Television has always held the responsibility of being informative, educational and entertaining, ever since its conception in the halcyon days of Lord Reith. But to what extent do these factors link with one another? Is it possible to produce a programme, news or otherwise, that is informative and educational that still maintains audience share without employing methods of entertainment? It seems that indeed all programmes do contain elements of the three factors listed above, the news being no exception. In this essay I will distinguish the techniques used to make television news more entertaining, and why they are necessary, with references to specific examples of media texts.
Initially it is important to distinguish exactly what motives the audience have for obtaining information and why they choose to do so through television news. It is now more important than ever for individuals within contemporary culture to be well informed and to have a detailed understanding of current events on a global scale. There are a number of mediums through which an individual can obtain this information. These include radio news, television news, print news and news via the Internet. Each of these of these sources have their obvious advantages and disadvantages and so there are also a number of deciding factors for which medium one should choose. However, many people in fact use a combination of these sources throughout their lifetime as they also vary in convenience. Print news is most sophisticated of the sources, accommodating many different types of readership that accommodates class, gender, political persuasion etc.
This diversity within the medium affords print news the opportunity to be less selective in its output, hence many articles unfit for television news can be found in the print news. Because of these differences in audience diversity and penetration, and the fact that print news has a much more relaxed timeframe for delivery (not a rigid half an hour system as with televised news) it can afford to be the benchmark news service. However, that is not to say that the other mediums do not play a vital role in news delivery. Radio news, for example, is ideal for people whom need headlines quickly or cannot otherwise access all of the other sources easily, e.g. someone travelling to work in a car. Internet news is again different; as it is a fixed 24 hour service it can afford to go into even more depth and produce even more specific articles than print news, making it ideal for research or analysis. By taking all of these factors into account it is possible to see just how important television news is as a news delivery service. While it does suffer time constraints, the television news can perhaps still provide a more impartial, concise and broad based service than any of the other mediums.
As television news is the perennial flagship programme for almost all mainstream television channels in the evening, it is important that it appeals to as large an audience as possible. This appeal is maintained in two ways; Firstly, there is no specific target audience, and so the stories are selected with reference to as many demographic groups as possible, whilst still reproducing the dominant ideology of its main readership; Secondly, on a more superficial level the programme must appeal visually to as many viewers as possible, hence a number of illustrations, graphical presentations, location films, library pictures and other visual media are incorporated into the programme to maintain audience interest. To start with the first point, the fact that news is selected to be shown suggests that the majority of the audience will be most interested in the headlines that are initially shown. To sidestep the difficult situation of making the news appealing to as large an audience as possible, the news selects a broad range of stories and then places emphasis on the most important ones.
Hence the order of delivery and mode of address may well be a faithful representation of the dominant ideology (e.g. well dressed/spoken/educated presenter, Politics/Current Events before sports), but it will still appeal to a mass audience, as its selection is broad based. For example, a city banker (part of the ruling class/dominant ideology) will know to tune in at the beginning of the programme for Current Events or Finance. However, someone of lower social status such as a young car mechanic (part of the proletariat/working class) may well be more interested in Sport and so will know to tune in at the end of the programme. Obviously such generalisations cannot be taken as concrete evidence of television news’ impact on society, but the fact is that by containing such a concise but broad cross-section of news within each broadcast the television news is certainly obtaining the maximum audience share possible.
The second point, that television news employs many forms of visual media to make the news more entertaining, and hence more accessible, is an important one. At base level, a television news programme could simply consist of an anchor in front of the camera for half an hour reeling off dialogue describing the day’s events. However, not only would this formula be excessively dull to watch, but it would also destroy the image of impartiality that television news so successfully conveys, by forcing the viewer into the unnatural position of taking one person’s information as fact. To prevent this happening and to maintain audience interest the news follows a simple but wonderfully effective formula of presentation. The anchor opens the programme and gives a brief list of the day’s top stories, usually during the programme’s CG credits through means of a voiceover. The anchor will then describe each story in slightly more detail, generally by giving a prï¿½cis of the story to come and then handing the story over to a correspondent, usually on location, for an in depth report. This helps to consolidate the impartial, ‘window-on-the-world’ status that television news has achieved.
By giving information (via the anchor) and setting the scene, the viewpoint then cuts to a correspondent whom seems to actually be involved, hence creating the illusion that the news is only ‘telling it as it is’. More importantly, this fixed single viewpoint perspective gives viewers the impression that television news is a reliable, omniscient source of information for the Western world. As a result, the visual media utilised by the television news in its presentation not only serves to keep the viewer interested and their attention focused. It also allows them to be in the same position as the Western corporation delivering the news, to be a cognitive, omnipresent entity throughout all corners of the globe. This opportunity to ‘play God’ is another draw for the viewer, not only are the television news programmes visually exciting, but they also give the viewer access to the coveted ‘window-on-the-world’ and so allow audiences to experience situations above and beyond their usual sphere of information. Through the news these viewers can see a cross-section of the build-up, manifestation and resolution of the worlds problems as an invisible viewer for half an hour every day.
However, there are also other techniques for making television news more entertaining, such as Personalisation, Narrativisation and the use of Visual imperatives. By presenting stories in a certain order, giving case studies of individuals, comparing recent events to other similar events ingrained in cultural consciousness etc, the television news can effectively dramatise the delivery of current events. For example, stories are often verified by taking an individual case study of the affected population, e.g. ‘baby X ‘not getting the operation s/he needs” (Quoted from ‘The Media Students Book’). Current events are also literally turned into stories; for example, figures constantly in the public eye are turned into characters, such as the Royal family. Finally by drawing on audience knowledge of previous or mythical events the television news can, for example, relate a third world famine to a biblical one over 2000 years ago.
All of this illustrates the sophisticated system for selecting and constructing news that has developed since it’s first broadcast. By having the viewer tied down to exactly what is on screen at any time by way of only using one presenter at a time, backing up evidence with ‘vox pops’ and industry professionals, using CG imagery etc, the television news undoubtedly manages to entertain it’s audience as well as inform and educate it. Without question, the television news, while not being impartial or objective with regard to its content, still manages to successfully create the illusion that it is. By making the news clear and concise, but still entertaining to the viewer, the industry has achieved its aim of maximum penetration, while still representing the dominant ideology and being informative, educational and entertaining.