What do you get the guy who has everything? Consider item #150092522695, up for bids on eBay through Feb. 22.
That would be the "Bill Burns Pittsburgh Legendary Newcaster's Dress Shirt."
Once worn by the saintly KDKA-TV anchor, the Christian Dior shirt is "identified with a laundry mark," the item description reports. There's no mention of stains -- or stigmata, for that matter. Nor is it suggested that wearing the shirt will cure chronic medical ailments. Still, as of this writing, the shirt has attracted five bids, the highest being $14.50.
Maybe you find this a bit ghoulish. Or maybe, like me, you're saving up in case someone auctions off the false nails of WPXI's Gina "Bitch Slap" Redmond.
But if you think selling the garments of deceased journos is in bad taste, blame the media, not the message.
National news outlets, we all know, focus more and more on celebrity journalism. On the local level, though, TV journalists are the celebrities. Or at least as close as we're going to get. And every week, it seems, their employers look for another way to exploit that fact.
In January, for example, KDKA issued a call for "KDKA Look-Alikes," asking viewers if they "Think you're the spitting image of Sonni Abatta? A Don Cannon double? The mirror image of Mary Berecky? ... [W]e'd love to hear from you! ... We may even show some [lookalikes] on KDKA-TV News!"
Yeah, I know: Who ever heard of dumbing down the local news? The only reason Sonni Abatta is on KDKA, one could argue, is that she looks like Sonni Abatta. But the trend is becoming more and more pronounced.
Over on WTAE, Kelly Frey aired a Feb. 15 segment on pole-dancing as a form of exercise. Frey's official WTAE biography insists that "her favorite book is the Bible," so I'm sure we weren't supposed to be titillated by Frey's gyrations, or references to the "pretzel" and "backward bend." As her piece pointed out, the health benefits of pole dancing are considerable.
Meanwhile Frey's colleague, Wendy Bell, authors a blog on WTAE's Web site that gives new meaning to journalistic muckraking: She recently posted a heartwarming anecdote about one of her kids diving into the toilet. There's also this hard-hitting dispatch: "Clothes in stores weren't made for my body. Small shoulders, flat chest, thin waist, regular hips and long legs."
I hear you, sister. Designers just don't make clothes for long-legged, rail-thin women any more.
Indeed, Bell seems to be angling for the crown as Pittsburgh's family-friendly hottie, a post vacated by former KDKA anchor Jennifer Antkowiak last year. Antkowiak's career shows how seamlessly you can transition from being a reporter to being reported upon. Last spring, she went to work for a local fitness guru, Leslie Sansone, who frequently appeared as a guest on Antkowiak's TV show, Pittsburgh Today Live. Then last fall, Antkowiak became Pittsburgh's Martha Stewart-on-the-Mon with the advent of At Home With Jennifer, a glossy lifestyle magazine.
The inaugural issue featured a piece on Antkowiak's former colleague, Ken Rice, who offered his gritty journalist's perspective on his family's "dual-duty kitchen and family room."
TV folks aren't the first newsies to think their lives are interesting, of course. What newspaper columnist hasn't written a "My Spouse Is the Only One With Sense" column? And the trend toward first-person navel-gazing continues in newspapers too. The Post-Gazette Web site, for example, offers the "Parent Exchange" blog, which promises "news, guidance and reflections ... from staffers who are experiencing babyhood to collegehood and beyond." ("Staffers experiencing babyhood"? No thanks. If I want to read about a P-G writer shitting himself, I'll just pick up Jack Kelly's latest column on how swimmingly things are going in Iraq.)
Journalists of all kinds have been wringing their hands over the Internet for years: How can traditional media outlets compete with free content accessible from anywhere in the world? The answer, it seems, is to become more like the Internet -- consumed with celebrity culture and self-referential navel-gazing.
And sex, of course. By stressing the physiques and hometown appeal of on-air talent, TV news stations play on the classic MILF fantasy: the hot woman who actually lives in your neighborhood.
And if you want to impress her, fellas, I know where you can get a fancy dress shirt for cheap.