News diary

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1. How does the use of a ‘news diary’ demonstrate that news is not a spontaneous response to world events?

The ‘news diary’ is a record of forthcoming events which the media intends to cover. It may consist of items purchased from press companies, or press releases purchased from pressure groups, government agencies and private companies who wish to publicise their activities. News information in this format may be held by broadcast and print media prior to its release to the public and is therefore not a spontaneous response to world events. Reports held in the news diary are planned well in advance, both for strategic and practical reasons. An example of this is the newspaper coverage of Queen Elizabeth’s and Prince Philip’s royal visit to Australia.

2. Give two examples of the impact of financial factors on news production.

The cost of producing national news, in particular broadcast news filmed on location is immense. As a result, financial constraints are placed on media companies which have a great influence on news production.

For example, if a company has devoted financial resources (crew, flights and expenses of anchor women, satellite links) to an international news story, it may continue to get coverage even if very little has happened. i.e. the media must remain cost effective often at the expense of genuine news items. An example of this is the continued coverage on GMTV from Afghanistan during periods when progress was distinctly tenuous.

Available financial resources may also have an impact on how news stories are presented and selected. A large media company, for example the BBC or ITV, may have funding to film international news events on location. However a smaller news company on a cable network with a smaller budget may have to substitute live footage with in-studio discussion and archive images. This may reduce the perceived grandeur of a particular news story. Similarly, small broadcasters may choose to focus on stories in the local domain which are less exhaustive of financial resources.

3. Explain in your own words how the format and intended audience for a news program affect news output.

Particularly from a pluralist perspective, the target audience of a news program will have a great influence over its content. The format and content of different news programs varies greatly due to the necessity to cater for different audiences. For example, the program Powerhouse is targeted at older professionals. It is screened during their lunch hour and is political in content.

In contrast to most news programs its format entails lengthy and active discussion between reporters and guests, as oppose to the standard, non- interactive bulletin approach. Similarly, the dialogue and subject matter is often of a highly complex and intellectual nature which is perceived as compatible with a professional and educated audience. This is an example of a news program with a very narrow audience which may account for the unconventional format of the show and the specialised news output.

In contrast, the program Newsround is aimed at children. As a result, the format is fast paced in a standard bulletin style so as to avoid boredom and the news output is generally wide but inoffensive. Complex dialogue, complicated political stories and those which are unduly distressing are avoided so as to maintain appeal with a younger audience and accommodate a wide spectrum of events in little detail. Similarly, in terms of news output, greater emphasis is placed on pop culture and stories involving animals or pets which would perhaps be perceived as inconsequential by an older audience.

The two above examples depict the affect the intended audience has on the format and subsequently the news output of a show, particularly if the target audience is narrow and the format is unconventional.

4. What are ‘news values’?

News values are key factors used to determine whether or not a story is news worthy. News values are criteria derived from a set of assumptions made by journalists as to what constitutes public interest. They are used to guide editors in selecting news stories and in creation of the news hierarchy (e.g. which story makes the front page). Examples of news values include: events that are extraordinary; events concerning elite people; disaster and unexpected tragedy and events that concern human interest. The death of Princess Diana encompasses all of these news values and consequently it was unanimously depicted as top story in all broadcast and print media.

5. Explain in your own words how the process of gatekeeping affects the form that news output eventually takes.

Gatekeepers are people within the media who have the power to let some news stories through but keep others out. Only a tiny minority of events become news and ‘gatekeepers’ have the power to decide which stories are included in this minority. The process of gatekeeping involves editors and journalists applying selection processes to events in order to ascertain which are news worthy. These selection processes may include financial factors, news values, competition, time and space available and the target audience.

These factors are applied in order to create coherent and comprehensible news which appeals to the target audience. Similarly it is argued that gatekeepers transmit ideology via such selection processes. Therefore the process of gate keeping means that news output is essentially manipulated for reasons of practicality. The resultant news output is arguably less valid as it is fundamentally in censored form, it is a re-construction rather than a reflection of events. Similarly the process of gatekeeping means that some issues are marginalised and the form of news output is unrepresentative and less comprehensive.

2. Identify two sources of broadcast news from the same day. Provide full details of date, time, channel, etc.

I used television broadcast news on Sunday the 17th of March for analysis. The first news program I included is the 5 News Update on channel 5 between 12.30 and 12.40 p.m. The second news program I included is BBC News and Weather between 5.05 and 5.25 p.m.

3. List the main news items. What are the differences and similarities. Relate them to selection processes.

The top news story shown first in both broadcasts was the grenade attack in Islamabad, Pakistan. This story is high in news value, it is dramatic, unexpected and disastrous. The 5 News Update stated that 5 people – 2 of them Americans- had been killed, in terms of news value the story is significant as Americans are closely affiliated with the British, similarly Pakistan has a large ex- patriot community. A selection process applicable to this story which highlights a difference between the two broadcast is financial constraints.

