Women of Television in the Midstate

by Skye McDonald

Women in the television industry are hardworking intellectuals who spend their days reporting on everything and anything, from what happens in communities to national news. Before they were anchors and reporters, they were students with an interest in journalism, some from a very young age.

Ali Lanyon of WHTM abc27 was one of these go-getters. Having a sparked interest in the television industry from her father, she started out broadcasting for her middle school’s radio station, later studying broadcast journalism at Hofstra University. Moving onto WCAU NBC 10 in Philadelphia for an internship, she connected with two coworkers, Lu Ann Cahn and Sheela Allen-Stephens. Lanyon credits these women as well as abc27’s Flora Posteraro for showing her the ropes in the television business.

“Stephens taught me so much about personality, having fun with people and getting to the heart of a feature; whereas Cahn was much more about the hard news, the breaking news, getting it fast and getting it right.”

No doubt about it, Lanyon is most passionate about hard news, specifically crime. Before she became a weekday anchor for abc27’s Daybreak newscast, Lanyon reported multiple times on crimes, big-time arrests and other legal news.

Lanyon loves her career with abc27, however working in the television business is not easy, and being a woman on TV can at times be more difficult than it has to be.

“I do think that viewers are more critical of women on television when it comes to clothing, appearance and aging,” Lanyon says. “I’ve had people email me or the station itself to tell me an outfit was unflattering. I’m certain that’s never happened to my co-anchors.”

At the station, Lanyon is treated with the same respect as her male coworkers, working with the same vigor as the other members of her news team. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a challenge to be taken seriously.

When Lanyon interviewed a politician to talk about the BRAC closings, (when military bases are realigned and closed to save money), he made light of the situation.

“When I tried to ask him serious questions, he kept remarking about the color of my sweater, then asked me if I intentionally wore it to match my eyes.  Here I was asking a respected member of Congress to comment about local men and women potentially losing their jobs, and he was too distracted by my appearance to give me a meaningful answer. That was disheartening.”

Lanyon has won three Emmy Awards (2003, 2004 and 2010) for her story, “Bottle Babies,” about how the average age that children experimented with alcohol was 11 years; “Feast or Football,” about how children are forced to lose weight for a pee-wee football team; and for being 2010’s best feature reporter.

Near the abc27 station is WHP-TV CBS 21, where weekday reporter Kristin Mazur works. Like Lanyon, Mazur discovered her interest in journalism at a young age.  In seventh grade, Mazur anchored for her school’s news station, and from then on was always involved in television and radio throughout her secondary education, even interviewing a Fox News anchor at the Philadelphia station.

“I love telling people’s stories, and I like giving a voice to those who wouldn’t normally have one.”

Growing up in the Philadelphia area, Mazur was attracted to areas near her hometown. However, being a broadcast journalism major in college meant that she was prepared to move anywhere. She started out in Fort Wayne, Ind., eventually moving to WMTV NBC15 in Madison, Wis. When she applied to CBS 21, she quickly fell in love with it.

“It feels like a family, and I was attracted to that right away,” she describes. “Everyone works as a team, and that makes what I do a lot of fun.”

One of the most memorable stories she has covered was her report on “Revenge Porn,” in Madison. Revenge porn – a non-consensual posting of racy photographs and videos online – was made illegal in Wis. after Mazur’s report.

Mazur says that though the television industry is very accepting of women these days, gender biases still bleed through.

“When people see a woman on television, they see her as a sexual being, someone who’s cute and not professional.”

When she reported for NBC15, she was stalked by one of her viewers. He would constantly drive past the station, leave her flowers and voicemails and take pictures of her.

“I think this happens a lot more to women – you’re an item, not a person,” Mazur states. “It’s 2016, and we’re still fighting for equal rights.”

Mazur won an Emmy Award while working in Madison for her story, “Revenge Porn.”

