Analysis of Television News

Analysis of Television News

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Television news stations seem more interested in capturing viewer interest and ratings than reporting the most significant events of the day. It is easy for viewers to forget that networks are in the business of making money first then attempting to keep the public well informed with quality news broadcasting. To gain a broader perspective on current events, people should obtain information from a number of sources, including television, news radio and a respectable newspaper such as The Wall Street Journal or New York Times.

Overall, I felt First 4 News, an afternoon news broadcast in San Francisco, spent too much time sensationalizing stories of little relevance. This came at the expense of not reporting other news categories such as business or sporting news. The decision to feature President Clinton embracing a mother and daughter at Chicago's O'Hare airport was touching, but was it the highest and best use of the time allowed for political news? Probably not. Did viewers stay tuned through the advertisements to watch this segment? My guess is yes.

I did find many of the stories interesting, but extremely vague. I came away yearning for more information about our recently inducted Secretary of State; the Ebonics debate; and, the deadly earthquakes in Turkey and Northwestern China. Only fifteen to thirty seconds were spent reporting these stories while several minutes were consumed informing us of the best value steam and dry irons for our buck.

Nevertheless, I found the video-taped images accompanying each story to be impressive and effective in stirring emotions. I felt a lump in my throat as I watched the victim of a savage beating being wheeled from the courthouse after convicting his attackers. Another film-clip showed people being rescued from the top of a car emerged in flood waters. These pre-selected images and stories were packaged for commentator Emerald Yeh to present to the viewing audience.

The lead story contained film clips and interviews with people at the scene of flooded Highway 4 in Pittsburg, California. (Pittsburg is a bedroom community approximately 40 miles east of San Francisco.) The station led with this story as it affects tens-of-thousands of commuters coming home from San Francisco. The story featured interviews with a woman rescued from her submerged vehicle; comments from clean-up crews; alternative routes for commuters; and a weather forecast of more rain to come. Even though this was an important story affecting many people, I felt it took too long to cover.

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This story took a large portion of a thirty-minute program that prevented other important stories from being aired.

Next, viewers were updated on three crime-related stories. Two teenagers were convicted of felony assault and robbery after beating another teen into a coma lasting for over three months. From his wheelchair, the victim spoke with reporters once court had adjourned. The lad's speech sounded slurred, so it was difficult to understand what he was saying. In another interview, the boy's mother suggested he would never fully recover. This was an extremely sad story and another example of violence in our society. Two young men will spend 10 to 12 years in a State detention center, but viewers were left questioning whether justice was really served.

The ensuing story provided the latest information on the Ennis Cosby murder. Police suggest the killer may have shot from a distance because nothing was missing from Cosby's car and the surrounding area appeared undisturbed. Viewers saw the same footage that appeared when the story originally aired. This story consumed approximately 30 seconds and represented adequate coverage. Even though this evidence does not seem substantial, my impression is that the media is keeping the story alive in an attempt to generate leads from the public.

The final crime-related story featured an update on the OJ Simpson civil trial. Defense attorneys' could not complete final arguments in time to hand the case over to the prosecution for final summation on Friday. Instead of having the case to deliberate, jurors were given a three day weekend to spend with family, as the judge had other commitments on Monday. The accompanying video tape showed Simpson's lead defense attorney arriving at court in a wheelchair after his recent back surgery. This footage is not as interesting as seeing OJ enter the courthouse however, it certainly represents a change. Even though this trial seems to be dragging on, people are interested in the outcome as there are a majority of people who think Simpson is guilty of double murder.

In general, I found two of the three crime-related stories newsworthy. The first brings closure to a recent and well-publicized act of violence in our local community. Similarly, the Cosby murder mystery was an update on a recent homicide. Conversely, the OJ Simpson story is another example of a sensationalized story that continues to drag on. Viewers did not really learn anything new, but we stayed tuned in anticipation of hearing new evidence or more expert OJ commentary that was never delivered.