The 5 News Update relied on archive footage and pictures courtesy of the BBC to visually demonstrate the report, although the story had top billing financial constraints meant that Channel 5 were unable to explore the implications and effects in great detail. In contrast, the BBC News report on this story involved live interaction with an on- location correspondent and interviews with witnesses of the attack. Another selection process which separates the two broadcasts is the time available, 5 News Update explored the same amount of stories as BBC News but with half the time. Consequently the news was reported in bulletin style format with little detailed analysis. BBC News however included balanced and in- depth analysis of the grenade attack including footage of the American ambassador confirming that ‘the war against terror will continue’.

David Blunkett’s proposed ‘crack down’ on muggers, car- jackers and snatchers received second billing on BBC News, however it was 5th on 5 News Update. In terms of selection processes, this difference could be accounted for by the fact that the BBC is government funded whereas channel 5 is not, therefore the BBC is privy to more details involving government related issues due to press releases. The BBC were probably aware of this story before channel 5 and were able to explore it in more depth. Again, channel 5 had to rely on BBC footage to enhance this story, whereas the BBC News report involved discussion with the political correspondent and lengthy footage of David Blunkett and the shadow home secretary.

The story which received 2nd billing on channel 5 and 3rd billing on BBC1 was the inauguration of Robert Mugabe for a 5th term. The story is depicted as one of relatively high importance on both channels. This story is arguably not particularly high in news value, it is an ongoing story with little implication for the average Briton. However, since September 11th, instances of tyranny and behaviours associated with terrorism like those of Mugabe have grown in importance and interest due to the ongoing war against terror. Similarly, this ceremony is significant to the British with the EU leaders, including Tony Blair, denouncing it as ‘fundamentally flawed’. Financial costs may also have influenced the decision to run a story involving Mugabe. For the past few weeks, in the run up to the Zimbabwe elections, many broadcasts have been held in Africa.

Consequently it is possible that the continued reports from Zimbabwe are due to the fact that channel 5 has invested a large proportion of its budget in flying over film crews, equipment and establishing satellite links. In comparison, BBC News were unable to report from Zimbabwe due to legal constraints enforced by President Mugabe. BBC journalists are banned from Zimbabwe as they are perceived to be in league with Tony Blair who is condemned by Mugabe as an ‘imperialist gangster’. Consequently, the BBC report was held from a neighboring African country and involved an interview with the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

The next story explored by both 5 News Update and BBC News was the halt in the cease fire between Palestine and Israel. Again, this story is high in news value as it has links with the Anglo-American ‘war against terror’ and an increasing fear towards Islamic militancy. However, it does not achieve the perceived importance of previous stories as it is of a highly complex nature which may alienate the selected target audience of both shows.

Both shown in the afternoon daytime slot, the target audiences are largely inclusive and indiscriminate, aiming to attract as many viewers from the wide social spectrum as possible. The ongoing land dispute between Israel and Palestine holds little importance with the average Briton and is difficult to understand, therefore in terms of selection processes this is identified in both broadcasts as a less important story. Similarly, neither Israel nor Palestine is particularly allied with Britain, the story is depicted superficially in both broadcasts to maintain objectivity and avoid the alienation of the large Jewish and Islamic communities in Britain.

The final story on 5 News Update is the report on Liza Minelli’s latest wedding. This is probably a result of the likely audience and an attempt to lighten the tone of the broadcast. The program 5 News Update precedes Exclusive, a magazine show with a show business content. Consequently it is probable that those viewers watching the broadcast will be interested in news stories of this nature.

Similarly this story is high in news value as it contains elements of human interest and celebrity. The story has positive emotional impact as it details Liza Minelli’s ‘happy ending’- combating an addiction to pain killers in order to marry her 4th husband David Gest. Similarly the story may have been subject to the news diary, Liza Minelli’s wedding received press coverage long before the event itself. It is therefore likely that channel 5 allocated broadcast time for this story in advance on the assumption that no breaking news occurred.

The final story reported on BBC News was the breaking news that the body of a young woman had been found in a shopping centre in Dartwood, Kent. One selection process applied to this story is the element of competition, producers aim to ‘break news’ in order to gain a competitive edge. It is probable that at the time of the channel 5 broadcast the story had not been broken, consequently the BBC held the monopoly on the news story. As a result, the story contained little definitive information and was comprised largely of speculation. For example, archive footage of missing teenager Danielle Jones was shown under the assumption that there may be a connection between the two incidents. However, despite the lack of details the story is high in news value, the discovery of a murdered young woman is tragic, dramatic and extraordinary.

In conclusion, there are many similarities between the two broadcasts in terms of selection processes and news items, largely due to the fact that little news is shown on Sunday and the target audiences were comprised of similar groups. The main separating factor between BBC News and 5 News Update appears to be the financial constraints placed upon the latter broadcast in comparison to the limitless government funding the BBC receives. As a result BBC News stories were documented at greater depth, particularly those relating to Britain’s government. In contrast, 5 News Update appeared inhibited by financial costs, relying on archive and courtesy footage and involving show business stories which do not require the colossal funding required to document foreign political affairs.

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