excerpts from the book
How To Watch TV News
by Neil Postman and Steve Powers
Penguin Books, 2008, paperback
Anyone who is not an avid reader of newspapers, magazines, and
books is by definition unprepared to watch television news shows.
Anyone who relies exclusively on television for his or her knowledge
of the world is making a serious mistake.
Those who have not read about the world are limited in their capacity
to understand what they see on television.
The preparation for watching television news begins with the preparation
of one's mind through extensive reading.
When providing entertainment, the public's preferences must be
paramount. But news is different. There are things the public
must know whether or not they "like" it.
News is not entertainment. It is a necessity in a democratic society.
News is what news directors and journalists say it is.
Though today's media reach more Americans
than ever before, they are controlled by the smallest number of
owners than ever before... in 1983, there were fifty dominant
media corporations, today there are five.
Senator Ernest Hollings (D-SC)
The top five programmers - Viacom/CBS,
Disney/ABC, NBC, Time Warner and News Corp./Fox - now control
75 percent of prime-time programming and are projected to increase
their share to 85 percent.
Studies conducted by Professor George Gerbner and his associates
at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that people who are
heavy television viewers, including viewers of television news
shows, believe their communities are much more dangerous than
do light television viewers. Television news, in other words,
tends to frighten people.
The early-twentieth-century journalist Lincoln Steffens proved
that he could create a "crime wave" anytime he wanted
by simply writing about all the crimes that normally occur in
a large city during the course of a month. He could also end the
"crime wave" by not writing about them.
The TelePrompTer operators are the person who helps the anchors
look like they've memorized their script as they focus with intensive
eye contact on the camera. It is the TelePrompTer's job to keep
the script up-to-date, make changes, operate the TelePrompTer,
and keep the script scrolling at the reading pace of the anchors.
If TelePrompTer operators scroll too slowly, the anchors have
to slow their reading down; if they scroll too fast, the anchors
could start sounding like Alvin the Chipmunk, trying to keep up
the pace. The TelePrompTer operator may use a manual device on
which actual pieces of typed script paper are laid out on a moving
belt; in more modern facilities, the computerized script appears
on a screen. In either event, the script is projected onto a piece
of glass located directly over the camera lens. This allows the
anchor to look directly into the camera, as if making eye contact
with the viewer, while reading the copy. We've all seen situations
where anchors suddenly stop talking and stumble a bit, then look
down at their scripts. Chances are something went awry with the
TelePrompTer, forcing the anchors to rely on hard copy, scripts
printed on paper used as backups.
To most working TV journalists the news is determined by what
the news director thinks is important.
Media Matters says conservative voices significantly outnumber
progressive voices on the Sunday talk shows. It conducted a content
analysis of ABC's This Week, CBS's Face the Nation, and NBC's
Meet the Press, classifying each of the nearly seven thousand
guest appearances during Bill Clinton's second term, George W.
Bush's first term, and the year 2005 as either Democrat, Republican,
conservative, progressive, or neutral. The watchdog group says
the conclusion is clear: Republicans and conservatives have been
offered more opportunities to appear on the Sunday shows and,
in some cases, dramatically so.
* During President Bush's first term,
Republicans/conservatives held a dramatic advantage, outnumbering
Democrats/progressives 58 percent to 42 percent. In 2005, the
figures were identical: 58 percent to 42 percent.
* During both the Clinton and Bush administrations,
conservative journalists were far more likely to appear on the
Sunday shows than progressive journalists.
* In every year examined by the study
(1997-2005), more panels tilted right (a greater number of Republicans/
conservatives than Democrats/progressives) than tilted left. In
some years, there were two, three, or even four times as many
right-titled panels as left-tilted panels.
* Congressional opponents of the Iraq
war were largely absent from the Sunday shows, particularly during
the period just before the war began.
In short, Media Matters concluded that
the Sunday talk shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC are dominated by conservative
voices, from newsmakers to commentators.
A remark made by the American novelist Philip Roth. In commenting
on the difference between being a novelist in the West and being
a novelist behind the iron curtain (this was before the collapse
of Communism in Eastern Europe), Roth said that in Eastern Europe
nothing is permitted but everything matters; with us, everything
is permitted but nothing matters.
The more information, the less significant information is. The
less information, the more significant it is.
TV is not what happened. It is what some man or woman who has
been labeled a journalist or correspondent thinks is worth reporting.
The "news" is only a commodity, which is used to gather
an audience that will be sold to advertisers.
No one is expected to take the news too seriously... tomorrow's
news will have nothing to do with today's news. It is best if
the audience has completely forgotten yesterday's news. TV shows
work best by treating viewers as if they were amnesiacs.
YouTube visitors watched 100 million videos a day in 2006, all
videos shot by ordinary folks and posted on the Web site.
According to a study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project,
there were 12 million bloggers in the United States alone in June
2006, and 34 percent of them consider blogging to be a form of
The network nightly news audience has dropped from 53 million
to 27 million in the past twenty-five years.
Broadcast Media watch