Feder photos: Anchors for the ages

Linda MacLennan, Bill Kurtis, Carol Marin, Ron Magers, Mary Ann Childers and John Drury (1993)

Linda MacLennan, Bill Kurtis, Carol Marin, Ron Magers, Mary Ann Childers and John Drury (1993)

Twenty years ago, I invited the anchors of Chicago’s three 10 o’clock newscasts to assemble for a group photo at the Museum of Broadcast Communications. The gathering was captured by the great Sun-Times photographer Rich Hein.

There they were: Bill Kurtis and Linda MacLennan of CBS-owned WBBM-Channel 2; Ron Magers and Carol Marin of NBC-owned WMAQ-Channel 5; and John Drury and Mary Ann Childers of ABC-owned WLS-Channel 7.

The picture was taken to illustrate a Sunday spread about local TV news that included lots of fancy charts and graphs about viewership patterns, competitive strategies and stuff like that. But as it turned out, none of what I’d spent months researching and writing mattered. The photo became the story.

What many readers saw on the front page of the Sun-Times on March 7, 1993, weren’t just six news anchors. They were six white news anchors.

The fact that all six of Chicago’s most prominent news personalities were white in a historically polarized city with a large African American population was crystallized by that one image. It became the subject of letters to the editor, radio talk show debates, and perhaps most importantly, urgent meetings at the three network-owned stations.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH, which had led a successful boycott of CBS 2 over the hiring and promotion of minorities in 1986, needed only to raise the threat of action this time. But the message came through loud and clear: The front lines of Chicago’s marquee news programs had to do a better job of reflecting the communities they served.

As soon as there were openings at 10 o’clock, African Americans moved up: Diann Burns was on ABC 7′s late news within a year, followed by Lester Holt on CBS 2′s in 1995 and Warner Saunders on NBC 5′s in 1997. (Before then, black anchors already were on the 9 p.m. newscasts on Tribune Broadcasting WGN-Channel 9 and Fox-owned WFLD-Channel 32.)

Diversity won — but not for long. Two decades later, the city’s top news anchors at 10 p.m. again are all white: Rob Johnson and Kate Sullivan at CBS 2; Allison Rosati and Rob Stafford at NBC 5; and Magers and Kathy Brock at ABC 7.

Here’s a look at some other notable Chicago anchor teams over the years. Click on the arrows to advance the photos: