On awful female voices in television news and who’s really to blame

Dr Brian Edwards

I’m going to keep this reasonably brief. It’s a plea to the bosses at TVNZ and TV3 and to their Heads of News.

Do you watch your own news bulletins? If you do, do you watch with the sound turned off? That is the only possible reason I can think of why a majority of your female field reporters have such ghastly, such appalling, such unlistenable voices.

And no, I am not talking about their Kiwi accents. I think we should embrace that aspect of our culture. (Though I could do without ‘Wallington’ and ‘talyvision’.)

No,  I’m talking about the fact that most of these young women sound as though they have permanent head colds; that the noise they produce is a high-pitched nasal whine that compares unfavourably with chalk squeaking on a blackboard. THEY ARE AWFUL! 

But since I don’t believe you watch your own bulletins with the sound turned off, can I assume that you just don’t care how your field reporters sound? Is it your view that voice quality is a dated, old-fashioned and rather snobby concept? ‘Who gives a damn? What’s it got to do with news?’

That would at least explain how you could put to air a few nights ago a young female reporter who not only talked through her nose but combined that attribute with a pronounced lisp. I thought that was a disservice to her as much as to her audience.

Harsh? Well it might be if some at least of these speech patterns could not be remedied with a little voice training.

But ‘training’ now appears to be an alien concept with the major television networks. It’s off  the polytech journalism course on Monday and onto the nation’s  television screens on Tuesday. That isn’t fair to them and it isn’t fair to us.

‘But Brian, Hilary Barry and Caroline Robinson and Rachel Smalley and Wendy Petrie and Bernadine Oliver-Kerby all have lovely voices.’ They do indeed, but they’re news anchors not field reporters and their beautiful voices merely serve to highlight some of the atrocities that follow their introductions.

Now I’m aware that I haven’t named any of the One or Three News field reporters with terrible voices in this rave. That’s because the fault is not theirs but their bosses’ who aren’t  offering them training to improve their voices and delivery. And I also don’t want to be cruel.

At the same time I recognise that this anonymity is unfair to all the field reporters on both networks who have good to excellent voices. I reckon that’s four out of 10 and to them I apologise. You probably know who you are.

Now if I’ve got it wrong and this nasal whine is now the way most New Zealand women speak and has become ‘the female New Zealand accent’, or if I’m out of step with what TV viewers want, I’m happy to be corrected.

And there is at least an alternative – Maori Television which, I happen to know, thinks it worthwhile to invest in improving the on camera performance and delivery of its front-people and field reporters. It shows.

Media trainer and commentator Dr Brian Edwards blogs at Brian Edwards Media
 


Postscript

Judy [Callingham] posted about this issue on Facebook a couple of days ago. The response was a mixture of support and hostility. 

Much of the hostility seemed to stem from the misconception that anyone criticising the way women TV field reporters in this country speak today must be hankering for a return to the plummy BBC delivery that was a feature of public broadcasting in New Zealand until the 70’s and possibly a little later.

But this isn’t about accent, it’s about sound. It’s about something that ought to be pleasing or at least inoffensive to the ear, instead of being harsh, grating and unpleasant. It’s how I would compare Mozart, or for that matter Sting, to Johnny Rotten.

In The Rise and Fall of a Young Turk, Rob Muldoon wrote that the only reason for my success in New Zealand television was my ‘intriguing Irish accent’. Actually you could have driven off vampires with the sound of my voice in the 60’s. It’s much more pleasant now. I haven’t lost my accent and I don’t want to. It’s just more pleasant to listen to.

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48 Comments & Questions

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No voice is worse than the ghastly Pinnacle Life radio ads...NOTHING!

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I entirely agree! My wife and I literally groan and roll her eyes whenever that Ad comes on - beyond pompous!

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Haha, I actively turn the radio down when that ad comes on, she sounds so arrogant!

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This is sexist drivel. How did this piece get all the way to being published?

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Because the content is factually accurate and true, Sexism has nothing to do with it.
The quality of newsreaders and reporters voice presentation is generally appalling.

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Yes R.J. Robert, the quality of newsreaders and reporters voice presentation is generally appalling.

But this is sexist drivel because Brian has singled out the women for criticism, ignoring the equally appalling quality of some male presenters.

