Those who report the world's news hold the keys to much power and influence. This is why so much effort goes into trying influence the content of news.
In countries such as China and North Korea this extends to an attempt to totally control what citizens see and hear. But in this day of satellites, the Internet and even international shortwave radio, barriers are slowly starting to crumble.
For one thing much of the world has access to sources of news such as the top five sources below, which were ranked in 2016 in terms of unique monthly visitors. To this, however, we need to add two caveats.
Yahoo News automatically add itself as a home page and news source to many browsers, which significantly inflates its ranking, and according to some sources the Washington Post now outranks The New York Times.
News Media Audience Demographics
Of particular particular interest to advertisers is the age of audiences.
For example, younger, better educated tend to get their news from sources such as network news and the New York Times, while older viewers with less education tend to rely on shows such as Rush Limbaugh and Hannity.
A website that has a comprehensive summary information on all of the news media is The State of the News Media.
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 was often forced to play catch-up with the unfolding events.
The Internet has also sparked another dimension in news
and information: 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 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
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
ENG and EFP
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 video 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 watchdog function. (This is an extensive article from our own blog.)
TV news tends to keep politicians and other officials
honest by exposing illegal activities. Once such things become public
knowledge, corrective action often follows.
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 air time over coverage of a city council meeting or an international trade conference.
Dramatic footage of a spectacular fire 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.
As 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
The 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.
The exceptions are the PBS Frontline documentaries such as Supplements and Safety broadcast in 2016, which sent shockwaves through a multi-billion dollar US industry.
Documentaries have lost favor on commercial television because they tend to 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.
However, there are noted exceptions.
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 low-budget videos, the kind anyone can make with today's digital video equipment, have so threatened the profits of some U.S. corporations that in one case lawmakers were pressured into acting.
After video exposés of animal cruilty were broadcast
some sates passed
Ag-Gag laws against filming inhumane conditions that some farm animals
are subjected to.
Broadcasters 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
Whistleblowing vs. Leaking
Information in news and documentary productions can come from whistleblowers and leaks.
As explained in 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.)
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