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“Police say the suspect is a 5’10, 165 pound white male, and was last seen fleeing from the Greenville Wal-Mart, heading east on State Route 45. Now let’s check in with Leticia Guerrero for this weekend’s forecast,” as I spoke, I turned my head slightly towards the green screen to the left of my desk, my plastic smile remained plastered to my face until I was sure that the camera was no longer on me. The smile died instantly, and I looked back down at my notes. I crumpled up the story about the Greenville Wal-Mart flasher and tossed it under my desk, sighing. More nonsense stories that no one cared about.

“Thanks Brooke, well everyone if you thought last weekend was unseasonably cold, you aren’t going to like what I have to tell you next…” began Leticia, the new meteorologist at my station, KQTV, Channel 10-Fairview. I wasn’t really listening anymore, I knew I had a couple of minutes before Leticia threw back to me and Karl Fowler, my co-anchor.

Instead I was thinking about the phone call I’d had three hours earlier from another ABC affiliate in Tucson, Arizona letting me know that they were going to go another way for their morning news anchor. They thanked me for my interest. I was thinking that at the age of 33, my chances of leaving Channel 10 were basically non-existent. Tucson was my last chance. I was doomed to spend the next 15years of my life as the female anchor for the Channel 10 Action Evening News at 6 o’clock, the third-ranked local afternoon news broadcast in America’s 191st-largest media market. That is, in a city with a grand total of 90,000 men, women, children, and houseplants, two other local stations got more eyeballs. Essentially, no one watched my broadcast. When I started getting close to 50 years old, KQTV would give me a minuscule raise and an office job to keep my old face off the air. Then I’d retire and, later, die. It was all planned out.

And as I organized my papers for the next segment, I thought again about how deeply unfair it was. I was a good journalist. I mean, I wasn’t just some news reader. Karl, sitting next to me, he was essentially Ron Burgundy come to life, right down to the miserable mustache. But I had earned my spot at this desk. I cut my teeth at KQTV after college; interviewing public officials, following viewer tips, digging through records, and earnestly asking questions in an attempt to educate the people of Fairview about the matters of local concern. I put in 12-14 hours days every day. I was the closest thing to a real investigator that this town had ever seen on TV (the local newspaper was actually pretty good, before it was shuttered). And I brought the same devotion to the anchor chair that I’d shown in the field.

Further, to be even more frank, I was damn good looking. At 33 I was 5’4 and no more than 115 pounds. I had long, straight (naturally) blonde hair and big green eyes. My nose was small, my cheek bones defined (but not too defined), I had a long elegant throat, high firm breasts, a flat stomach, an hourglass frame, and slender legs that looked incredible in a miniskirt. I looked like the kind of woman who got picked up by Fox News to keep the old men interested.

I’d gotten into the anchor chair early; I was only 27 when I got promoted. I saw myself advancing up the ladder. Going to bigger and better cities, maybe New York or LA, before getting picked up by a national broadcast. I saw myself doing fluff pieces on Good Morning America, before rotating up to the evening news. Maybe switching over to a cable station and having my own show. But somehow, things had never taken off for me. I’d worked harder and harder every year, perfecting my craft and trying to think of new things I could do to improve the broadcast. But, I’d never shown an ability to actually pull up viewership on my own. In fact, KQTV’s ratings had declined 2% across the board since I became anchor. New York and LA didn’t want me and that meant the national broadcasts would never want me. Hell, a mid-sized city like Tucson didn’t even want me.

I’d given everything I had to my career. I’d missed important family events like my sister’s wedding and my grandmother’s funeral. I’d foregone all of the normal aspects of a personal life. I’d never had anything even approaching a serious, adult relationship. Hell, I didn’t even dare adopt an animal because I was afraid I wouldn’t have time to take care of it. I’d done everything in my power to become a success in my chosen field and it wasn’t enough. I was 33 years old, single, and I wasn’t going anywhere.

“Brooke,” I heard Leticia finish up. My smile instantly returned as the light on the camera in front of me signaled that the weather report was over. I didn’t think I’d ever been more miserable in my life than I had been in that moment. But regardless of what Tucson thought, I was a professional. I would keep doing what I was doing. I didn’t know how to do anything else.