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I had credited Brian Edwards with more sense than to revert to this nonsense. High pitched nasally whine.

This reeks of the 1976 edition of Glanville Williams' "Learning the Law" in which he claimed that while women could feasibly practice as solicitors, under the UK system they were unlikely to succeed as barristers because their quiet, high pitched tones wouldn't carry across a courtroom.

Actually, there are plenty of male voices on telly, in the news and elsewhere that are just as difficult to listen on asthetic reasons. Mike Hall, anyone? Brooke Howard-Smith? Steve Price makes a terrible commentator, not least of all because the deep bass of his voice is difficult to hear! Thank goodness we packed Dominic Bowden and his 'preformance' off overseas!

So, Brian, while your argument might have been valid, framing it entirely against women is just stupid.

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That's the joy of being anonymous, Anonymous - you can dismiss what a named writer says without advancing any cogent argument in reply. The post's thrust is that their employers owe it to these young women to help them improve their delivery and the quality of theri voices. They've chosen a career as broadcasters. Having a decent voice is sure a sine qua non of that profession. Why the concentration on young women? Because this particular type of delivery isn't common in men, no doubt because they speak in a lower register. They have other faults which I'll get around to.

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I find this fascinating and Mr Edwards has some excellent points. I have to be amused that while training is dropped the aforesaid miscreants are the first to embrace 'newspeak' or the newly 'mis'spelled maori place names ignoring several generations of locals who learned to pronounce the place by phonetics.

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I tend to agree with Edwards but he should get into the quality of news and news reporting not just on TV but in the NZHerald which is appalling at best.

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Thats a winner of an idea. I used to really enjoy that old tv slot critiquing, what was it...fouth estate?

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I wonder if there's a widespread, deep-seated psychological desire amongst them to sound like men because the awful whine often descends into a high-toned croak at the end of a sentence. Like, 'let me stop sounding like a squeaky woman'. And where did the terrible, inappropriate emphasis on certain words come from? 'The police WILL announce the name of the person after relatives have been informed.' As if they wouldn't. That irritation used to be the preserve of airport PA announcements.

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Nice one Brian.

Is it just me or does Miriama Kamo continually drop in and out with her pitch. Sometimes she's really hard to understand. I think the elderly in our population would be sitting there, turning up their hearing adds asking, "WHAT? What did she say?!"

I watch TVNZ news because the alternative seems a bit teenage for my liking, but I am so over how self-important TVNZ have become. "A One News exclusive" is constantly blurted out by their anchors. An exclusive? You beat 3 News to it? Bravo and who gives a toss? "Voted Best News" -- wow you won a two-horse race! "...uncovered after a One News investigation". OMG, their investigative journalism is a complete joke compared to absolutely any piece in print or on reputable networks abroad.

What I find stunning is how much relevant information they leave out of news items. It's infotainment sound bites at best. It makes you wonder who are pulling their strings. Really.

Don't just overhaul Close Up, TVNZ, do the same with One News.

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Try Prime and Charlotte Bellis. The news doesnt have the obvious problems that the other two have and Charlotte (and Eric ) get the message across without any drama. I still like Carolyn Robinson though.

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Brian - could you please also point out to the Political Chiefs in TV land that their blatant left wing whinging at Key / National is often so biased and unballanced as to thoroughly compromise their integrity and professional responsibilities with delivering balanced reporting.

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Try listening to PM Julia Gillard on a regular basis. Her voice makes me squirm.

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I'm not in love with it myself, Wah Wah, which is why I was all the more impressed with her speech (address) on this occasion.

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I would like to add my dislike of a certain weather presenter also whose tone and manner make me feel like I should be sitting on the mat with my arms and legs crossed! This is a male, so not a sexist comment. We are adults people - we pay the bills and buy your advertiser's products. We are not 4 year olds.

And on another soapbox, I hate the lame comments that news readers gush out -like after an item reporting a terrible road accident with multiple fatalities, the newsreader follows with "the Police Serious Road Accident Team are investigating"!!! FGS, it would be news if they WEREN'T investigating. Talk about infantile.

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So ANY critique of ANYTHING female is sexist...oh how I loathe the brave new cultural marxist world of locked down minds, shrill harpies and their beta male allies...Alpha females would be the first to agree with some of these comments...

