the overwhelmingly positive response to the on-air
was an important contrast. "What it said was we've got to find a
more legitimately balance out the content of our shows... We need to
real creative about how we do this, but we've got to find some ways
do that, because this is a real issue for the people out there."
That attitude was reflected consistently throughout the letters
viewers wrote in response to the proposal. The viewers found the
proposal a refreshing change from the crime and violence they are used
to seeing on television news. One viewer called it "a wonderful
happening in a very troubled world." Another said, "You gave us a touch
of badly needed Spring." Still another wrote, "Since when must
reporters, who come into our homes every day with the usual doom and
gloom, be prohibited from showing us a bit of themselves?"
Ogden anticipated the criticisms that the proposal did not belong as
part of a newscast. But he saw it as consistent with his philosophy
news content, which he believes should be very broad, just as a
newspaper's content is not all hard news.
Caplis and Sporer point out that the proposal shared air time with,
among other things, the KCNC gardener highlighting a prize-winning
vegetable garden. Sporer believes the proposal fit just as well with
the news content as the garden segment. "If you're going to indict
local news has become, that's fine, and I think you can make an
for that, but I don't think you can pick and choose," she says. She
believes that the connection local news has to a particular community
means it necessarily covers a wider variety of activities than a
national newscast. "We're in a different form in the same medium," she
But the unique nature of local news did not keep this particular
event from attracting national, and even international, coverage. The
proposal was shown on television and written about in newspapers
the country and the world (see Appendix B). Even the venerable BBC
found it newsworthy enough to call Sporer for an interview.
Roger Ogden is not surprised by the response. "The appetite for
emotionally-moving material is higher than it's ever been. And it's not
confined to this country, it's worldwide," he says.
Text/Women and News
From the time television news began in the United States, it was a
male-dominated field. In fact, few women were hired to work in
television news until well after two decades had passed, and even then
the numbers remained small (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 1977,
1979). Only very recently has that changed, and yet the number of women
in television news management positions remains small (Stone, 1993).
The local news business was especially slow in putting women into
positions, which for viewers are the key positions when it comes to
power and credibility. Even as women began to move into positions as
anchors, they faced what could be seen as contradictory requirements.
On one hand, they were expected to appear as calm, professional
authority figures whom the audience could trust. Yet at the same time,
they were often given the position only if they were young,
and deferential to the more mature male co-anchor. Thus, the
traditional stereotypical characteristics of a woman could never be too
far removed from her professional identity.
Gerbner (1993) studied ten years of television newscasts and found
that women still comprise only 35% of the newscasters and reporters on
the major networks. Ziegler and White (1990) suggested that because
women and minorities are underrepresented in news, the audience is not
getting an accurate reflection of society. Fung (1988) discovered
women working at the networks represent a kind of underclass, where
are paid less, and where an unwritten double standard requires them
be younger and better looking than their male counterparts. Former
network correspondent Marlene Sanders confirmed that "middle age was no
asset" to her career (1988). And in interviews with others,
Walter Cronkite, Sanders found evidence that a double standard
granting men authority with age, but not affording women the same
privilege. Gelfman (1976) also discovered in interviews with network
anchors and correspondents that many believed appearance was more
crucial to a woman's career than to a man's.
From a theoretical perspective Tuchman (1978) introduced the idea that
the underrepresentation of women, along with the media's
images, can add up to the symbolic annihilation of women. In other
words, the viewing public has, for years, seen women infrequently on
television, and when women have been allowed on the air, it has often
been in a subservient role. Women have often been seen only in the
context of being a wife or mother, defined by their relationship to a
husband or children. Others have suggested that reinforcement of
traditional values through the media is one way hegemony operates in
American society (Gitlin 1980, 1983; Tuchman; Gerbner, 1972).
Kuhn (1982) introduced the idea of recuperation for female characters
in motion pictures. She observed that, when female characters are
allowed some power or independence, it is temporary; they are eventually
recuperated to their more subservient role, either through marriage
courtship, or they are directly punished or even killed for their
transgressions. Although we are examining an actual event, and not a
fictionalized account, there is enough similarity between news and
as genres to warrant the application of Kuhn's theory to the
News, like cinema, is a constructed narrative. Very careful attention
is paid to the script, the blocking, the order of the narrative and
leading roles, those of the anchors. And in many senses, anchors
considered performers, just as actors are. As one TV critic put it,
"The drive, sustained by market research, to present contemporary and
believable figures demands that otherwise competent newsmen and women
become performers in a kind of simulated sex show" (Diamond, 1978, p.
