Anchoring returns thanks to COVID-19

Anchoring was all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s. Thanks to COVID-19, the term “anchoring” is enjoying a rebirth as many are moving online for school and work.

As the name suggests, anchoring refers to the TV news industry, but specifically to the wardrobe choices of some male anchors.

Anchors sat at the news desk wearing sport coats, starched dress shirts and ties. They looked professional. In fact, some anchors became fashion icons. Some launched their own clothing lines.

But it’s what we didn’t see, what was hidden beneath the desk, that gave anchoring it’s name.

From the waist down, anchors would wear just about anything. According to my anchor friends, choices included sweat pants, gym shorts, boxer shorts — anything more comfortable than dress pants.

It didn’t matter because anchors were figuratively anchored to the news desk. They didn’t move. Anchors who felt a little less confined below the desk were otherwise consummate professionals. Camera operators would, on rare occasion, dip the lens to an unexpected angle and, whoops, the audience might see a hairy leg or two.

Those days are (mostly) gone, according to Valley anchors.

“It’s almost impossible for us now with so many standing in full body anchor positions,” WFMJ morning show anchor Steve Vesey said. “When I was a sports guy in my first market, I wore shorts on a daily basis at the desk in the summer. Our news anchor frequently did as well.”

WKBN anchor Stan Boney, who recently celebrated 40 years in the news industry, said, “Some of the sports guys used to (anchor), but our new set has them standing, so not anymore.”

Not Stan though. “I’m always a suit guy when I’m on the set,” he said.

Last week, when I mentioned anchoring among expected video session behaviors for students, the term caused some confusion.

“Try to dress business-casual, but I don’t care if you anchor,” I said.

Nearly everyone replied, “Is that a typo? What do you mean ‘anchor’?”

In the last few weeks, millions of college students and workers around the world have been pushed into this new environment. We’re venturing into untested waters, trying to replicate the face-to-face workplace and classroom with live video.

Much of the online training and chatter about video conferencing revolves around best practices for tech and tools. Unfortunately, less of that chatter has to do with online video etiquette — such as knowing how to act and dress.

My students didn’t know about anchoring, so I thought, here’s a teachable moment. As expected, my students are smarter than this. When I explained the concept, their reactions were mostly “Oohhh!”

They got it and some fully admitted to already being in anchor mode.

This led to a discussion about how people in other online classes were dressing for live video sessions.

“My one professor was in his pajamas,” one student added. “And I’m pretty sure he was still in bed.”

Students admitted to doing their hair, brushing their teeth, shaving and applying some makeup before joining our video session.

They all agreed that even if some were anchoring, looking professional in front of a webcam made them feel a little more human and energized — even if it was only from the waist up.

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at www.adamearn .com.


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