Film, Radio and TV - 35



Part I  

(The content of the news, law and career modules which follow is quite similar to the same topics in the TV Production modules elsewhere on this site.)





Broadcast News




" Whenever the people are well informed, they can be trusted with their own government."

--Thomas Jefferson

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Those who report the nation's news hold the keys to much power and influence. For this reason we'll spend some time investigating the news media.

At the same time, as this graph shows, Confidence in News Mediathe credibility of newspapers, television and the Internet have all steadily declined over the past few decades.

There are multiple reasons for this including the emergence of  "opinionated news" meant to increase ratings and profits by appealing to certain audience segments.

This is possibly best illustrated by Fox News. Although it remains the leading TV news source in the United States, especially among over-60 conservatives, its credibility with viewers has declined in recent years.

News Media Audience Demographics

There are major age and education differences in news audiences. This is of particular interest to advertisers.

To cite the extreme ends of the scale, according to the Pew Research Center, younger, better educated favor The Colbert Report, Daily Show and the New York Times, while older audience members with less education watch Rush Limbaugh, and Hannity, and listen to daytime talk programming.

Interestingly, those who said they didn't watch TV news gave more accurate answers on current event questions than those who watched Fox News. This may have been partially related to different education levels.

Although there used to be a major age divide with Internet use in the United States, now use centers largely on  yellow dot regional and ethnic differences..

The Internet

Internet Blogs

>>All of the traditional news sources have been losing viewers or subscribers over the past seventeen years. The Internet, which is the one exception, includes blogs, which, at least in terms of raw Internet numbers, ranks #1.

Blogs -- short for web logs -- are viewed by about 30% of Internet users and all major news organizations. The writers of blogs use their web sites to post news they uncover, photos and videos, personal reactions to events, rumors, and even their own personal diaries.

Blogs, can be highly opinionated and include unsubstantiated information.  Even so, the more valued ones are often the source of leads that the mainstream media develop into major stories. The following link will take you to a list of Yellow marker major blogs, including a comprehensive list of mainstream news sources.

As part of their news coverage the mainstream media now regularly feature blogger reports and even interviews with the more respected bloggers. TV news often features sites such as red dot YouTube™ and red dot  MySpace™, which commonly have videos.  More recently red dot  Twitter has caught hold and "tweets" have become an instant news and information source. (These things are covered here.)

Network and cable news channels encourage viewers to send in photos and video stories. Instructions for doing this are included on their sites.*

" Blogging has created a million eyes watching over the shoulders of journalists."

-Matthew Felling, media director of the
Center for Media and Public Affairs, Washington.

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Internet News and Information

>>As the mainstream news media have slipped in popularity the Internet has more than made up the difference. This has especially been true with younger audiences.

Sources of News for Youth

Relative Popularity of Top Internet News Sources

(In Thousands of Users)

New York
Tribune Newspapers
Yahoo News
ABC News Digital
Gannett Newspapers, including USA Today
Hearst Newspapers Digital
AOL News
Associated Press
Knight Ridder Digital
Fox News
Internet Broadcasting Systems.

Keep in mind that Internet use is positively related to education and age — the younger and better educated tend to use the Internet more. This explains part of the discrepancy between the rankings listed above and the over-the-air TV news ratings.

Young people represent the mainstream media consumers of the future, so it's also important to look at media use by this segment of society.

>>We may soon find that people will be spending more time "on line" watching various types of video than they do in front of the TV set. Today, the Internet represents a rapidly-expanding, and an ever-more-competitive market for video.

" We are at the beginning of a golden age of journalism -- but it is not journalism as we have known it. Media futurists predict that by 2021, citizens will produce 50 percent of the news...."
- Online Journalism Review Report on Participatory Journalism

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The Influence of Broadcast News

We can more fully appreciate the power and influence of TV news when we consider the lengths to which some people and nations go to control it.

As we have seen countless times, the news media are the first target for those who want to control the people of a country. South Africa and the Philippines are two examples that we've previously cited.

Although censorship is often justified as a way of protecting - values or ideals, history has repeatedly shown that censorship leads to a suppression of ideas and often to political, military and religious control.

Today, there are many countries that censor, or at least try to censor, broadcast news, - books, magazines, and the Internet. Although the stated justification is often to protect moral values, the list of censored materials sometimes includes the web pages of The New York Times, the Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times. You can draw your own conclusions about the real intent.

Even the YouTube site and cell phone exchanges are censored out of fear that information that will undermine the government.

Although it might be assumed that things are different in the United States, since we have The First Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing free speech.  However, the United States has a long history of censorship attempts -- many successful.

Even through broadcast news has - problems with credibility, as the bearer of "bad tidings" TV news often gets complaints from people who at least unconsciously confuse the medium with the message. Thus, the messenger (TV news) is blamed for information that some viewers find distressing or that runs contrary to favored beliefs.

