Module 63


Updated: 06/21/2014


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

--Thomas Jefferson

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Module 63



Part I

News and

Documentary Production




" Electronic newsgathering or ENG technology makes eyewitnesses to happenings around the nation and around the world."


 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 watch Fox News. This may have been partially related to differing 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.


Social Media Come To the Forefront

During hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast of the United States in 2012, social media, such as Twitter and Facebook emerged as key elements in news coverage.1

Personal camera phones streamed live coverage to the Internet and network news often played "catch-up" with unfolding events.

The Internet has also sparked another dimension in news and information: blogs.

Internet Blogs

>>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 witness, along with their 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 dot 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 content from sites such as YouTube.

Network and cable news channels encourage viewers to send in photos and video stories. Instructions for doing this are included on their sites.2


Internet News and Information

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

Top Internet News Sites
(All ages, 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.

Since the above chart was compiled some new Internet news sources have gained popularity -- Yellow marker Yahoo news being one.

>>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, for example, cable TV news ratings where Fox News has had a clear lead for some time.

>>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.

A website that has summary information on all of the news media is red marker The State of the News Media.

With all this as a background, let's look at some of the tools for the production of news and information programming -- whether it's being produced for standard broadcasting, cable, or the Internet.


The Difference Between


Electronic newsgathering (ENG) is a part of electronic field production (EFP).

Although in all-digital operations we're starting to see the initials DNG used for digital newsgathering, we'll stick to "ENG" for this discussion.

Electronic Field Production (EFP) includes many other types of field productions, including commercials, music videos, on-location dramatic productions, and various types of sports coverage. EFP work generally provides the opportunity to insure maximum audio and video quality.

In ENG work the primary goal is to get the story. In 90% of news work there will be time to insure audio and video quality, which is what the news director and producer will expect.

But conditions are not always ideal in news work, and if compromises must be made they are made in audio and video quality, not in story content.

>>>The most-watched and celebrated television news story in history was shot with one low-resolution black-and-white NASA - Moonvideo camera  --  not the quality of video that you would think would make it to every major TV network in the world.

The video was of  mankind's first steps on the moon.

Although the quality of the footage was poor, no TV news editor said to NASA, "You've got some interesting footage there, NASA, but we'll have to pass; the quality just doesn't meet our technical standards."

>>>In democratic society news and documentaries also serve an important yellow dot watchdog function. (This is an extensive article from our own blog.)

Not only do they tend to keep politicians and other officials honest, but they have also brought to light countless illegal activities. Once such things become public knowledge, corrective action often follows.

The Influence of Broadcast News

new paragraphWe 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. yellow dot South Africa and the Philippines are two examples that we've previously cited.

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

Today, there are many countries that censor, or at least try to censor, broadcast news, yellow square 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.

Even with its First Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing free speech, the United States has a long history of censorship attempts.

Not unrelated, we know that 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 their preferred beliefs.

Ratings Dictate Content

There is no doubt that most of TV news in the United States, especially in the big cities and 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.

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

Dramatic footage of a spectacular fire (note photo) will typically get more air time than a story of an international trade settlement that will affect millions of people around the world.

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.

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


Documentaries That Changed

Thinking and Sparked Action

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 typically 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 analysis, tends to be better educated and often part of the so-called "decision-making group."

new paragraphBefore we dismiss the audience for documentaries as limited, we need to remember that a surprising number of documentaries have had mainstream appeal -- even to the point making an impact in movie box offices.

Even before its release on DVD in 2004, the controversial documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11, had generated revenue comparable to popular mainstream films.

An Inconvenient Truth, the 2006 film on global warming, won the Oscar for best documentary in 2007. This documentary cost $1-million to produce and within a short time had generated $50-million in revenue.

Even short, low-budget videos, the kind anyone can make, have so threatened the multi-billion dollar profits of the U.S. agriculture industry they have gotten some states to pass laws against them.

For example, some sates have passed red dot Ag-Gag laws against filming inhumane conditions that some farm animals are subjected to.

News Bias

new paragraphBroadcasters no longer have a legal "equal time" or Fairness Doctrine mandate from the FCC forcing them to give equal time to opposing views.

In a recent Florida court case against FOX that alleged bias in their reporting Fox won by maintaining that under the First Amendment they had the right to lie and deliberately distort news reports.3 

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.

Part of your responsibility as a newsperson is to bring out the various sides of an issue. This means you allow each side to state their views as strongly and convincing as they can.

Not only is it the professional thing to do, but it will also add interest and controversy to your news stories.

Whistleblowing vs. Leaking

green dotInformation in news and documentary productions can come from whistleblowers and leaks.

As explained in yellow dot Whistleblowers vs. Leaking, whistleblower protections were designed to help keep agencies honest while protecting the whistleblower from retaliation for "blowing the whistle" on their illegal or questionable activities.

Although there is supposedly a legal difference between whistleblowing and leaking, some recent court cases that have gone after whistleblowers in the cause of national security have blurred this distinction.

Finally, now more than ever before, there are attempts to stop investigative journalists from doing their jobs. The 2013 movie, War On Whistleblowers4, available on outlets such as Netflix,, deals with this topic in detail.

One of the ways the government tries to find and stop whistleblowers this is by eavesdropping on broadcast newsrooms and reporter telephone conversations -- both of which have been done in the name of national security. ( Our Forum has several articles on this.)


1 One of the best documentaries on this is Superstorm Sandy, produced by the BBC and available on HuLu.

2 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.

3 This is based on a fascinating and disturbing case. The award-winning reporters were fired by Fox after they repeatedly refused cave in to the wishes of Fox and Monsanto to alter their story about Monsanto's controversial genetically engineered Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH or rBST). The reporters cited reputable health officials that thought the hormone endangered the public's health. The reporters refused to alter their story and the station fired them.

4 War On Whistleblowers - Free Press and the National Security State, a 2013, 66 minute in-depth documentary, available on sites such as Netflix, puts the importance of this topic into perspective.

>>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.

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