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Anonymous - if you think gender equality is part of a brave new world, you seriously need to catch up by about 40 years.

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Pronunciation on television and radio news is pretty awful at present... like, who changed the spelling of 20 & 30? Maybe these people don't know it isn't spelt twenny and thirdy.

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I was watching TV1 midday news this week and the presenter had such an appalling, truly disturbing, voice that I switched off the television. TV is driven by ratings and this newsreader made me switch off the TV. So the bosses should be aware of this as a very real issue. I would have thrown the TV out the window, but someone was sitting on the footpath below.

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Brian. As for "the other faults" that you will get around to...please
Will you or someone comment on the moronic banter from TV ones Breakfast team and in particular their man Tamati who surely is the gold medalist in their dumbing down stakes.

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Are you a sucker for punishment? FGS just don't watch it if you don't like it.

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I couldn't agree less with your statement that Wendy Petrie has a lovely voice. She strains and squeaks trying to project her naturally weak voice. Compare her delivery to a strong reader like Bernadine Oliver Kerby.Now there's a winner.

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lf you think ours are awful you should listen to the news presenters in Australia! They barely speak English, it is almost impossible to understand any thing they say.....

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I am a woman and I totally agree with Mr Edwards and no, its not about the accent at all, its about the ghastly, thin, whiney delivery - remember the allure of Sharon Crosbie and Relda Familton - the former was no pussy cat rather smooth with dreadfully sharp claws but these others today - please spare us! Wendy Petrie is pretty high pitched too. Just get a little voice training - its not about sounding " posh" or Up yourself, its about beautiful timbre and clear diction.

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Brian is being too polite by far and despite some of the comments here, is being so i suspect restrained to avoid claims of sexism.

the problem is not just accents, but the visual package. I have not seen such a cluster of youngish female blonde clones in any newsroom in the world, that we are confronted with on TVNZ.

The nearest parallel I've experienced was in Perth at the America's cup in 1986, where the streets of Freemantle were filled with young females with identically artificially blonded hair, othodontic's designed teeth and of course the hideous "chalk screeching parrot" native aussie accent.

The problem is not these young women. It strems from the cynical and expedient TVNZ recruitment culture under former CEO Rick Ellis and his news-current affairs Aussie chief who left TVNZ about the same time.(to return thankfully to Austra/lia)

But wait theres's more. Just as we hoped that some professionalism and sanity might be return to TVNZ's news and current affairs, we learn from NBR, that looking in their recruitment for a producer and his/her colleagues, for social network mystros who can bring the "skills" (lowest common denomninator) of twitter and facebook approach to replace Close Up.

So now we go from awful to hideous, with the marketing dept of TVNZ now having clearlty won a coup in controlling new and currfent affairs.
I know its do do with rating in the 19-44 age demographic who are the highest spenders, but do we have to go the histoical semi literate equiavlent of comics, in TVNZ's new/current affairs programming?

Minister Joyce will be pleased, because this resonates with his lowest common denominator standards in commercial radio broadcasting and it will of course provide more revenue for the Govt. But for mature intelligent NZers, its a crass insult and will put TVNZ winning the trophy for the worst public broabcaster in the Western world.

Thank God for the choice of the net and other international broadcasters, who haven't yet stooped to this basement, banal level.
TVNZ's top executives and marketing dept, should hide their faces in shame.

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You really have to ask the question, why is the Government in this business in the first place? especially the so called 'free market party'
Close Up is going because it costs too much and not enough sponsors are prepared to pay the money that would make the programme viable long term, TV advertising is non interactive and dumb compared with on-line, it's not a pretty site and it's only going to lose more and more value. If I was John Campbell I'd be worried about my show, if TVNZ aren't in the space and not spending the money TV3 would be happy not to as well I'm sure.

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Let's all wake up and realise that state funded public broadcasting is an anachronism. It has had it's glory days (1963 - 1990) and now younger generations choose to go elsewhere for more relevant and indepth information. TVNZ strikes me as being one of the last bastions of Baby Boomer media control and it's out-of-touch approach to both news and entertainment only supports that theory. Who really cares about Mark Sainsbury and the relevance of Close Up?

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Well, at least, they don't sound like the lady hawking "thousands of luminous spheres".