There is no doubt that TV news most of TV news in the United States, especially at the network level, is ratings driven.

Thus, stories that will grab and hold an audience are favored over those that in the long run may be much more consequential.  Stories that are "visual" are favored over those that are static and more difficult to explain or understand.

Thus, a baby beauty contest or a dog show may win out over coverage of a city council meeting or an international trade conference.

Given the preferences of viewers who are constantly "voting" on program popularity with their TV remote controls, a news director (whose job largely depends on maximizing ratings and station profits) may have little choice but to appeal to popular tastes.

As media conglomeration spreads with more and more media outlets being owned by several huge corporations, news is emanating from fewer and fewer sources.

Even now it's alleged that - corporate self-interest shapes decisions on what will and will not be covered.

At the same time, news is very competitive and outlets that bypass or downplay certain stories because they may negatively impact advertising profits or corporate prestige may find that their credibility drops.

Documentaries That Changed

Thinking and Sparked Action

new paragraphA documentary is a factual production, one that generally incorporates interviews with the people involved with the subject and actual footage of what has taken place. The dictionary would add, "from documents....expressing things as perceived without distortion of personal feelings, insertion of fictional matter, or interpretation."

new paragraphThe hard-hitting, hour-long documentaries, such as CBS's "Harvest of Shame," which won many awards and sparked social reform, have all but disappeared in mainstream commercial television.

They have lost favor because they produce low ratings and are expensive and time-consuming to produce. Plus, they often step on the toes of influential individuals and corporations, and that can upset network sponsors and even spark lawsuits.

In their place on the commercial networks are often the softer, safer, human interest and crime story mini-documentaries featured in some of the popular news magazines.

yellow square PBS, which does some excellent documentaries, is an exception, as are some of the special interest cable and satellite channels. These sources represent an important means of getting a message across to a segment of the population that, according to ratings analyses, tends to be better educated and often part of the so-called "decision-making group."

new paragraphFor the fist time you can purchase a video camera at your local electronics store with the hope of producing a professional documentary -- or, as we've also seen in some cases, even an yellow square independent dramatic film. A short segment on YouTube recently prompted a network documentary.

Handling Controversial Subject Matter

When handling controversial subject matter broadcast television is different from many of the feature films noted above because it must attempt to show balance.

Although broadcasters no longer have a legal "equal time" mandate from the FCC, the airwaves still belong to the public. 

With the exception of religious views, which can legally go unchallenged, the FCC expects networks and stations to present opposing views -- especially if they represent major factions. This used to be mandated under green dot The Fairness Doctrine.

At the same time views on "bias" have changed in recent years. For example, a recent court cast against FOX alleging bias in their news was lost when, among other things, the court noted that, people can now turn to the Internet and other sources of news. 

Even so, since "biased" is a word that you don't want to hear about your work (especially if you plan to broaden your employment opportunities), you don't want to promote your own view on an issue and not seek opposing views.

Let me speak personally for a moment. As a person who spent many years in news (newspapers, radio, and TV) I had to confront this issue very early in my career. I can recall becoming upset and emotionally involved in stories involving the unfair or illegal treatment of people. Around the newsroomriot coverage I was known to start sentences with, "We've got to do something about...."

When a seasoned journalist saw what was happening (and that it was affecting my objectivity) he passed on some advice that helped me over the years.

He said. "Worry about your job and not somebody else's. Your job is simply to uncover the facts — as many as you can on both sides of the issue. The less emotionally involved you are the better you'll be able to do your job. Let the politicians, preachers, public officials, or whoever, do something about what you find out. That's their job.


Uncovering Truth

Ultimately, the job of the journalist  — especially the investigative journalist  — is to Food Pleaseuncover the truth about situations and explain that truth in a clear and succinct manner.

Even when there seems to be a major injustice involved, it is not the responsibility of the reporter to be an advocate of a particular viewpoint or course of action, only to bring all of the related facts to the public's attention.

As we've often seen (and assuming the source is thought to be credible) public pressure is then brought to bear and action is then often taken.

In mid-2002 two major stories were reported in the U.S. press: the molestation of hundreds of children by clergy and the largest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history. In both cases the incriminating facts had been successfully hidden from the public as the situations continued to get progressively worse.

TV newsHad the truth been uncovered and publicized earlier, something could have been done to head off the pain and suffering that a great many people had to subsequently endure.

This includes the many additional children who were molested and the scores of people who lost all of their retirement funds while some corporate executives pocketed millions of dollars.

In both cases it was the journalist's job to uncover the facts that people were rather successfully hiding and bring these facts to the public's attention; in other words, to fulfill their role as "the watchdogs of a democratic society."

Advice From Mom

"Whistle blowers" who report wrongdoing often have a difficult time.