113). Long-time anchor Bill Bonds was clear on what was expected of
him: "You have to forget all the writing, reporting, and editing
that got you to the top when you get to the top. Instead, wink,
toss your curls, show the teeth" (Diamond).
As we examined the marriage proposal as a text, several themes seemed
to reinforce the recuperation theory in this case. Aimee Sporer is
of a new generation of female anchors. On the air, they appear
confident, intelligent and articulate. The image is of an independent,
accomplished professional. If the theory of recuperation holds
certain events may take place that undermine this image. We would
that the proposal is just such an event, and the recuperation
in several different arenas.
On one level, an anchor team could be viewed as a representation of a
family unit; the male and female anchors may be viewed as a husband
wife. In this scenario, if viewed as a traditional patriarchy, the
anchor would be the more credible authority. In one light, when
asked Sporer on the air to marry him, she was recuperated to this
of role: no longer just an independent news anchor, but now a
wife. Granted, audience members may have their own interpretation
anchor teams in general, and of this incident in particular,
in an era when marriages may not reflect a traditional patriarchal
structure. This perception might have been strengthened if one
proposed to another anchor, who was perceived to have equal status.
this is not what happened in this case.
Caplis and Sporer were not co-anchors, and in fact, Sporer holds a
higher status position as a primary anchor. However, there is
else to be considered. Sporer, like many other female news anchors,
shares the news desk with male anchors who are older than she is. She
is in her 20's, paired with Bill Stuart, who is in his 40's, and Bob
Palmer, who is in his 60's. This trend of pairing an older male
with a younger female anchor has been shown to be common in many
television markets (Fung). The perception of these teams may be closer
to that of a father/daughter relationship than a husband and wife,
in at least one instance, this was the actual case (at KDKA-TV in
Pittsburgh, a father and daughter did anchor together). This kind of ag
e disparity may also serve to undermine the female anchor's
Some of a female anchor's image as a strong, independent professional
may be recuperated if she is perceived as being under the authority
more mature and more experienced father-figure male anchor. In this
case in particular, the marriage proposal may have served to reinforce
this model. In the interview with Dan Caplis he indicated he was
disappointed that Bob Palmer was not co-anchoring with Sporer the day of
the proposal, because "Bob is a father figure" to Aimee. Caplis's
imagery is not far off. Even as the proposal unfolded Sporer was
sitting between her suitor (Caplis) and her co-anchor (Stuart), who
might be perceived as a stand-in for the father of the bride. For a cu
lture that still holds tight to remnants of the traditional concepts
a patriarchal family, and a traditional view of how love and romance
to unfold, the proposal provided a strong and resonant real-life
The way the proposal itself was carried out may also provide some
evidence of an unequal power relationship. Most of what Caplis had to
say during the actual proposal has little to do with Sporer. Caplis
talked about what he liked about Sporer (see Appendix A). He talked
about his life, about his parent, his friends, and his job. The only
thing he says about Sporer is that she thinks of the audience as an
extended family. It could be argued that Caplis sets himself up as a
complete person, with a career, friends and family. But when he
of Sporer, it is only in regard to her relationship with viewers as
extended family. Caplis never mentions her professionalism or her
journalistic ability. In this way, Sporer, like so many women before
her, is placed in a context only where her worth is demonstrated
her familial relationships, in this case, with viewers. Finally,
comments that the last year of his life has been the best one ever,
as a token of appreciation, he gives Sporer an engagement ring.
act again symbolically places Caplis in a position of power. Because
Sporer has performed in a way that has made him happy, Caplis will
reward her with a marriage proposal. One could argue what Caplis is
doing assumes that women would like to be rewarded with a marriage
proposal: i.e., that women are waiting for the right man to come along
to fulfill their lives.
After Sporer agreed to marry Caplis, they kissed. This act was seen by
some viewers as a touching and "real life" moment. Yet again, it is
Caplis who is in control. He initiates the kiss, he is the person who
is symbolically in control of the moment. In fact, Sporer seems
uncomfortable, perhaps embarrassed or aware of the broach of news
decorum, and breaks off the kiss quickly. In this brief kiss, how is
Sporer perceived? Some would argue it was just an innocent, human
moment. But for this moment, she is no longer a news anchor, she no
longer a journalist, she is no longer a professional person. She is
recuperated to the role of fiancee' and is defined by her relationship
with a man, not strictly on her own merits.