Following a break, there were three very brief political stories: Madeline Albright's swearing-in ceremony as Secretary of State; the Ebonics debate on Capitol Hill; and, President Clinton's embrace of a mother and daughter at Chicago's O'Hare airport. Albright's swearing-in ceremony is certainly newsworthy as she is the first woman in US history to hold down the top diplomatic job. I think this story could have been even more interesting with more information provided about Albright's background and political career.

Newscaster Emerald Yeh reported on the Ebonics debate on Capitol Hill. The issue is whether students in the Oakland, California School District will be allowed to learn Ebonics as a second language. District officials are requesting Federal funds to help African American students convert Ebonics into standard English. Footage from the debate showed a caucasian male Senator from North Carolina leading the debate opposing Ebonics as well as supporting arguments by an African American Congresswoman from California. I was surprised at this station's selection of white-male and black-female film-clips as visual coverage of the debate. After listening to the newscaster and watching a brief portion of the video-taped debate, the impression I received was that this issue is more about race than helping children convert slang into standard English. First 4 News could have provided us with more information, allowing viewers to better understand the issues and draw their conclusions.

The final political story treated viewers with footage of President Clinton hugging a mother and daughter at Chicago's O'Hare airport. A sign reading "Hello Mr. President" caught President Clinton's eye as he was dashing to catch a flight. This was a pleasant story about the President taking a minute of his valuable time to recognize a couple of supporters. Even though I enjoyed this 60-second segment, I felt the station did a poor job of reporting important news topics of the day. To me, more significant political events would be updating viewers on the House Ethics Committee or President Clinton's budget plans as did the Wall Street Journal and National Public Radio.

International news consisted of two major earthquakes, in Turkey and Northwestern China, as well as an update on the hostage crisis at the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru. Graphic satellite footage accompanied all stories along with a brief commentary of the details. Contrasting The Wall Street Journal's report of Peruvian government officials' plan to negotiate an end to the hostage crisis, First 4 News reported workers sealing off a side door to prevent rebels from escaping during an attack. It's hard to imagine that First 4 News and The Wall Street Journal reporting the same event on the same day. I am sure time and space requirements dictated how much of each story was reported. First 4 News should have covered these international stories in more detail. I am sure there are thousands of people with close connections to Northwestern China, Turkey, Peru and Japan among the extremely diversified San Francisco Bay Area viewing audience.

Before wrapping up the broadcast with a repeat of the weather forecast, viewers braced themselves for reports on family home and health. The first consisted of the Food and Drug Administration's new recommendation of taking Aspirin daily to reduce the risk of a second heart attack. This story seemed much more important than many of the stories that preceded it because it contained important information that could potentially save lives. This is new information and definitely newsworthy.

Finally, a segment on how to select the best iron for your buck. Viewer's were shown results of the Good Housekeeping Institute's survey, determining which iron represents the best value, best grip and the best steam system. Interesting for some, although I am sure not all viewers stayed tuned for the entire two minutes. I think a more effective use of part of this time would be to further diversify the news coverage by providing bulletins on business or sporting news.

This is not a judgment suggesting business or sporting news is more important than reporting on consumer goods. Are consumers likely to make investments or purchase consumer goods based solely on a micro-second news flash? My guess is no. However, a thirty-second segment may encourage people to research a product or investment more thoroughly before buying. Therefore, I felt more news topics should have been covered.
Similarly, I find sport (including the latest scores, player trades and quotations) to be an extremely important segment of the daily news. As a person who interacts with many new customers and clients, it is often necessary to 'keep the conversation going' by finding things in common. Talking about the Green Bay Packers, New York Yankees or sports in general often provides me with the transition I need before getting down to business.
This analysis of a 30-minute broadcast demonstrates that television news is only one of the sources for obtaining information on current events. For a complete picture of the news, people should combine television news with a reliable news radio program and a respectable daily newspaper such as The Wall Street Journal.
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