If they report it, they may face the wrath of influential people; if they don't they may find it difficult to "live with themselves." (And in some cases not reporting known illegal activities is a criminal offense.)

Here's a recent example of a controversial case of whistle blowing that went world-wide.

Before it was made public, Army reservist Joseph Darby had a photo CD graphically documenting what he considered as the torture and abuse of Iraqis by U.S. personnel at Abu Ghralib prison. He reportedly agonized for months over what to do.

Finally, without disclosing the exact nature of what was bothering him, he called his mother from Iraq, and she gave him advice that few experts in law or ethics could match. She said:

"I would remain true to myself, because the truth sets you free.  And truth triumphs over evil."

Video Journalists (VJs)

Today, we commonly see "one-man bands" in the covering of televisionone-man band news; i.e., one person doing everything: camera operator, reporter, sound person, and editor.

In case you are wondering what the term "one-man band" refers to, it originally referred to a man who played multiple musical instruments at the same time. In the case of the person on the left, however, we have a one-woman band.

A slightly more modern interpretation is when an on-camera reporter shoots the basic story, then sets up a camera on a tripod, focuses on a mark on the ground, tilts the camera up to his or her height and lock it, puts on a mic (microphone) and checks the audio, rolls the recorder, and then standing on the mark delivers the opening and closing to the piece.

Once back at the studio, the same person edits the piece and does the voice-over narration.

This has led to the term, video journalist (VJ), a single field reporter who writes, reports, shoots and edits stories alone. It's not easy, but it saves hiring extra people. Thus, it's more essential than ever before that the entire news process and the associated pitfalls are understood.

News Bias

Conservatives think that TV news has a liberal bias and liberals feel that news has a conservative bias. Being a human endeavor, total objectively in news is impossible, of course.  When you analyze bias complaints you are apt to conclude that bias is defined as "any view that differs from mine."

Although the media is - often seen as having a liberal bias, it has been shown that most of the large broadcast operations are owned or managed by individuals who, almost without exception, hold views that are politically and socially to the right of center.

Bias can stem just as much from what TV news reports as what it doesn't report.

When it comes to politics, great effort goes into trying to keep certain things from becoming public.

For example, it has been well documented that many embarrassing government documents that have nothing to do with national security are marked "classified" simply to keep the information from the public.

Freedom of Information ActTo help address this issue The Freedom of Information Act was passed that allows citizens and reporters access to some government documents.

But the process of obtaining documents can be fraught with red tape and delays, and key information is often blacked out. Complicating the process even further is the fact that many of requests are denied. 

The question is, are the words of Patrick Henry, the prominent figure in the American Revolution (remembered for his "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!" speech) still valid:

" The liberties of a people never were nor ever will be secure when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them."

-Patrick Henry

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At Times, A Dangerous Profession

In the United States, as elsewhere, reporters have been killed before their stories could be aired. Numerous books and articles document this.

Although some of these authors might be seen as "conspiracy theorists," the death of journalists and scores of informants on the eve of important revelations can't all be viewed as coincidence.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, between 1992 and 2001, 399 journalists were killed "because of their work." By mid-2007, close to 100 journalists and their aids had been killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Suffice it to say, investigating and breaking important stories often carries a degree of professional and personal risk. The book, blue dot Breathing the Fire by Kimberly Dozier dramatically documents this.

Related Feature Films

The films below relate to news and documentary work and can be rented from a source such as Netflix. They can either be viewed privately or, if time permits, used in a classroom. Note: They are R-rated for language.

  • Nothing But the Truth, a dramatic and engrossing film based on a true story  telling how protecting confidential sources can sometimes have profound effects. It stars Kate Beckinsale, Matt Dillon, and David Schwinner, among others.  Alan Alda's appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court is reason enough to rent this film. More information can be found in blue dot this blog piece.

  • Welcome to Sarajevo. If you are interested in being a foreign correspondent, you should consider foreign correspondentWelcome to Sarajevo, starring Stephen Dillane and Woody Harrelson. The film, which is based on a true story, makes use of actual news footage to very dramatically (and very graphically) show what war correspondents face.

  • Live From Baghdad -- Action drama starring Michael Keaton showing how CNN got exclusive television coverage of first U.S. invasion of Baghdad. The film explores some of the ethical issues inherent in 24-hour journalism. Although fictional, it's dramatic and realistic, and based on actual events.

>> There are many agencies that monitor news freedom and attempts to censor news.  One of these is, which specializes in student issues, is the red marker Student Press Law Center in Arlington, Virginia.

* Still photos and video can be transmitted directly from cell phones, or with the help of special software, videos can be edited before being uploaded. Software such as this facilitates uploading from a variety of different sources. 

(Click on "more" for the second half of this section.)


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