The way the proposal unfolded casts Caplis and Sporer in traditional
roles in regard to romance. Caplis is the pursuer, Sporer is the
pursued. Caplis makes the decision about when it is appropriate to get
married, he decides when and where the proposal should take place.
of this is part of the sub-text of the proposal itself. For the
audience, the event is filled with traditional messages about women and
men, about love, romance, courtship and marriage. And it could be
argued that Sporer, who otherwise is perceived as an independent career
woman, is now recuperated into a more traditional, even
female role. Women on television have traditionally been housewives,
mothers, or girlfriends, often without their own strong sense of
Again, as images of independent women are subverted, this may
to what Tuchman termed women's symbolic annihilation.
Relationships often involve a power struggle between two people,
whether or not part of a traditional patriarchal family. Given this, it
is interesting to consider what the on-air proposal suggests about
in male/female relationships. In this case knowledge was power.
knew the proposal was coming; the station's general manager and news
director both were in on the decision to allow the proposal to take
place, so they had prior knowledge and the power to veto the event.
producer of the newscast knew this was going to take place, as did
co-anchor Bill Stuart. Caplis had asked Sporer's mother for her
permission beforehand. He had told his parents in Chicago that he was
going to propose, and had made arrangements for them to watch it
via satellite. (Their reaction was captured on videotape for later
replay.) Word also got out beyond KCNC. At least one competing
had gotten word of the proposal before the 5:00 p.m. newscast went
the air. Caplis had notified both Denver daily newspapers in
in case they wanted to have photographers on hand (which they did).
fact, it appears the only principal person involved who had no
of the plan was Aimee Sporer. General Manager Roger Ogden
it this way: "In some ways she's a victim here, I suppose. She was
on the spot without her knowledge, without her concurrence."
This raises the question, what if Sporer had wanted to say no? Or at
the very least, "let's talk about it." The way the proposal was
designed and executed, it appears that anything but a "yes" answer would
have been most difficult. What this did in a very real way was to
Caplis in a position of power. He knew it would happen, he ensured
press was on hand, and he made his proposal on live television, all
which meant that in this situation, the power balance was tilting in
direction. Sporer did say yes, and was not unhappy about the way
proposal unfolded, fortunately. But did she really have much choice?
As Rocky Mountain News television critic Dusty Saunders wrote in a
scathing column the day after the proposal :
The script would have been much better if Sporer had tossed away
the ring and declined the proposal, saying "No, you boob, what
of silly show-biz trick is this? Get out of my face!"
In our interviews we asked all three of the principals what would have
happened if the roles had been reversed, if Sporer had been the one
decided to propose to Caplis on the news instead. Sporer believed
station would not have prevented her from popping the question.
don't think so," she said. "You'd have to ask them, and I might be
naive in that, but I don't think so. I'd be kind of curious to know.
Tell me what you find out!"
Caplis, on the other hand, felt sure the station would not have given
Sporer permission to propose.
I don't think so, no, I don't think so. She's too valuable a
property. . .If she's the one proposing there's too much of a
credibility risk because she is too important to them. You know, I
was expendable, she is not.
It is interesting to note that Caplis frames his analysis of this in
terms of commodities. He felt that he could take the risk because he
was expendable -- the station could fire him, should anything go
In fact he had explored other career options for just such a
contingency. But Caplis described Sporer as "too valuable a property"
for station management to take that same risk.
General Manager Roger Ogden said the questions involved if Sporer had
wanted to do the proposing would have been different than for
not only because Sporer was the station's 5 and 10 o'clock anchor,
because of the gender issues involved.
You don't normally expect women in our society, it's not generally
the way it's been done historically...women don't propose to
men propose to women. That may have potentially had a negative
impact on the perception she has in the community. I'm not sure
it's right, but we sure as hell would have had a significant
discussion around that issue.
Ogden said he was pleased with the way the proposal did occur, and the
way it impacted Sporer's image. "I think it humanized her,
actually...it probably helped (her credibility)," he said. There
apparently was not any fear that the proposal, as it occurred, would
hurt Sporer's image as a strong and independent female. But had
been the one to do the proposing, the context changes, and the
managers would have considered a different set of criteria before
granted permission. In other words, it seemed less risky for the
station's primary female anchor to be proposed to rather than do the
proposing. Again, this seems strong evidence that as long as Sporer
could be framed in a traditional female role, things were safe. But
when considering whether she might be able to take a bit of an
unconventional role by asking a man to marry her, this seemed more risky
to station management.
Caplis and Sporer were not the only ones participating in the proposal.
There was also a large audience tuned in. As mentioned above, the
station received a large number of letters and phone calls from
overwhelmingly expressing support for the event. To understand this
response, it may be helpful to frame it in terms of a parasocial
relationship between newscasters and the viewing public.
