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judith timson on tv news

Poor Peter Mansbridge! In less than a week he has become an endangered species.

With the recent announcements that CTV senior news correspondent Lisa LaFlamme will replace venerable retiring anchor Lloyd Robertson and NBC correspondent Dawna Friesen will take over Kevin Newman's desk at Global, two of the three most coveted chairs in Canadian broadcast journalism will be filled by people who are not men.

In other words, it's anchors aweigh for female broadcasters and perhaps dry dock for one of the great media entitlements of the past half century: the authoritative white male news anchor.

Let's face it, Lisa LaFlamme and Dawna Friesen are not only seasoned and intelligent journalists who deserve their promotions, with the Genies and Emmys to prove it; they are also attractive, vibrant women. They will cause many viewers to sit up and take notice, not just because they are expertly chronicling the latest CSIS imbroglio but because they are undeniably interesting to watch.

Overnight, Mr. Mansbridge has gone from being effortlessly in charge, in his nicely pressed designer suits genially chronicling the news of the day, to being, well, even more unexciting than he already was.

Clearly, he is going to have to work a whole lot harder to be interesting, because being a man just isn't enough any more.

So, Peter, I hereby offer some tips to up your oomph:

1. Pimp the pate. Make your baldness ba-ad! Both these women have fabulous hair. Lisa sometimes lets hers go majorly curly, but hair is key. I mean, CTV's long-time weekend anchor Sandie Rinaldo made a whole career out of changing her hairstyles. So how about a tattoo on your head? Nothing tacky, maybe the CBC logo. Or different colours. Red and white for a Canada Day broadcast. A bright blue if the Tories win the next election. Work it!

2. Accessorize. When Dawna Friesen accepted her posting in a little on-air exchange with Kevin Newman this week, she was wearing a teal blue large bead necklace. I spent some time analyzing whether it actually worked with the teal blue outfit, but at least I wasn't changing channels. For you, I'm thinking one small earring that you change frequently and a few gold chains. It's not that you need outrageous bling, but it's one way to catch and hold the viewer's eye.

3. Voice. Peter, you're going to have to lighten and subtly soften your deep male anchor voice now that the definitive news voice will be female. Shorten those stentorian pauses, and maybe a little uptalk would help? "And in Ottawa today? Question Period got incredibly noisy? Politicians of all stripes seemed childish?"

4. Wardrobe. First, don't go casual. Stay suited up. I've always loved your designer suits, and one time when I saw you in person I barely resisted the urge to stroke your well-tailored arm. But now you need to make your suits tighter. Women anchors have been forced - I mean encouraged - to wear sexy tight skirts and heels as they deliver their news standing up, so I think you need to wiggle into something a little more body-conscious. Shorter jackets, tighter pants. And, not to put too fine a point on it, maybe the merest hint of a bulge down there? Call Karen Kain over at the National Ballet; maybe she'll tell you what those male dancers do to enhance their enhancements, if you know what I mean, because my God are they riveting onstage. But no pirouetting, please. We are still talking dignified.

5. You do have one advantage in that you've been flirting madly with that charming weather woman Claire for the past few years, and your two female competitors can't flirt - it would make them look trite and unprofessional. If anything, Lisa LaFlamme and Dawna Friesen will avoid anything goofy or girlish on-air. Which leaves goofy and girlish to you! Just don't do perky. No, no, no.

Finally, Peter, let me remind you that female broadcasters have fought hard since the early days of Barbara Walters to be taken seriously as news anchors. As she recounted in her memoir, Audition, Ms. Walters was restricted on the Today show to asking the fourth question of any powerful person. The first three went to her male co-anchor, whose name is now as obscure as hers is famous.

And in 1976, when she briefly became an evening anchor, even good old Walter Cronkite groused that he had "the sickening sensation that we're all going under."

Three decades later, Katie Couric is still struggling for ratings in the United States. But in Canada the woman anchor is an idea whose time has clearly come. Take heart from that, Peter. It means that if women can prevail in spite of all the stereotyping, then you can too.

The only problem is that network newscasts themselves are on the verge of becoming passé in the new media.

In which case, "the sickening sensation of going under" may well be an equal-opportunity moment.