BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. There's something comforting about local news, and that's by design. It's weather, it's news you can use, it's high school sports. In Minneapolis/St. Paul, the NBC affiliate, that's K-A-R-E TV, or KARE, has been the undisputed king of news, with a home-spun spin, for years until now.
KARE has lost the top spot to the CBS affiliate. Their new anchor, or family member, as they call him, isn't resonating with the viewers, who aren't sure he's Minnesota nice, as Sarah Lemanczyk reports. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
WOMAN: He has family here in Minnesota, and he loves to fish and was once drafted by the Minnesota Twins. So tonight -
WOMAN: Mike Pomerantz arrived in January from New York City with a media blitz.
MAN: Lutefisk? [LAUGHS]
MAN: Yeah, lutefisk.
MAN: KARE-11's new anchor Mike Pomerantz speaks fluent Minnesotan, hot dishes and all.
MIKE POMERANTZ: My mother-in-law makes the type with those perfectly-aligned tater tots.
SARAH LEMANCZYK: Other cities might drool over getting such a number one prospect, but in Minnesota, Miami-born good looks, dark hair and big-city experience not necessarily assets.
C.J.: He's an outsider, to say nothing of that cock-of-the-walk smile he wears.
SARAH LEMANCZYK: C.J.'s the gossip columnist for The Minneapolis Star Tribune. If there's one voice that knows all the secrets, dirty, little and otherwise, about the local media, it's C.J. She knew Pomerantz was on his way before KARE had finished pushing its old anchor out the door.
But if there's one thing that she dislikes more than the way Mike Pomerantz was hired, it's the way he smiles.
C.J.: Cheesy. I'm thinking super-white cheddar. We like a certain humanness, a realness, a sincerity. [LAUGHING] This guy's not sincere. [LAUGHS]
SARAH LEMANCZYK: KARE took pains to show us just how sincere and Minnesotan Mike really is. We saw wedding photos. We saw home video from the lake. We saw his daughter sledding. We saw Mike as a young Turk in his Minnesota Twins jersey. It's like watching CliffsNotes on how to be a Minnesotan. Mike, KARE said, even had fish cred.
MAN: Wife Laura group up in Bloomington, went to Thomas Jefferson High and is an avid angler.
MIKE POMERANTZ: And they'll right away go to me and say, oh, you caught this, it's wonderful! And bah, bah, bah- blah. And I'll say [LAUGHS], no, my wife caught that. [LAUGHTER] That's my wife's walleye.
SHERRY MAZINGO: Mike Pomerantz has to establish that Minnesota connection.
SARAH LEMANCZYK: Sherry Mazingo is the Cowles Media Fellow at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism.
SHERRY MAZINGO: That connection that says, I am one of you when he gives the news. It doesn't just work to show, you know, background footage of Pomerantz holding a fish.
SARAH LEMANCZYK: She believes that being Minnesotan is more than sharing a zip code. It's a commitment, which is why many anchors stick around for 20 or 30 years. Gossip columnist C.J. agrees.
C.J.: We like our own. [LAUGHS] That's the first thing. So if you're not, if you weren't from here, you have to let us come to accept you. I don't have problems with diversity and ethnicity, but some of us do. [LAUGHS] Some of us --
SARAH LEMANCZYK: We run a tight ship here in Minnesota. Even flashy shoes can be considered diverse, as can undue gestures or standing too close. To fit in, you need, at the very least, to know how to speak Minnesotan, as in knowing the right nicknames for the Twins.
C.J.: If he'd been a smart prospect, he wouldn't have come to town as the anchorman and started referring to them as "the Twinkies." They don't like to be called the Twinkies, and Minnesotans only call them the Twinkies when they're messing up. It's not a term of endearment. I don't think he knows that. [LAUGHS]
SARAH LEMANCZYK: What he does know is hard news. There isn't a journalist in town who has anywhere near his credentials. Unfortunately, Mike's experience has prepared him for a different type of news.
MIKE POMERANTZ: I find the quality of life here so laughably high, in a way. You're going, you mean to tell me we had to go 50 miles to find a shooting, you know, a gang-related shooting? Not that you don't feel bad for the victims, but really, what does that tell you?
Where I'm from, professionally, you better have some chops. With this market, it's, hey, I'm part of this organization and that organization, oh, I've never covered anything, but I do like children and I never kick puppies, and I also finger paint, and sometimes I like meeting people. You know what I mean? It's a different approach.
SARAH LEMANCZYK: There's something about Mike's direct gaze, his erect and imposing posture and non-nasaled vowels that's unsettling in a market where sports reporting occasionally contains skits. Sherry Mazingo.
SHERRY MAZINGO: I think the other markets, particularly the larger markets, they're looking for more sophistication in anchors. They're looking for more of a smartness, if you will. Mike Pomerantz on air seems like a fish out of water.
MIKE POMERANTZ: I know that you're thinking, well, we want to, you know, my gosh, the numbers, the ratings, the gossip columnist, the you know what? It's crap. It's all crap. It doesn't even matter. What matters is what folks start to see night in and night out. If they don't like what they're seeing, they're going to keep letting me know, and the next time you and I talk, I'll be in San Francisco.
SARAH LEMANCZYK: Which is a shame, because in person, he really [CHUCKLES] is genuine. Even C.J. says that if the station fired him now, it just wouldn't seem "KARE-ing."
C.J.: You wanted this boy, you got this boy. Play him. [LAUGHS]
SARAH LEMANCZYK: Because if there's one thing that concerns us Minnesotans more than insincerity, it's unfairness. It's just not Minnesota nice. For On the Media, I'm Sarah Lemanczyk.