The parasocial interaction allows viewers to establish a connection
with the people they see on television, and this occurs in several
different ways. On one level, viewers may seek advice from a television
personality -- for instance, getting the latest forecast from a
meteorologist or product advice from a consumer reporter. On a deeper
level, viewers may see newscasters as their friends, wanting more
details about their personal lives, much as they would in interpersonal
The idea of parasocial interaction was presented more than three
decades ago by Horton and Wohl (1956) when they talked about a
relationship between a television viewer and a media "persona." There
has been a great deal of speculation about whether the
style and gestures seen on television may foster such a relationship.
Rubin, Perse and Powell (1985) posited that if an individual regards
media as important and senses a personal interaction with media
personalities, then the parasocial relationship may lead to greater
dependency on the medium and those personalities. That dependency may
partly be a result of a changing definition of community. Beniger
(1987) suggested that people increasingly interact with other people via
technological means, replacing traditional communities with
pseudo-communities. Beniger also suggested that the distinctions
between interpersonal communication and mass communication may no longer
apply as humans become more dependent upon technology to meet social
ctions. It is in this context that newscasters may fill a more
role in the viewers' social reality.
In looking at videotape of the proposal, it appears Dan Caplis
understands the existence of a relationship between newscasters and
(Addressing Sporer) Aimee, there's something else I want to say,
O.K.? Um, there's one thing I really like about you, O.K.? And
that's the fact that you, you sincerely -- and I know this
I spend time with you -- you sincerely believe that the people
watch your newscasts are like extended family and you always
them very well, and I really like that. And, uh, so there's
something I'd like to say to you and to them, and (addressing the
camera) to you. (Transcription, see appendix A)
Caplis very intentionally addresses viewers by making eye contact with
the camera and nodding to the audience. It appears at this point he
consciously drawing the audience into the discourse, including them
part of what is about to happen. In fact, in his interview, Caplis
he very much wanted the audience to be part of the proposal.
I was very sure Aimee wanted to marry me, and I knew I wanted to
marry her. Then I thought, there's nothing at all wrong with
sharing that publicly. It's a positive thing. And she's part of
people's lives. They're not going to be there for the wedding.
Why not have them there for the engagement?
In the interview, Caplis also talked about the fact he believes Sporer
has a strong relationship with the audience, and they with her.
seem to regard her as more of a quasi-friend than just a TV person,"
said. Koenig and Lessan (1985) also used that same term,
"quasi-friend," as a result of research they did into viewers'
relationships with TV personalities. The researchers found that viewers
rate their relationships with TV personalities somewhere between
of friends and acquaintances. Caplis said he realized when he was
with Aimee in public "how many people really consider her to be more
than just a TV person to them. I wouldn't say a member of the family,
but more than just somebody on TV." Caplis and Sporer perhaps
know how true that was until they started getting reaction to the
proposal. Says Sporer, "It gave me new insight into how people view us,
and that there is that blurred line between informer and anchor and
The family image is exactly what television stations promote, as a way
to build viewer loyalty. As TV critic Howard Rosenberg put it:
Stations for years have promoted their local news personalities not
only as a family unto themselves -- warm, cuddly and
-- but also as the community's extended family. These aren't
androids. . .They care about us, they're part of us. How could
not welcome these wonderful human beings into our homes each
evening? (Rosenberg, 1993, p. 19)
Our examination of viewer letters that followed the proposal certainly
reflects that attitude. "We always feel like family," said one
Another said of Sporer, "I think it is wonderful--she is like a
friend coming into our homes each day with a glorious smile and
attitude." Levy (1979) found in an extensive study of television
viewers that the parasocial relationship develops over time and is
upon a history of shared experiences, as the newscaster "visits" the
viewer each day like a friend, bringing "gossip" in the form of news.
For some viewers, the daily visit is even marked by the fact that
on occasion, verbally respond to the newscaster with their own
such as "good evening" or "you're welcome." Some of the letters
addressed simply to Dan and Aimee, indicating some viewers felt they
were on a first name basis with the newscasters.
Other letters also reflect a sense of very personal inclusion in the
proposal. "It was thoughtful of Dan Caplis to include everyone in
plan," one read. Another wrote, "I thank them for sharing that
me." Notice how this particular letter writer uses the personal
"me," reflecting a sense that he or she felt specifically included
the event. For another viewer, the proposal was an
event: "I have to confess I had tears of joy in my eyes." It was not
unusual for viewers to indicate they felt they had been a part of the
It was evident he put a lot of thought and planning into exactly
what he wanted to do--and his work was such an important part of
his life--it meant a lot to him to be able to ask her on the
. Also as a viewer I felt honored that he would share such an
important moment in his life with all of us. They are in the
spotlight all the time on the news--and he allowed the public to be
a part of their lives even now.