“Thanks, Leticia,” I said, “When we come back, Kyle Schrader will have a report on Superintendent Clinton’s controversial remarks on the upcoming school casino oyna board election. Some people are asking: did he cross the line? Please stick with us.” And the cameras went dark.

* * * * *

“Well I mean, I agree that it is good news. But it is weird,” I heard my producer, Gary, saying to one of his assistants. It was about two weeks after I’d gotten the word from Tucson and I was walking through the newsroom. I was on my way to make-up, in preparation for the night’s broadcast. Gary was hunched up over his assistant’s desk (I think the assistant was named Carla?) rubbing his chin with his thumb and forefinger. I wondered if something was breaking, whether I’d need to make some changes to my notes while I was in the make-up chair. I got the sort of tingling feeling I always got when there was a hint of a new story to cover. Even if I was stuck in Fairview forever, the rush of that feeling would never get old.

“What’s up? Something about the Mayor?” I asked, stopping next to the desk. Councilman Gillman had recently accused Mayor Tester of abusing his position to assist his brother in obtaining the sole city license to collect garbage. As of yet, it was just an unsubstantiated Facebook post by the councilman, but I had been trying to dig in to whether there was some basis for it. The bidding process had been closed, I needed documents showing there’d only been one accepted bid. “Good news” might mean a break in the story.

“No,” Gary said, distractedly, and I am sure the disappointment showed on my face. Gary looked up at me and smiled, something he never did, “Better!” he finished. Now my instincts were really thrumming.

“What is it then,” I said, walking around behind the desk and looked up at the computer screen. Before I had a chance to see what it was, Gary filled me in.

“It’s the latest ratings,” He said, “Viewership is up one percent compared to this month last year.” The sense of excitement I’d had quickly disappeared.

“Oh,” I said, nonplussed, “That’s a rounding error. We are still in third place, right?” I asked. Gary laughed a little, which was very strange, and nodded.

“Yeah, by a good margin,” He said. Now I was thoroughly confused. This was good news how? “Its not the overall amount that matters. In fact, in a couple of our strongest demographics we are down a bit. But that loss, and then more is totally made up with men 18-25.”

“Men 18-25?” I said, more confused than ever.

“Well, 18-49 males broadly, but 18-25 even more so. Up 12%” he explained.

“Did you check to make sure there wasn’t an error on the report?” I asked. I simply rejected the ratings out of hand. A 12% jump in any demographic after flat-lining for so long was unlikely, but men age 18-25 simply did not watch the local news. Anywhere. A 12% increase was impossible because 12% of 0 is still 0. They were the great white whale of local news: the most coveted demographic for advertisers generally and no way to reach it. “Lightning must’ve struck someone’s computer or something.”

“That’s what I said,” Gary replied, “I got Carol,” he gestured to his assistant (I was close), “to call over. They double checked the numbers. It’s right. I don’t claim to understand it. It is weird. But good.” Now it was my turn to laugh. I smiled at Gary and we just stared at each other like we were moonstruck kids. This didn’t make any sense. But I liked it.

“What did we do?” I asked, thinking back on the programming for the previous month. Stories whirred through my mind, but nothing stood out.

“I don’t know. I’ve been trying to figure it out. Nothing comes to mind. Maybe it is finally sticking. We wanted to be the most substantive local news in the market. Maybe people are catching on?” Gary suggested.

“You think 18-25 year old males are concerned with substance,” Carol said, incredulously. But I ignored the comment. I thought about what Gary said. Maybe he was right. There was no reason he couldn’t be right. Right? I mean, I prided myself on doing the news well. Was it so crazy to think that it actually worked?

“There isn’t any gimmick or anything I can think of. We have just been doing our show. We just keep doing that,” Gary said and it was like music to my ears. That was the dream, wasn’t it?

“I think we can handle that,” I said lightly.

“Then let’s go do it,” Gary said, and he looked back down at the computer screen. I essentially floated down the hallway to make-up. For the next several hours, I was getting ready for the broadcast. The routine was so familiar that I didn’t have to think about it. I was on autopilot. And that freed me up to think about the the ratings. The surprise was wearing off, but the excitement wasn’t. Ratings were up. And in a key demo. THE key demo. And we had just been doing my show. The disappointment from Tucson began to fade, for the first time in weeks. I remembered when I’d first taken the anchor chair. My immediate goal then hadn’t been to leave. Not for New York and definitely not for Tucson. No, the goal then was to be number canlı casino one in Fairview. I’d given up on that a long time ago, just trying desperately to get out. But maybe this disappointment was just what I needed. I needed to accept that I was going to be in Fairview so that I could do the job here to the degree it deserved to be done. Maybe my horizons were shorter now as I aged, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any goals worth pursuing. I could still be the best in Fairview. And I could do it by grabbing the adman’s favorite eyeballs.

