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Research shows that, while people around the world consistently nominate television as their most important news source, much of the content of news bulletins is lost to viewers within moments. In response, Barrie Gunter argues that this can be explained by the way in which televised news is written, packaged and presented.

Inhaltsverzeichnis

Frontmatter

1. How Much Do We Value Television News?

In its far-reaching survey of the communications market in the UK, communications regulator Ofcom (Office of Communications) reported that despite the overall diversification of the news supply system, television remained the most important and most often used medium for news consumption among the British people (Ofcom, 2013). Nearly eight out of ten adults surveyed by the regulator (78%) said they used television to get their news. Television far outstripped other platforms that were used to access news ‘nowadays’, leaving newspapers (endorsed by 40%), radio (35%) and the internet (32%) in its wake. What also emerged however was that most people today use a range of news sources, of which television is just one. The proportion of British news consumers who said they used only television for their news was much smaller (22%). Such people were more likely to be older and poorer. Focusing on specific named news suppliers, the same research confirmed the continued dominance of television. Overall, more than six in ten people (62%) named a television channel as their most important news sources compared with one in seven (14%) that named a website (Ofcom, 2013).

Barrie Gunter

2. Do We Remember Much from Television News?

Over the years, television news has tended to attract positive appraisal from viewing publics. Most viewers in developed democratic nations place trust in mainstream news broadcasters and, more significantly, believe that they learn a lot from televised news (Gunter, 1987; Towler, 2003; Pew Research, 2012). We might expect therefore that, if people are good judges of their own abilities to learn and have formed well-reasoned opinions about televised news based on their own extensive experiences, tests of learning from news broadcasts should reveal that a lot of information is retained from them. In addition, if we assume that news broadcasters, as trained professionals, know — as they claim to — what their audiences want and need, and know what they are doing in constructing digestible news, then news broadcasts should be produced in a way that will enhance viewers’ understanding of current news events and issues. It may therefore come as a surprise that when viewers are tested for what they can remember from a television news programme they recently watched, most of its contents are lost to them. Furthermore, when specific news stories are recalled or recognised afterwards, viewers’ understanding of specific details can be confused.

Barrie Gunter

3. How Does Television Compare with Other Media?

We know that audiences around the world say they regard television as very important to them as a news source. One reason why television has retained this high status position, even in the face of growing competition from online news provision, is that it has a strong ‘brand’ — as evidenced by the positive reputation it still commands among many people as an authoritative, balanced, credible, current and relevant news source. When it comes to how much people learn from televised bulletins, however, we have seen that there are question marks over its effectiveness.

Barrie Gunter

4. Are Some Television News Stories Easier to Remember?

New stories do not appear in television broadcasts or indeed in any other news medium by accident. Each day news editors are confronted with a far greater population of news events than they have the space to cover. Inevitably, there is a selection process that goes on. This is a big part of the newsmaker’s job each day. Decisions must be made — and made quickly — about which stories to select for inclusion, and then where to place these stories and how to tell them. Because of the time constraints under which news professionals work, with television bulletins transmitted at fixed times each day, established systems and protocols must be developed and utilised to expedite decision making about which stories will make the cut.

Barrie Gunter

5. Does Television Tell Stories in a Memorable Way?

Television news is not simply about presenting the public with regular information updates that keep them up to speed with whatever is happening in the world. It is also a form of storytelling that presents events in the world as plot-driven narratives that engage people intellectually and emotionally. In this way, it is a source of stories that give us reassurances about the world and potential threats that we need to be aware of and where in particular there may be things we need to know to inform decisions we might need to take.

Barrie Gunter

6. Do Pictures Help or Hinder Our News Memories?

Television is a visual medium. This means that television news is defined by its pictures. For professional newsmakers, unless the screen is filled with visuals of one sort or another, the medium is being wasted. Of course, a lot of the information that is essential to our understanding of what a news story is all about is contained in the news narrative. This is the part of the story that is spoken by the news anchor or the news correspondents who file specific stories. The ‘talking head’ is a visual feature, but for television news producers it is little more than visualised radio and so must be embellished by other visual material if the news is to take full advantage of the essentially visual nature of the medium of television.

Barrie Gunter

7. Is Television News Presented Too Fast?

Television news broadcasts can vary in length and in the speed at which the news is presented. On 24-hours-a-day news channels, there is plenty of airtime and news stories can be expanded to fill the space available. There are opportunities to repeat story details and to elaborate on specific features allowing viewers plenty of opportunity to absorb complex information and to think about and reflect on the events and issues reported. Standard news bulletins, in contrast, occupy limited spaces usually ranging from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. Stories may be delivered in short reports or even as headlines only.

Barrie Gunter

8. Is Television News Packaged Helpfully?

Television news programmes do not come to fruition by accident. We have seen already that specific attributes are taken into account when selecting stories to appear in bulletins. Further decisions are taken about how to present each story and in particular where television is concerned about the use of film and video materials. News broadcasts also have a structure that is determined by the order in which stories are presented. As with story selection, the running order is influenced in part by news value factors, but is also a consequence of professional news judgements about whether specific news stories ‘belong together’ because of their topic similarities. Such decisions are partly based on aesthetic judgements about the overall ‘look’ of the programme and also on intuitive psychology about how to help the audience to remember the stories being reported (Gunter, 1987).

Barrie Gunter

9. Do We Need to Receive Television News More Than Once?

As with most forms of learning, the internalisation and retention of news information can be aided if the information is repeated. It is a feature of cognitive processing of new information that during the stage at which it is stored in memory, some degree of rehearsal is useful. This means that the information needs to be internally repeated over and over and also linked into existing memory stores that contain our knowledge of the world. Where news is concerned, repetition can also occur when we talk to other people about news stories we first saw, heard or read in the news media. There is evidence that people who admit to talking with others about recent news events are more likely to have stored away information about those events and will be better equipped to remember where specific events occurred and who was involved in them (Gunter, 1984, 1985). Thus, repeated attention to news stories through conversations with others helps us to develop more detailed memory stores and more elaborate knowledge about current events.

Barrie Gunter

10. Can Television News Be Entertaining and Memorable?

It has become clear from the evidence presented in this book that even though televised news is perceived as an important source of news by people surveyed around the world, while some of its information hits home there is much that does not get through to its audiences. We know that people can be primed in terms of what to think about by reports in news media, with television playing a prominent role here. Being aware of specific news events or issues, however, does not mean that people know a lot about them or really understand what they are all about. In reaching conclusions about learning from the news however we must look closely at the measures used to assess this.

Barrie Gunter

Backmatter

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