No longer breaking stories in high heels and skimpy outfits, Lauren Jones has signed off from the KYTX-TV “Eye of East Texas” news team and returned to modeling swimsuits.
Rival stations in Tyler weren’t entertained by the monthlong ratings stunt by Jones, the star behind the upcoming Fox reality show “Anchorwoman” and a former hostess for World Wrestling Entertainment.
She spent June traipsing around the east Texas city in tight tops and a miniskirt, hunting down scoops for the CBS affiliate. Her on-air reports, which included toeing through penguin droppings at the zoo in stiletto heels, are intended to get laughs when “Anchorwoman” premieres Aug. 21.
“She definitely wasn’t your typical, day 1, trying-to-break-into-the-business newsperson,” said Bryan Houston, a KYTX anchor who worked alongside the 24-year-old former New York beauty pageant contestant.
Not everyone was smiling. Residents of the rural area about 100 miles east of Dallas worry that “Anchorwoman” will portray their city as backwoods.
And news professionals said the show will further blur the line between news and entertainment.
“What they’re doing is making a mockery of every legitimate local news station in the country, the people that work there and the viewers whose trust they and we, as an industry, try to earn every day,” Brad Streit, general manager of ABC affiliate KLTV in Tyler, said this past week on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
Jones walked into the newsroom June 1 with no journalism experience and a revealing outfit. The station’s news director, Dan Delgado, put her through a crash course in writing, reading a prompter and reporting.
As with any “green” reporter, mistakes were made and tempers flared in the newsroom, he said.
“Early on, it was a matter of damage control,” Delgado said. “There were times when buttons were pushed.”
Station owner Phil Hurley turned around two struggling stations before, and says he thought Jones’ looks could help make KYTX his third.
Hurley said Jones only worked on the station’s softer 5 p.m. newscast, not the more straightforward news shows at 6 and 10 p.m. Outtakes from Jones’ day on the job were aired each day on the later broadcasts.
He said he let “Anchorwoman” producer Brian Gadinsky, who co-produced “American Idol,” into the newsroom hoping attract new viewers who would then stay for the hard-hitting local news on the 3-year-old station.
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“Changing people’s habits is a slow process and we wanted to speed that up,” Hurley said.
Viewers responded with calls and critical e-mails. Hurley once appeared on the station’s morning newscast to defend his decision.
Houston said the station was upfront about Jones’ role and doesn’t need to apologize. He said the line between entertainment and news blurred long ago on local TV.
“We took their best shots and didn’t duck anything,” he said. “We’re not single-handedly bringing down journalism here.”