These thoughts flittered through my brain over and over again as I got my make-up done, checked my notes, looked at reports, and made my way to the studio. For the first time in…years, I was excited as I completed these tasks. I sat down at my desk next to Karl and looked at the cameramen getting into position. This was it. This was why I wanted to do this in the first place. I was still doing the job I loved. Every day was an opportunity to live my dream. I didn’t even have to fake a smile as we counted down to airtime.

“Good evening, I am Brooke Middleton. Welcome to Action Evening News at 6 o’clock. Our top story tonight…” And I performed flawlessly.

* * * * *

Three days later, I floated into Gary’s corner office. He’d called a staff meeting and I was sure it was about the ratings. Of course, the ratings had been making the rounds around the office. Everyone knew about it. Everyone was excited. I felt that the two previous broadcasts since I’d learned the news were the strongest of my careers. There was no place else to go but up from this point. If anything, I was happier than I’d been when I first got the news.

When I stepped into Gary’s office I was a little bit surprised to see that the full staff wasn’t assembled. I was, as usual, a little late to the meeting. I’d been finishing up a report on the Mayor and figured everyone would be alright with it. But when I stepped in, the only people present were Gary, his assistant Carol (knew it this time), our script writer (the guy who filled in the banter and the fluff in our broadcasts) and the new meteorologist, Leticia Guerrero. I closed the door behind me and sat down at the chair in front of the desk. Carol and the writer, Mike, were standing next to Gary.

“Thanks for being here,” Gary said, sounding more subdued than he had in the last few days.

“I thought this was a staff meeting. Where is the staff?’ I asked. Gary grimaced like he was in physical pain.

“I’m sorry Brooke. You must’ve missed the followup e-mail. I canceled the staff meeting. This is a smaller meeting. I didn’t want everyone here,” He said. For a moment, I felt a hot stab of panic. Was I being fired or something? What was the number for my union rep? Only the fact that Leticia was here made me realize that wasn’t the case. Still, this whole procedure was very strange. We didn’t do secretive little meetings.

“Ok,” I said, drawing out the word.

“The initial meeting was called to crow a little about our ratings, to reward everyone. But…well this meeting is still about the ratings…but…” Gary was indecisive in his speech and he wasn’t meeting my eyes. Neither of those things were like him. I felt my heart fall into my stomach.

“The ratings were wrong?” I asked, subdued. Gary looked up and shook his head quickly.

“No, they are accurate,” He said. I furrowed my brow.

“So what’s wrong?” I asked. Then, I turned and looked at Leticia. She was looking intently at Gary. She didn’t seem to know anything more than me, “And why is Leticia here? I mean, no offense, but I am trying to figure out what is going on here.”

“None taken,” Leticia said, “I want to know too.”

“Okay, those are fair questions. I want everyone here to understand what is going on. That’s why I called you in…” Gary began to drone on, not reaching the point. With each word, I grew more and more uncomfortable.

“We figured out why the ratings went up,” Carol said sharply, interrupting her boss. Gary sighed and shrugged.

“We think we figured out why the ratings went up,” Gary confirmed. How was that bad news? And what did Leticia have to do with it? My reporter instincts were activated: I had questions.

“Well?” I asked, knowing that those questions were so obvious I didn’t have to ask. Gary looked at me now, almost pleading with his eyes, not to have to speak. Finally, he turned to Mike and shrugged.

“In addition to writing for you,” Mike started, speaking like he had already said the exact words before, when he told Gary, “Gary asks me to keep tabs on social media and…audience reaction. So last night I was looking on Reddit, seeing what people were saying about the broadcast,” Mike sounded apologetic.

“Good,” I said.

“Well…” Mike said and laughed uncomfortably, “The thing is…I’ve never seen anything on Reddit about us before. Mostly I just find Facebook posts from locals who don’t understand privacy settings. But last night there was stuff. A lot of stuff,” I felt a little excited. kaçak casino

“That was good news, right? What story were they talking about?” I asked. Gary sighed again and Mike shook his head.