Lori Burkholder from WGAL 8 also enjoys representing those who normally can’t tell their own stories. She has hosted and produced the weekly public affairs program, Susquehanna People and anchored for News 8 at Noon. During her 10 years as a talk show host for 12:30 Live, a show she produced, Burkholder has hosted topics on several prevalent issues.

“I met the most amazing people and got to know what issues matter to them,” Burkholder says. “It was fun, but very challenging, work. We had free range to develop the show as we saw fit.”

It was a natural transition for her to go into news reporting from there. She had become interested in reporting when she watched Jane Pauley report for NBC.

“[Pauley] tackled tough issues, as well as lighter topics,” she says. “She had a great presence about her and really helped pave the way for women in journalism. I’m very grateful for that.”

In her 26 years of being in television, Burkholder has reported on too many events to count, including the Lancaster Amish School Shooting of 2006. Not one to choose between hard news and feature news, she prefers a mixture of the two.

“Some of my stories aren’t what you would call ‘hard news,’ but they’re stories that matter to my viewers,” she says.

On her news segment, “Money Matters,” which covers the latest financial news, Burkholder covered a story about Muriel Siebert, a woman who owned a seat at the Stock Exchange.

“It was a male-dominated profession,” Burkholder describes, “that is, until [Siebert] bought her seat. It was amazing to be there in person and see the frenzy unfold before [my] eyes.”

Being a woman in the television industry, Burkholder says, has its “unique share of challenges.”

Like Lanyon and Mazur, Burkholder has been judged more than once for her appearance on screen. Burkholder believes her male coworkers haven’t been treated in this manner. She puts in as much hard work as anyone else in this industry, but she says, when women reach a certain age, they’re expected to “gracefully bow out.”

Having found a family with WGAL 8, Burkholder believes that it’s the best station for which to work.

“I’m really lucky they took a chance on me.”

Burkholder has received several Emmy Awards, including two for 12:30 Live and one on her story, “Recycled Roadkill.”

WPMT FOX43’s evening news anchor Ali Bradley originally became interested in the television industry to share the stories of people in need. She felt that FOX43 was the “most wonderful opportunity in the world” for her and that her coworkers have “the upmost respect” for her as a member of the news team.

“My path has always been spot-on,” she says, “and my family has always been very supportive of me.”

As a freshman in high school, Bradley began her path toward broadcast journalism, job-shadowing Lori Matsukawa at Seattle’s KING 5 news station. Falling in love with the career, she worked as an assistant for Fox Sports Northwest after graduating from Washington State University. After working in Los Angeles on shows like True Blood and Big Love, and later anchoring in both Casper, Wyo. and Toledo, Ohio, she found her home in York.

Growing up in Oso, Wash., it was a big move coming to the York-based television station away from her family, but Bradley knew it was what she was meant to do. While in York, Bradley began the DisAbled Pet Foundation, which provides funding and medical services for animals in need. The organization provides an alternative to euthanasia when pets are in pain. Wheelchairs and other rehabilitative equipment are provided by the foundation.

“It’s very emotional,” Bradley states, “but also very humbling.”

Bradley does not feel that gender politics come into play very often while she is on the job. However, social media makes it easier for viewers to comment upon personal appearances.

“Some of the viewers say, ‘You’re just a blonde,’” Bradley says, “or they assume I didn’t go to college and didn’t work hard to get where I am today. It’s hard because I know that isn’t true.”

Coming from a family of all women, Bradley knows the crucial achievements that women have overcome. But, she does not feel that her gender gives her a particular advantage or disadvantage.

“It’s not the right outlook to say I’ve been treated unfairly because I’m a woman,” she says. “I’ve worked just as hard as anyone else in this industry.”

As many ups and downs as the television industry can have, Bradley states, we are here for the people. Her mother once told her a phrase which she still leans on to this day.

“If you ever stop doing what you are doing, you will no longer have a megaphone for the people who don’t have a voice. You will no longer have a platform to stand on to help others.”

This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine