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Do blonde women cause more bad journalism than old men?

The Age successfully trolled the internet yesterday when it posted an opinion piece from retired journalist Geoffrey Barker about why young pretty blonde females aren’t good journalists.

Unsurprisingly, the piece has drawn significant disagreement.

Former (attractive) commercial television news reporter Tracey Spicer suggested that Barker had developed some kind of algorithm where the inputs are blonde hair, blue eyes, white teeth and the output is bad reporting. It’s a funny article and about as worthy a response as the piece deserves.

Except she has it around the wrong way.

His input is that commercial news is bad. And his output is that it must be because of the pretty blonde “babes” on there.

Fairfax’s Jaqueline Maley pointed out that: “If one is being charitable, one imagines Barker was trying to make the point that some television news is sensationalised and superficial.”

And it’s true, that point is definitely in there (albeit buried sweeping statements about blonde hair and “mickey-mouse degrees”). The problem isn’t his starting proposition. It isn’t too controversial to suggest that ABC or SBS or a newspaper are more in depth sources of news than the 17 mins (exc. commercials*) that appears on the main networks every night.

The problem is his analysis of the underlying causes.

Ultimately, it’s another case of interpreting causality where none exists. That network television has a lot of pretty blonde females on it is an indicator of the priorities that might lead one to dismiss its content – not the cause of it.

Network news has the same commercial imperative as its other shows. It needs to draw an audience, and it does so by being entertaining. It’s part of the entertainment industry, where men can be older and uglier but women have to be attractive (see: every sitcom ever).

Maley also points out that: “There probably is an interesting debate to be had about the pressures on women in television to maintain a certain appearance, and the fact that there seem to be more older male faces on our screens than there are older female faces.” She’s right, but this goes much broader than just commercial news programs.

It’s true that pretty blonde female may not be able to deliver hard-hitting news on Channel 9. But neither can a woman who doesn’t look like that. Or a man. Because news on Channel 9 doesn’t exist for diving deep into stories.

That Emma Alberici (not blond, admittedly, but definitely pretty) is able to do so on the ABC is reflection of the different priorities of each channel and goes some way in rebutting his argument of an inverse relationship between looks and quality of work.

About the only potentially valid point that he makes is that reporters are too young, since age correlates with experience, and experience improves quality. But then that applies equally to males and females and the entire spectrum of hair colour.

Let’s face it. It’s incredibly sexist. Barker is incredibly sexist. It’s the only plausible way you would create a causal link between hair colour/gender and quality of output.

Ironically, Geoffrey Barker is a male and isn’t blonde, and yet the mistake he makes here –attributing causality where none exists – is much more serious than simply failing to go into sufficient depth on a nightly news cross. Not only that, but his superficial analysis of a problem that he seems to drum up as quite serious is about a close a thing to making the op-ed universe collapse in on itself as one can imagine.

Shallowness isn’t great, but it’s necessary within the restrictions of commercial news that gives minimal time to covering the day’s events.

Completely misinterpreting a problem, though, is not necessary, and is not the fault of anyone except the individual, regardless of gender/hair cut.

Causality is at least casually addressed in most “mickey-mouse degrees.” Perhaps he’d do well to audit one next semester.

By Matt Hickey