Late Breaking News: Analyzing Television News
Modern news programs with their high-intensity graphics, rolling news feeds, and photogenic anchors often seem more like entertainment than information sources. After all, the reasons why we watch certain news programs are complicated.
Perhaps, we trust a certain news anchor, we prefer the program’s political viewpoint, or we just want to hear the weather. Information-gathering may be far down the list. As citizens, however, none of us can afford to watch the news merely as passive observers.
Helping students understand how to analyze TV news will help them glean essential information from a carefully-crafted presentation.
Set the Stage
- Talk with students about the kinds of news stories they may have seen on television or on the Web.
- As students suggest news stories, categorize their answers by filling in a three-column chart labeled Local News, National News, and International News.
- Remind students that television evening news is usually considered “hard” news, or, news that covers serious, timely topics. Other kinds of “hard” news are investigative reporting, exposés, or documentaries.
- Students may have also heard of “tabloid news.” Explain that this term means any kind of sensationalist news that emphasizes lurid details or plays on the emotions.
- “Soft” news covers less serious topics, such as human interest stories or celebrity news. This kind of news may also be known as “infotainment,” a combination of “information” and “entertainment.”
The Big Break
Where does breaking news come from?
Wire services or news services supply much of the content for major media outlets. Of course, news also comes from eyewitnesses, official spokespeople, or people somehow involved with breaking news.
Sometimes, news comes from anonymous informants. This was the case with the famous Watergate scandal during Richard Nixon’s presidency. From 1972 to 1978, Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein investigated a burglary at the Democratic National Committee headquarters. With the help of an anonymous tipster (whose identity was revealed in 2005), the two journalists uncovered a series of wrongdoings that led to the arrest of 40 officials in the Nixon administration. People followed this story avidly in print and on television.
When President Richard Nixon appeared on television to announce his resignation, TV producers lost a news story that had been a dramatic stalwart for years.
Dissect the News
Analyzing the parts of a news story will help students be better informed about what they are watching. Direct them to watch one newscast and dissect it with the following questions:
- Summarize the main idea of the news story.
- What kind of story is it (local, national, international, human interest, infotainment or celebrity news, or investigative reporting)?
- Name two clues that helped you answer what kind of story you watched.
- How was the story introduced? Did this “headline” set certain expectations for what you would see? Explain how this “headline” did or did not delivered what it promised.
- Was there a point of view to the story? Explain.
- Describe any details that you felt like might have been missing from the story.
- Name some ways you would search for additional information on the story.
Chart the News
Students can begin to understand more about how TV news works by watching a news program over time. Have students draw a chart with six columns labeled What I Watched, What It Was About, The Length of the News Story, Where the Story Took Place, What Was Missing From the Story, and How I Can Follow-up.
Ask students to spend several days watching the same program at the same time and choosing one story to analyze. Ask students to present their findings to the class in imaginative ways.
One suggestion would be to present the findings as an investigative reporter—after all, the real news might just be the story behind the story.