Essay: Television News Agencies Select Their Stories

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¶ … Television News Agencies Select Their Stories and What Determines News Value

The selection of news stories in the television media is relatively simple. Depending on the motivation of the news agency or news channel, the media will report different stories in different ways. The news stories that make it on television are commonly the most abrasive, controversial, and emotionally engaging stories available. If they weren't interesting to the target audience, they would not have very good viewership and therefore would not be able to adequately sell ad space. The television channel has to function as an advertiser, and as people tune into the news to help keep tabs on the world around them, they are exposed to viewpoints and products that are pushed on the news channel and during the news segments. Another aspect to what makes the news is the story's level of sensationalism. Many people, at one level or another, live their lives vicariously through others that they see. Whether it's celebrities, sports stars, or other athletes, people need to feel in touch with the people they like and admire. The news stories that are the most interesting or sensational, on a basic human level, which often times involve sex, drugs, scandals, or other innately interesting human experiences, are most often the stories conveyed by the news agencies.

People are often critical of journalists as a whole. They are often referred to as sensationalists or exaggerators of the truth. While this may sometimes hold true, one the whole, journalists are often offended when people make such accusations. They often argue that while exaggerations and aberrations do occur, the news journalist never fakes a news story (Schudson, 1989, 263). This could be true, however the faking of a news story does not have as much social impact as the creation of a news story does. The power to create legitimate news from sometimes not-so-legitimate news sources is far greater than the power to fake a story. The creation of a news story but the media, and the defining of what news is, are both very powerful tools that Television News journalists wield in the modern era.

Modern real time news, covering events as they unfold, has become the norm for most television news channels and programs. But the creation of this type of coverage has had little effect on what is considered to be "newsworthy." For hundreds of years, the same types of news and social dialogue have been widely considered to be newsworthy. The technologies around these events have changed, but the exposing of the basic human condition has still been a key part of news coverage throughout the centuries and even today. There are however, a few separate news values that have been allowed to surface in recent times, as news has begun to cover live events. These values, according to author Judy McGregor, are visualness, emotion, conflict, and the "celebrification" of the journalist themselves (McGregor, 2002, 3). These values have all existed since the dawn of humanity, but together they for the formula within which most major news outlets operate in deciding what is newsworthy and what is not.

Visualness, according to McGregor (2002), is the basic ability for a news story to have associated television footage and pictures. If a story does not have any visuals, something television viewership is directly built upon, it is extremely hard if not impossible to include it in television news broadcasts. Television viewers are always looking for visual stimulation, and the news outlets are quick to judge a story based on its visual appeal, or even their ability to cover the story in an appealing way. An excellent but very sad example of how visual stimulation plays into the news outlets' attempts at gaining viewership is the news coverage during the 9/11 terrorist attacks. While thousands of people were being killed, Americans were looking to their television sets in a sort of visual and emotional trance. People are unable to look away from an unfolding news story, no matter how horrible or tragic if the visuals are entertaining and stimulating enough. Great news stories, and those stories that aren't so great but make the news anyhow are often heavily reliant on visual appeal for their attractiveness.

Emotional draw, in the form of a news story is nothing new either. Since the beginning of news people have been drawn to emotional stories where personal experiences and events are covered and conveyed to an audience. Television news outlets use the draw of emotion to target an audience and attempt to draw them into the story (McGregor, 2002, 4). A person is much more apt to favor a news outlets that creates emotional bonds or attachments through stories than they are to favor a television news source that does not ask them to make an emotional investment in their coverage (McGregor, 2002, 4). This emotional investment creates a bond between the television news outlet and the viewer. The news outlet is quick to recognize this and exploits this emotional bond to try and create a sense of trust or sympathy. These secondary emotional reactions can then be used to more successfully market the products and view points that people are being sold through advertising and potential news outlet bias. The emotional connection, when present, can be one of the most powerful tools that a news outlet can employ when trying to retain and relate to television viewers.

Viewers also tune into a particular television news source to justify their own beliefs about a particular story or issue. If the viewer knows that a news outlet has a certain view on an issue, and they want to feel good about feeling the way that they do about that topic, they will often tune into the news outlet that creates that feeling of similar interests and belief structures (McGregor, 2002, 4). In this way, news agencies try to exploit a bias or viewpoint in order to create a different type of emotion connection, equally as powerful as any other. The decision of a "newsworthy" story often hinges upon the emotional appeal to the viewer, and whether or not the news agency can cover a story from a particular perspective that its target audience shares and where personal justification is relevant.

Conflict is possibly one of the largest draws to a news story. Humans are attracted to conflict in the same manner that they are attracted to visualness and emotion. The interesting point here about conflict as a theoretical newsworthy subject is the fact that most viewers, when asked, are not particularly interested in the outcome of the conflict. Instead, they tend to focus on the differing sides of the story, or on differing opinions or beliefs (McGregor, 2002, 5). In this manner, it is possible for the viewer to justify his or her own beliefs on the topic through the visual proof that someone else believes the same way. The news outlets understand that conflict is an important part of what makes a story "newsworthy" and whether or not people will be interested in viewing the segment at all. News outlets take advantage of humans' desire to be socially and consciously justified in their beliefs about certain topics, many of which cause outward conflicts that are then covered in news stories (Milgrom, 1981, 34). One common example of this conflict in the news is when a newcomer challenges an incumbent politician.

Viewers cannot, be definition, be interested in an outcome that hasn't happened yet. So why are people interested at all? The reason for the interest is precisely the same reason that people tune into a certain news outlet. They want to feel that their opinion is correct, and want to be able to visually witness and emotionally feel this as a fact through an agency that can be said to be "unbiased" (McGregor, 2002, 5). People feel that if they are getting information from a place that is not supposed to take a side, and that information justifies their own viewpoints and beliefs, then they must be correct in these beliefs. Television news outlets, realizing that people are interested in the conflict itself and not so much the actual outcome, emphasize the two opposing sides in a manner that allows the viewer to become emotionally invested in a cause or issue.

The celebrification of news journalists is another form of celebrity and emotional investment that news agencies use in determining what makes the nightly television news report (McGregor, 2002, 6). A celebrity reporter could report on a news story that would otherwise not make the news, given that reporter has built an emotional and visual rapport with the viewing audience, and that audience has been allowed to trust that reporter and whatever news stories they are reporting on as fact. It is part of the current journalism folklore to assume that the journalist plays a completely unrelated role in reporting the news (Milgrom, 1981, 382). Nothing could be further from the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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