“Not a story,” he explained, “I’ve been writing your banter with the other members of the crew for all the years you’ve been in the anchor chair.” I didn’t understand why we were suddenly switching gears, “Back when Jack was the meteorologist, you were both young and attractive, an unmarried man and an unmarried woman. I’d include a little flirtation in the script. Nothing major. Just a comment that could be construed as vaguely charged. Viewers like that stuff, they like to feel that they are looking in on our lives.”

“Okay,” I said, tilting my head to the side. I guess I hadn’t ever really noticed that. Not that I cared. The fluff between stories didn’t tend to engage my interest. And what did this have to do with anything.

“Well when Jack left and we brought Leticia on, I mean, I was just used to writing the way I did. I didn’t change anything. Same sort of banter, just a new weatherperson,” Mike said, growing uncomfortable.

“Yeah, it seems like the same stuff to me,” I said, and the comment hung in the air. Try as I might, I couldn’t figure out what the point of this was. I looked at Mike, but he was staring at Gary. Gary was looking at his desk. Finally, Carol stepped in and, finally, cleared the air.

“Mike saw a conversation on Reddit. A new tiny subreddit dedicated to our show. I guess some of the guys there think you and Leticia are flirting with one another. People are watching the show to see if you’re having a lesbian relationship, then they get online and swap theories,” Carol explained. I snorted and looked over at Leticia. She squirmed a little in her chair, didn’t look at me.

“Wait, what?” I asked, the full meaning of the conversation dawning on me. Carol had been right the first day. Men aged 18-25 didn’t care about substantive news. They cared about the possibility that two beautiful women might be sleeping with one another. There was nothing but news and cable re-runs on at 6 o’clock, so they tuned in to jerk off before primetime programming kicked in. I felt my cheeks get red. I didn’t even bother to wonder if this theory was confirmed. I could feel that it was true.

“Jesus, and I thought…” I started, but was too embarrassed to finish, “So what, we are changing the scripting up and backing away from this mess? Is that what this meeting is about.” What else could we do but beat a hasty retreat? We were the news, after all. Gary and Mike turned instantly to look at one another. Gary turned back to me, shrugging.

“When Mike made his discovery, he e-mailed me. But he CC’d the ownership as well.”

“And?” I asked, though I already had a sneaking suspicion where this was going.

“Well, they heard that we were up in the key demos as well. They don’t think we should be too hasty in changing (and I did suggest changing our scripts). They think we shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Ad revenue…”

“What are we talking about doing here Gary?” I asked sharply. It was one thing, embarrassing though it may be, to have this…accident occur. But once we knew what was happening…

“They think we should lean into this,” Gary said, completing his thought quickly and turning away.

“Lean into it?” I asked.

“Nothing… racy or anything like that. But if people like a little romance and mystery…ownership thinks we should give that to them,” Gary said, uncomfortable. I stood up quickly from my chair, shaking my head.

“You’re not just talking about leaving the scripts the same, you’re talking about taking advantage of this misconception. Lying to our audience,” I said, growing angrier. For the first time, I really thought about the content of what our new viewers were actually saying and I felt a chill run down my spine. We were catering to a perverted little fringe for a tiny uptick in our ratings. And we were doing it based on my looks. And Leticia’s. It was disgusting, “Not to mention that you’re essentially asking me to be some sort of softcore porn actress…”

“That’s overstating it, don’t you think,” Gary said, getting a little angry too, “I didn’t want this. But I am not asking you to kiss each other on camera. We are talking about…just more openly flirty banter in between stories. It is basically nothing. We could have done it without telling you and you wouldn’t even have noticed.” I was struck by the fact that Gary was probably right. I wouldn’t have noticed. But that was beside the point. Now I knew. How could I pretend I didn’t?

‘Gary, I am not doing this. I am a journalist. A professional. I am not here to titillate internet perverts. I am going to be reading my notes. I don’t want any of this shit.”

“Brooke!” Gary started. But I was already out the door.

* * * * *

An hour before broadcast, and I was brooding in the make-up room. The make-up artist was gone and I was by myself. I was shaking my head slowly and replaying the meeting with Gary over and over again in my mind. I thought of it from every angle and I knew I was right. This was disgusting. But as I was thinking, there was a gentle knock at the door.

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