This particular letter indicates the writer felt a personal
understanding of Caplis and even his motives.
One card said; "Thanks for letting us be a part of your love--I loved
every minute of it--keep your up your great reporting!" This viewer
apparently felt as if he or she had transcended the gap between viewer
and television personality to actually become part of the love the
newscasters felt for each other. When the viewer writes about
up the great reporting, one is left wondering if the reference is to
reporting of the news or reporting of intimate details of the
Some letters acknowledge the fact that viewers appreciated the wedding
proposal because it let them see the anchors as real people. "It
nice to see that you people are regular people too and not just
sitting in chairs," said one, and another, "I enjoyed seeing two
usually seen on a professional basis show their true human and
sides." This seems to reflect an attitude from some audience
for a desire to see anchor people as more personal, more like
A question left unanswered is whether audiences want to know more
about female newscasters than males. When the three female network
morning show anchors were pregnant, there seemed to be disproportionate
coverage of their pregnancies. Part of this could be attributed to
fact that male managers of these programs may have intentionally
up the pregnancies to gain a ratings advantage. As seen here, it is
unheard of for television executives to makes decisions based on
perceived audience reaction and interest to events involving anchors'
personal lives. Yet there may also be something to the idea that
viewers, representing normative values, believe they have more right to
know personal information about female newscasters than male. What
nformation, for example, do we have about the personal life of Walter
Whatever else the letters Sporer and Caplis received from viewers might
mean, they provide evidence that viewers take their relationships
television personalities seriously. The effort it takes to send a
letter or card, and the familiarity with which they address the anchors,
reflects a strong perceived personal connection to these people they
might otherwise never know.
By looking at the context, text, and audience reaction, this study has
tried to offer some insights into one event in local television news
that may have implications beyond this one incident.
This case study may give us some indication of what direction local
news coverage is heading. The fact that a marriage proposal between
newscasters would rate as a bona fide news story may indicate
toward more emotional and personal kinds of stories and away from
traditional news values which emphasized events and information.
From a feminist perspective, this event seems to offer support for the
idea that despite some gains made by women in television news, it is
still an enterprise under patriarchal control, which sends out
that may reinforce traditional stereotypes about gender roles.
Finally, the positive reaction to the proposal by members of the
audience may offer further insight into the parasocial relationship that
exists between audience members and the people they see on their
television screens. In this case, some audience members were very
pleased by what they saw, whether because it reinforced traditional
norms in regard to marriage practices or because it offered them more
a glimpse into the personal lives of people who come into their
In the future, it will be interesting to note whether we see local news
continuing to move toward content that is more personal, more
and that plays upon viewers' interest in personal details about
lives. Researchers may also want to monitor whether women anchors
given more opportunities to take leading roles in newscasts, or are
allowed to co-anchor with other women rather than always being paired
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A transcript of the proposal
(Caplis): In the federal court, the judges have been reduced, in the
view of many judges, to mere mathematicians. They have this
sentencing formula, Aimee, that they have to follow. You almost
have a calculus degree to be a federal judge. There just isn't much
room for gut feeling now with the federal court judges.
(Sporer): So they're pretty predictable in the federal court.
(Caplis): Federal court. State court you never know -- well, you have
some idea, but you're not sure what you're getting into as a trial
attorney, a defendant, or an interested citizen.
(Sporer): All right, thanks very much, Dan Caplis.
(Caplis): Well, Aimee, there's something else I want to say, O.K.? Um,
there's one thing I really like about you, O.K.? And that's the
that you, you sincerely -- and I know this because I spend time with
-- you sincerely believe that the people who watch your newscasts
like extended family and you always treat them very well, and I
like that. And, uh, so there's something I'd like to say to you and
them and, uh, to you. And that is that I really feel like I've been
blessed. I mean, I have the greatest parents in the world, I have
friends, I have a fun job, more stuff than a guy should have. But,
until you came to the station a year ago there was really kind of a
crater, I was like a lost dog. And the last year has been the best
of my life and, uh, so I just want to give you something as a token
that. I've never done this before, but I'd like to ask you if you'd
(Sporer): I would love to marry you. I love you. This is truly
bizarre! This is absolutely wonderful.
(Caplis): Well, thank you, and uh, I'll look forward to seeing you when
the show is over.
(Sporer): Me, too!
(Bill Stuart): Larry (Green, the weathercaster) was here, but he got
all misty and he had to leave.
(Caplis): How's the weather tonight, Bill?
(Stuart): I don't know. You know, we're in for another cool-down --
obviously not around here! But Larry will be up with the forecast in
just a minute, so stay with us.