Why do newswomen talk like that?

It’s quiet over here so I decided to flip on the tv. It opened to CNN and a report on shrimp and treadmills.

After about 45 seconds, I had to turn the thing off. I have no idea who the reporter was, but she was doing that “loud woman reporter sing-song” thing, the broadening of words and Louisville Slugger overemphasis of certain words and syllables that comes off like a half-bellowed-half-swallowed hectoring.

Why do female broadcasters — both on radio and on tv — feel the need to do that? It’s not how they normally speak, and they don’t do it in interviews, but something about that center-of-attention turn at the mic just seems to bring this out in some, and it’s an ugly, off-putting sound. On the radio, there is one female reporter who sounds like she’s talking while trying to swallow back vomit. It makes me reach for the mute button or just change the channel. I’m not trying to pick on women — and clearly they don’t all do this — but I wish the ones who do would stop it. Or that their producers would do a hint-hint, “less is more…”

Is it just me? You know the tone I’m describing, right? I can’t find the report I’m talking about, yet. I wanted to demonstrate this bizarre, corkscrewed phrasing by showing one of the wonderful, pitch-perfect parodies that Laraine Newman used to do on SNL, but, sadly, they are nowhere to be found online. The closest I can get to it (and it is a weak comparison) comes via Family Guy and their “Asian reporter, Tricia Takanawa”:

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About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://getalonghome.com Cindy

    I totally just read your whole post aloud in newslady voice. That was awesome. ;-)

    [I'd like to hear that! -admin]

  • Terrye

    I have noticed the same thing. And they all do it.

  • login_id_

    As a dude, I’ve noticed this, but I would never mention it to anyone. It is sorta amazing since they usually are of above average intelligence, but it sounds like they are broadcasting to a kindergarten class. Especially favored Louisville slugger emphases: “rePUBlicans,” “BILlion” etc. … some names get emphasis on *every* syllable, for example: “PAUL RYAN.”

  • DWiss

    I’ve noticed that too. Not a fan.

    Can’t say I’m a fan of that Ouija Board online thingy that was advertised over in the right hand column. Did that come from the pagan portal? Maybe this Patheos thing isn’t such a good idea!

  • Rand Careaga

    I left off following television news within a few weeks of the Iranian hostage brouhaha in 1979. At intervals I look into the modern product, and have never repented of that initial decision. With television, and with any mass media introduced since that time, one risks being seduced into a prefabricated and mass-produced public mythology* in preference to the personal kind. I don’t claim to have had many important insights, but that was one.

    *the term “mythology” being intended in something like the Joseph Campbell sense as opposed to the modern shorthand of “believed in by pre-industrial cultures prior to the arrival of European colonists.”

  • lethargic

    I think it sounds like they’re talking through their noses while holding marbles in their mouths. My theory — they’re trying to replicate a certain tone heard in the voices of male anchorpersons in years gone by. Listen to old broadcasts and you can hear a sort of “edge” that I cannot describe … I think they think it is the substance of jaded gravitas or sumpin’.

  • http://www.sthubertsrosary.com shana

    It just goes to show its always something. If it isn’t a big mouth hot-shot news anchor lady whining that she’s unpopular and treated as if she’s got a big hunk of spinach stuck in her teeth RIGHT THERE just for sitting on Walter Cronkite’s desk then it is a news lady who can’t annunciate her words without sounding like she’s got a mouth full of marbles and vah-mit! Its enough to make me SICK!

    Not Larraine Newman. Never was a fan.

    Give me Gilda Radner & Roseanne Rosannadanna any day! :)

  • cathyf

    Yeah, Shana, always something. I was just thinking that it’s not as bad as the opera singer trying to poop a bowling ball through her nose in the previous post that everybody else thinks is so wonderful. S’pose there’s no accounting for taste!

  • Edward

    “After about 45 seconds, I had to turn the thing off.”

    You lasted far longer than I usually do.

  • honeybee

    As a long time expat, I can’t bear to listen to American voices anymore, especially on podcasts and the like.

    A lot of Americans (most, it seems) now have a horrible verbal tic that seems ubiquitous these days. It’s the sing-song cadence with an inflection at the end of every pause, phrase and sentence that make everything sound like a question. I hate it whenever I hear it, but for some reason, it grates on my nerves especially when men do it.

    I want to scream, “Why can’t you talk like a grown man?”

  • Fred

    Public speaking is a lost art. It’s amazing how poor most public speakers are these days. They must never listen to themselves. No voice training or modulation and unintelligent phrasing and intonation.

    Perhaps, my ear is just tuned to lower voices, but I simply cannot listen to high pitched, nasal, screachy voices of most female reporters and a number of politicians – nails on the chalk board. Shouting in their normal conversational voices (which raises the pitch) is not public speaking. Voices must be trained.

    People who make their livings with their voices should know better, have some pride in their craft, or at least have pity on the public.

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    I call it the Oprah effect. She has taken to a bellowing kind of verbal delivery in recent years that is really off-putting to me.

  • jkm

    It’s a direct lift from flight-attendant speech (listen next time and you will recognize it instantly), which creates false cheeriness even when discussing the possibility of crashing into the ocean–or, in news terms, the economy’s crashing–by placing the verbal stress not on the content words (nouns, adjectives) but on the prepositions and articles and occasional verbs. So we get “Tonight three men WERE arrested FOR breaking AND entering. They WERE taken TO jail. More AT 11.” That’s the singsong effect you’re talking about, and it makes me . . . airsick. It is combined with forcing the voice into an unnaturally high and strained register in order to be heard over passenger noise.

    I think it transferred from planes to broadcasting when stewardesses and local weather girls were similarly perky and gravitas was not part of the job description. But it’s spread to the whole broadcast world. It’s still more commonly a female inflection, but men are doing it too, especially at the local news level. The morning newswoman on one of our local stations here is a textbook example–to the point that I was delighted, this morning, to note that the medication she is taking for spring allergies has actually restored her voice to normal pitch and emphases for a brief interlude!

  • Maureen

    It must be some kind of New York thing, because Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather used to do it also. It’s just that their voices were deeper, so it didn’t sound as harsh.

    Of course, the other problem is that the networks stopped using Dayton and Cincinnati as their “pleasing voice ready for network news but with actual reporting ability” training ground. Wimps.

  • http://www.dymphnaswell.blogspot.com Dymphna

    I can’t stand to listen to most women on radio and TV. Most who are on the young side seem unable to enunciate at all and the high pitched voices are unlistenable.

  • http://www.savkobabe.blogspot.com Gayle Miller

    Dymphna – all the ones with the squeeky voices as well. Lots of nymphet so-called actresses and lots and lots of elite athletes. Meryl Davis, half of the World Championship Figure Skating team, sounds like Minnie Mouse, as do most gymnasts. Then there’s Anna Kendrick, one of the actresses doing well with the “Twilight” series of films. She’s at least in her mid-20s and she speaks in a shrill squeak!

    I used to have a higher pitched voice, but after working in radio in the 70s, I now speak in a much lower-pitched tone. Of course, being an old broad doesn’t hurt!

  • NavyMom

    My radio broadcasting husband shouted “Amen!” to your post today. It drives him batty the way women use a phony, sing-song voice when that red microphone light turns on. I used to be a radio news anchor and did my best to speak in a normal tone.