10 Things you might find interesting about this thing we call television news

  1. Why are TV News stories generally around 2 minutes?

Answer: TV bosses at the dawn of TV news storytelling were gripped with fear that anything over 2 minutes would bore the audience.

2. How come?

Cinema was the medium they were competing with. They understood their visuals for this new medium television could never compete, so more variation from shorter items would keep audiences glued to the set.

3. Why is there usually only one camera per reporter?

TV was the poor newcomer of this communications revolution; an adjunct to radio stations. TV bosses resented putting money into this new piss poor creation, so they provided TV with as little resources as possible.

4. Surely TV News makes a lot of money so they could afford more resources?

Yes. The tide turned in the later 1950s when execs noted TV news could make a profit. Added revenue however was ploughed into the salary of talent, execs and sprucing up the studio and graphics. Whereas cinema prides itself on catching a scene with multiple cameras to provide rich continuity, TV news held to its new found convention.

5. So sometimes I watch the news and see continuity shots and things that makes me think how they got that.

A sizeable portion of news footage, sometimes up to 80% of a news story, is shot by an agency, such as Reuters. TV execs rarely credit where their footage comes from, unless it’s not one of their regular suppliers. If they did TV visuals would look a mess.

6. Why do we see TV news reporters in their reports?

This isn’t a silly questions. Vanity, aside and branding, one of the earlier reasons was technical. Revolutionary film carried sound, but there was a problem. The sound part of the strip, over a period of time, slipped out of synch with the vision. So you’d see someone talking, but ‘goldfishing’ as the words lagged. Technicians therefore had to cut the film to pull the two bits together. This created a whole ‘black’ in the film. To cover this up TV News people started inserting the ‘Cut away’. This was sometimes the reporter and would lead to the reporter, like his show business counterpart, having a taking part in the film.

7. So how do TV news outlets decide what’s news?

There’s no such thing as news. It’s a construct devised by TV news bosses who use a number of parameters to determine what goes into their programme. How many people will the item affect? Will they be talking about this in the pub? Is it about politics and important people? Are pictures of the item available? Do we know what’s going on? In the latter case, the more resources you have, the more you can claim an omnipresence to frame what is the news. Then, curiously, your competitors watch/listen to your output to modify theirs to match.

8. Really! Is that it?

Yep, the theory and practice of news is a social science creation. It’s based on culture, society and literary values. Which is why what you call news may not be news to me

9. That can’t last, can it?

It has so far, but the idea of hyperlocal news is gaining currency. News targeted to more localised regions . At the same time, our widening description of news is gaining currency. To a teenager, Beyonce may be all the news she or he requires. There’s no easy answer, but commonalities across social groups; TV uses social classes, is another way of targeting audiences.

10. What would you say you could do to improve news making?

Ah well how long do you have. Media shifts Ideas Lab have just published my thoughts here. Lemme know what you think?

Top Writer & Creative Technologist, Int. Award Winner. Cinemajournalist. Cardiff Uni @jomec. PhD (Dublin). Visiting Prof UBC, Ex BBC/C4News. Apple profiled.

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