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Turn off the box and call for the government to sell TVNZ. All it is is a taxpayer funded vehicle for advertising and turning a bunch of handsomely paid polytech graduates and DJs into celebrities. Most of the programmes are awful and for these reasons I hardly watch TV anymore.

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Brian is spot on. There's a lack of gravitas in our news reporting and a lot of that comes down to the loss of experience and people with the time and energy to think about clearer diction and train the new wave of reporters. I like a bit of New Zild but totally agree sloppy pronounciation and rushed delivery makes for an unpleasant aural experience!

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There's a certain news reader on Newstalk ZB who, while speaking in an agreeably low register, also sounds like she has a head cold. I have to change the station whenever she comes on.

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Personally, I'd love to see a return to the plummy BBC voices of yesteryear.

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While we are on this, what is with the disproportionate amount of news presenters that have lisps. I mean, it's great that they want the challenge to be able to speak in public, but come on it's ridiculouth...

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I could not agree more, the tone and nasal speech is appalling. The raised inflection only highlights it or should I say " raised influction" . speech training would assist both. I have been in the UK and Ireland for a few weeks and note the BBC accents are now quite regional , not always a good thing.
But this morning's Petra on breakfast had me flee to the traffic jams of Auckland.
Please some voice training will improve the delivery, the content is another debate

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As a linguist, one of the main issues that I notice (apart from those nasal sounds) is the poor stress-timing that occurs in the delivery of some of these offenders. (TVNZ7, when it existed, had some cringe-inducing culprits.)

The issue stems partly from the influence of Maori English, but it is mainly the reader's unfamiliarity with the vocabulary that they are delivering!! Definitely voice training needed - perhaps more literacy?

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I agree with Mr Edwards but I'm probably not qualified to comment because I can only stand a few minutes of the poor quality, sensationalist reporting that’s served up by the main TV news programmes before turning the box off!

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re #26 above: Yes, yes yes to more literacy - much more - you can tell they have little experience in reading of any sort. Please even the USA which is rather youth and beauty obsessed uses many older, senior persons to read and deliver the News. Why can't broadcasters and advertisers " get" the fact that many audience members are older and well endowed with the "readies" - we want to spend but not on people who treat us as so many "wombles" - get some gorgeous older well spoken and literate talent and I will start watch TV in NZ again instead of the foreign news offerings available on Sky. Young french female news people look gorgeous, speak clearly and are clearly intelligent and well-informed too - its possible! why don't we do it?

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Must disagree with Rachel Smalley having a lovely voice.
She aspirates her 'W's when there is no following 'H' a la Stewie Griffin.
She (along with Mark Sainsbury, to be fair) cannot sound the 'oo' at the end of a word ending in 'W' e.g cah for cow, nah for now etc. She compounds the felony by linking those words to a following word beginning with a vowel. by inserting a non-exisitent 'R', e.g. nahrin for now in, etc.
Also, along with so many media females, she cannot handle the dark 'L'.

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I cant believe so many people have a view on this! Get a hobby!

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Great article. Fantastic to see the odd tall poppy in New Zealand bursting through mouldy blanket of political correctness which covers us like a nuclear winter. Be brave and say what you think!

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Why can't they keep their hands still, or frame them out so you can't see them flapping around.....

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Just us a muppet with a BBC voice over - perfect!

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I agree with B.E 100%.
It's oddly appropriate,though,that the simplistic drivel spouted by these Harpies should be delivered in a thin nasal whine..

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Brian, I thought I was the only one who can't abide those horrid voices, which unfortunately are not limited to females (but they are the worst). The most agregious is the pretty but vacuous thing who presents 20/20. I get the impression she just reads single words off the teleprompt with no understanding of their meaning. Asformer students of the lovely Judy (40+ years ago), we learned to speak proper, lower our juvenile squeaks and sound like we had an actual brain. Please send these kids back to broadcasting school!

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What gets me is the number of presenters that have lisps or other speech impediments. Don't get me wrong I fell sorry for anyone that suffers such an affliction, but why do we have to put up with them as presenters? My guess is that the PC brigade places them in these positions, we are left to suffer and put up with this. I can't help but wonder that if you were a lesbian one legged Maori with a lisp, would you be automatically promoted to read the six o'clock news?

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