NY1’s Roma Torre has spent 3 decades in TV, winning 2 Emmys. But when she lost opportunities to men and younger women, she was told “That’s just the way it is.”
By Roma Torre
Nobody gets younger. It’s a reality all of us, especially women, will eventually have to face in the workplace. So why is it that, rather than being respected for the wisdom and experience that often comes with age, nearly two-thirds of workers aged 45 and older have seen or experienced age discrimination at work?
I’ve been working in TV news for more than three decades. I’m a reporter, a theater critic, and an anchor. I’ve covered thousands of stories and received dozens of awards, including two Emmys, one of which was just awarded this year. At 61 years old, I feel as though I am in the prime of my career. And yet somehow, at the same time, everything is now starting to unravel.
Age discrimination in broadcasting is old news
For decades, experienced female news anchors have been pushed out of highly visible roles and denied promotional opportunities due to age and appearance. This rarely happens to men. There appears to be a common misconception among TV news managers that “young and pretty” women attract higher viewership and improve the bottom line. There is, of course, zero proof that this is true.
For most of my career, I have, fortunately, enjoyed a great deal of success even as I reached my late 50s—which is to say that I was supported and promoted by news managers who valued my contributions, and the loyalty of my audience was always reflected in my ratings. But I have always known that there are plenty of other women in my field who have not been so fortunate.
In 1992, I was the first person hired for an on-camera role at the then-fledgling NY1 News on Time Warner Cable. I was asked to be one of the “faces” of NY1. It was an honor. Over the next 27 years, it would be an understatement to say I put my heart and soul into the role. Over those years, NY1 made its name as a newsroom marked by substance over style and gained the trust of millions of New Yorkers who relied on our journalism. I like to think I played a major part in creating that relationship with our viewers.
In 2016, Charter Communications acquired Time Warner Cable. In short order, talented managers and reporters with many years of dedicated service, many of whom were over 40, were let go. I was one of the “lucky” ones who made the cut. At least that’s what I initially thought.
For those who remained, our experiences surely differed. From some, you might hear about the fact that Charter built a fancy new set, hired hair and makeup artists, and produced expensive promotional videos for the on-air talent. You might also hear that new opportunities for on-air talent were in abundance, and NY1 was a place where you could quickly advance and develop your skills as an anchor.
But my experience differed drastically. While others were benefitting from increased opportunities and airtime, my profile was shrinking. I soon realized that I was not alone. My colleagues Kristen Shaughnessy, Jeanine Ramirez, Vivian Lee, and Amanda Farinacci, who have each been at NY1 with me for anywhere from 11 to 25 years, were also on the outside looking in. We all lost airtime, we all lost opportunities, we were all being treated differently. We all have something else in common: We are all older women.
With our careers that we all worked so hard to develop slipping away—what were we to do? We each filed complaints of age discrimination with human resources and with various levels of management at NY1, but the responses were remarkably dismissive. On one occasion, in response to one of my complaints, my supervisor said: “That’s just the way it is. Too bad. Boo hoo.” My colleagues all ran into the same brick wall.
When older anchorwomen get pushed out, all women are silenced
The discrimination committed against older women in broadcasting has profound implications for the rest of society. When women are not accurately represented in the media, it reinforces a culture that fails to take us seriously. It propagates the idea that we must look a certain way or that our worth is tied to appearance. It deprives us of role models and prevents us from seeing our true potential. It undermines our place in public dialogue.
That is the message of #SeeHer, an initiative recently spearheaded by the Association of National Advertisers that aims to “increase the accurate portrayals of all women and girls in U.S. advertising and media by 20% by 2020.”
Sadly, I think we are so used to seeing young female newscasters with less experience and men of all ages on our screens, that we accept it as normal. Once something is a “norm,” the resistance to change can feel overwhelming, almost impossible to overcome. But it shouldn’t have to be that way when there’s room at the table for all of us.
We’re taking action so the cycle doesn’t repeat itself
With management turning its back on us, we felt we had no other choice. On June 19, 2019, we made the difficult and painful decision to file an age and gender discrimination lawsuit against Charter.
This is a decision none of us took lightly. But we realized if we did not take legal action, we were making an affirmative choice to allow the discriminatory conduct to persist and allow ourselves to continue to be marginalized and ultimately forced out.
By taking legal action, some might view us as “litigious” or “complainers,” but we hoped to force a dialogue about the way older women on TV are too often viewed as expendable, while men age with “gravitas.” That was at least a choice we could explain to our colleagues, to our friends, to our families—and to our daughters.
Immediately, instead of reporting on the news, we became the news. Since then, we have been inundated with messages of support from colleagues and viewers, many of whom were under the mistaken impression that we had been on air less because we decided to “slow down.” We want everyone to know that these decisions were made for us, not by us.
Although we have a long road ahead, I take to heart a line from Margaret Mead, the famous anthropologist, who said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” By encouraging a robust conversation about this issue, hopefully we are doing our part.