Prioritizing in Televising

ITV Evening News

Today, many sources are available for us to be informed of the news: newspapers, radio, the Internet, and television.

The majority of U.S. adults receive news on presidential candidates from local TV broadcasts, and television is the main source of international news for people between 18 and 29 years old. With the massive reliance on TV to obtain news, it is essential that the information presented is fair and provides good coverage of the issues facing the world. However, the content that is covered in news programs is becoming increasingly controlled by news stations’ desire for maximum profit, and less with the desire to provide the most unbiased, factual information.

From Information to Entertainment

In the 1950s, three television networks existed: NBC, CBS, and ABC. News programs were typically broadcast for only fifteen minutes each evening and were very informative. However, when all three networks broadcast the 1960 presidential debates and garnered massive audiences, television executives realized that they had the potential to make large profits. This marked the beginning of a period of expansion of news programing and competition among television networks to produce the most watched and highest rated broadcasts.

Today, the priority of news programs is entertainment rather than information. Some television programs combine news and entertainment to produce what is known as ‘infotainment.’ While the information covered in these programs is accurate, it does not always cover the most important issues. Instead, evening news broadcasts emphasize celebrities, lifestyle issues, and stories that will ultimately interest their viewers. The reduced importance on quality information is causing a reduction in the number of people who are actually interested in the news and an increase in those just looking to be entertained.

National news programming is now taking a back seat to local news programs. Local broadcasts feature stories that are very appealing to the average American: they contain crime stories that capture their audience’s attention, detailed weather reports, sports analyses, and stories concerning celebrities.

News anchors are viewed as celebrities themselves instead of mere reporters of information. Anchors are often chosen that are attractive, well groomed, and in many cases, young. The anchors also engage in light conversations with each other that keep the mood carefree. The positive portrayal of the newscasters allows viewers to relax and be entertained by the news stories, rather than being informed about global issues.

In a March 6, 2012 photo provided by Fox News, Fox News anchors Megyn Kelly and Bret Baier are seated at the anchor desk at the Fox New York Studios. Four years ago, Kelly roved the Democratic and Republican convention floors as a reporter for Fox. This week in Tampa, Fla., she's in Fox's booth as co-anchor with Bret Baier for the 2012 meetings.

Bias as a Vehicle for Viewership

With increasing polarization among Americans in terms of political views, many news networks adopt a strong political stance in order to appeal to a specific group of people, and ultimately boost their views. The emergence of news stations that have an obvious conservative or liberal tilt, such as FOX News and MSNBC, have created an unhealthy tradition of only providing one viewpoint on an issue while disregarding other viewpoints. Talk shows featuring iconic hosts and politically charged conversations have emerged to appeal even more to specific audiences.

Political campaigns offer news programs many new opportunities to engage in bias and spike their viewer counts. Media coverage of candidates focuses on unflattering pieces of background information that could potentially skew voters’ opinions, since coverage of negative characteristics attracts many more viewers than coverage of a candidate’s positive characteristics. These factors create an atmosphere of negative attention toward politics.

An overall negative and critical tone also helps news networks boost their numbers. Audiences are vastly more entertained by adversarial journalism than analytical journalism. The growth of adversarial journalism spiked after the Watergate scandal of Nixon’s presidency; coverage of the scandal and subsequent trials drew in huge numbers of viewers. Following this event, reporters began to take on a new role as critics of American cultures and practices, especially concerning the government.

While negative news interests us and may encourage more people to tune into the news, it has a number of drawbacks. There is some evidence to support that negative news may have an adverse impact on the behavior of viewers, and too much negative news may cause citizens to adopt a sense of hopelessness about the government and American society, believing them to be broken beyond repair.

A Steady Balance

While there is little doubt that the proliferation of overly entertaining, biased, and negative news is problematic, it does offer benefits. News programs before the 1970s, while very informative and relatively unbiased, were considered terribly boring and sometimes difficult to understand. Modifying the news programs to better suit the needs and wants of viewers ultimately draws more viewers in and encourages them to stay informed about local issues.

