News directors are more likely to follow their gut than either ratings or research when filling an anchor position, according to a recently published study.

The survey, completed in mid-August by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Telecommunication at Arizona State U., also found that NDs rank producers as more essential to their operation than reporters, photographers or assignment editors.

News directors respond

Of the 1,082 questionnaires sent to TV station general managers and news directors, 347 GMs and 337 NDs responded for a fairly high 63% response rate.

Despite the heavy emphasis on ratings, focus groups and screenings, respondents surprisingly listed the most important factor in the anchor selection process as the “gut feeling” of a GM and ND.

A station’s own research was designated as the second most important factor, followed by past research and, least important of all, ratings.

GMs and NDs insisted that anchors are the most essential ingredient needed to achieve high ratings for newscasts. Producers weren’t far behind, followed by assignment editors, general assignment reporters, camerapersons and feature reporters.

In selecting anchors, news directors put the most importance on writing skills, while GMs lean a little more toward reporting. A college degree was considered the least critical by GMs and NDs.

A budgeting problem

Both groups split when asked what they would do if they were determined to enlist or keep a promising anchor, but didn’t have enough money in the budget. Among general managers, the lead answer was not filling openings elsewhere on the staff, followed by filling openings with full-time staff at lower salary levels.

According to the survey, the first choice of news directors would be to use full-time staffers to fill openings at lower pay, followed by using part-timers, leaving openings unfilled, holding down capital expenditures, reducing the levels of annual pay raises and layoffs.

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