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Former Channel 5 anchor says women in TV news encouraged to dress ‘more provocatively’

names - Heather Unruh (Handout)
Handout
Heather Unruh.

When she abruptly resigned last fall, longtime WCVB-TV (Channel 5) anchor Heather Unruh gave no indication of the reasons why. Unruh’s exit followed the arrival at the ABC affiliate of Maria Stephanos, who began coanchoring the station’s 7 and 11 p.m. newscasts, while Unruh coanchored the 4:30 and 6 p.m. newscasts.

In a new interview with New England Living TV, Unruh doesn’t say why she left Channel 5, but does imply she had become uncomfortable with changes in TV news generally.

“Probably the biggest change I have witnessed is how people get their news. Young people now expect their news in real time, relying on mobile devices rather than television,” Unruh says. “That has made the fight for viewers all the more competitive. As a result, women are ‘encouraged’ to dress more provocatively than I feel is appropriate for delivering news.”

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Reached Wednesday at her home in Dover, Unruh said she stands by her comments, adding that they’re not directed specifically at her former employer. Unruh, who worked in TV news for 27 years, said women in markets big and small would agree with her.

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“In the last decade, women have been strongly encouraged to dress in a way that I didn’t feel comfortable with, nor do I think it’s appropriate for women going on the air to deliver the news as a public service to be dressed like they’re at a cocktail party,” she said. “That’s what news has become and it’s not unique to Boston. Wearing a sleeveless dress on a day when it’s minus 20 degrees outside is ridiculous.”

Unruh said the expectations for women and men are different in TV news.

“All women in the industry are being subject to it. Is it sexist? Yes, it’s sexist,” she said. “Men come to work and are allowed to wear what feels appropriate to them. It might be a business suit or blazer that doesn’t hug them in certain places. I would have been very happy to wear a blazer every day of my career.”

Unruh reiterated that she is not speaking about Channel 5 in particular. (A Channel 5 rep didn’t respond to an e-mail Wednesday.)

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“I can only hope if I touched a nerve in some small way that it makes the pendulum swing back in the other direction,” she said. “I always wanted to be taken seriously for my reporting and not for wearing a dress that showed cleavage or hugged my figure.”

In the interview with New England Living TV, Unruh also objected to the focus these days on what she calls “sensational” news at the expense of reported pieces.

“Nearly every newscast begins with ‘breaking news,’ which I think people are tired of hearing — I know I am — and informative stories are sometimes passed over for the more sensational,” she says. “I would personally like to see local stations return to airing fewer newscasts with more emphasis on solid, impactful, longer format journalism.”

Unruh does have nice things to say about the colleagues she left behind.

“Despite having to keep up with the increased digital demands with fewer people, those who bring you the news are some of the most dedicated, principled people, committed to keeping you informed and getting the story right no matter the personal sacrifice,” she says.

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Unruh, who posted the interview on her Facebook page, lives in Dover with her husband and two children. She says she’s begun working on a documentary, which, she says, “checks all the boxes for me because my greatest passion is storytelling.”