However, the focus on certain kinds of news concerning celebrities, lifestyles, crime, and politics takes attention away from issues that are more worthy of time on the television. Global issues are vastly underrepresented in the news, leaving many Americans ignorant about what is happening around the world. More importance is placed on overly dramatic events that can easily be blown out of proportion.

A healthy balance between informative news and entertaining news is essential. However, privately owned news programs have little incentive to start airing more informative news stories, as their profits are largely based on the amount of viewers they attract. The only way to encourage news stations to provide informative news stories would be widespread demand by the public. It is up to us to decide whether we are willing to cut down on stories covering our favorite celebrities in favor of becoming more informed about global events.

 

Sources:
Losco J, Baker R. 2015. Tuning in or Tuning Out. In: Am Gov. New York: McGraw-Hill Education. p. 229–236
Hallin D. Whatever Happened to the News? Center for Media Literacy [Internet]. [Cited 2015 Nov 11]. Available from: http://www.medialit.org/reading-room/whatever-happened-news

Images:
http://www.newstribune.com/news/2012/aug/28/foxs-kelly-gets-big-role-convention/
http://foxnewsboycott.com/fox-friends/fox-news-lies-about-obamas-stance-on-terrorism/
http://www.listal.com/viewimage/2198203

How does TV affect children?

Image courtesy of Huffington Post [1].

 

Television rapidly becomes a large part of a child’s birth almost since birth. Educational programs exist for children of various ages, allowing them to master skills such as counting and spelling while being entertained. Parents find it convenient to leave their children, especially young ones, sitting in front of the television while they attend to housework.

More than 40% of children under the age of two watch TV every day, and children under six years old spend, on average, about two hours watching TV every day. [2] This is time that could be dedicated to reading or playing outside. For toddlers, time lost by watching TV could put a damper on their development. The first years of a child’s life are instrumental in brain development. Too much television prevents children from making neural networks by exploring, playing, and communicating with others. Also, interactions with parents are key to a child’s cognitive development. [3] These interactions can be limited or even replaced by the increased prevalence of television in a child’s life.

Television can not only negatively impact development in infants, it can influence behaviors of older children as well. Thousands of studies have been performed to determine whether there is a link between violence on television and violent behaviors. The vast majority have confirmed that this link exists. Since many children’s shows feature violence, often accompanied by humor, children become desensitized to violence. They may even perceive that violence is beneficial, as main characters in children’s shows utilize violence as a means of solving their problems. [3]

Other aspects of a child’s life can be negatively impacted by television as well. Spending too much time in front of the TV replaces time that could be spent doing schoolwork, reading, or studying for tests. As a result, too much time spent in front of the TV could negatively impact a child’s grades in school. Also, watching TV may take time away for a child to get outside and exercise, increasing the risk of obesity. While watching television, a person’s metabolic rate goes down even lower than during rest. [3] This reduces the rate at which calories are burned, increasing the potential for weight gain.

What can be done to reduce the negative impacts of television on a child’s health? Due to the negative consequences of television on a young child’s development, television should be avoided as much as possible for children under two years old. For children over two years old, there should be greater prevalence of educational shows available. In addition, reducing the amount of violence in shows may reduce the risk of children copying violent behavior. Positive role models should be depicted in the shows in order to set a good example for children to follow.

While television does not need to be completely eliminated from children’s lives, the shows can be modified so that the negative impacts of television are reduced.

 

Sources:

[1]: Grycan D. 2013. How Much TV Should My Child Watch? Huffington Post [Internet]. [2013 Nov 11, cited 2015 Nov 2]. Available from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/diana-grycan/how-much-tv-should-my-child-watch_b_3902720.html

[2]: TV and Kids under Age 3 [Internet]. PBS Parents; [cited 2015 Nov 2] . Available from: http://www.pbs.org/parents/childrenandmedia/article-faq.html

[3]: Boyse K. Television and Children. Univeristy of Michigan Health System [Internet]. [2010 Aug, cited 2015 Nov 2]. Available from: http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm

 

Colleen Link