One last safari: The rhetoric of TV news

December 1, 2011



Here’s what to do:

Watch one local TV news broadcast (please note which one you viewed – date, time, call letters). Make sure it’s local.

Chart and describe what in the news broadcast is borrowed from entertainment, or what is (or is trying to be) entertaining. What is the news borrowing or using from entertainment as a part of its own rhetoric. Here are a few examples:

  • The makeup, hairdos and clothing of the newscasters. Real people don’t do this, don’t look like this. The TV news people are “made up.” Actors playing roles. And the clothing suggests that these roles have something to do with “business.” Suits, ties, pantsuits. “We’re professionals, doing business.”
  • Every TV news show has theme music. Real life doesn’t come with theme music. This theme music is upbeat, dramatic, punctuated. And regardless of how much news actually occurred during the day, you can set your watch by the expectation that in exactly 29 minutes, you will hear the same theme music again.

You might comment also on what in the rhetoric of television pre-determined what kind of news you saw? To get at this, think of other types of news, news you might read about in a newspaper or magazine, hear about on radio, or interact with online. Another lens to use: How much of what you saw was staged, or pre-arranged, managed? Think of press conferences, product releases, awards presentations, “events.” Remember: The medium is an important, inseparable part of the message. The form determines in part the content.

Before you are finished, write down what you learn from the broadcast. What has the news taught you that you did not already know? Be as specific as you can.

Describe something about the emotion the news is supposed to evoke? What is the appropriate reaction to what you are seeing? How do you know that this is in fact the appropriate reaction? What are some other reactions?

What are you supposed to do about what you’ve just seen? What action, if any, is suggested? If no action is suggested, what was the point of having seen it, of having watched it?

To think about the essential element of the rhetorics of cinema and television that has to do with verb tense – NOW! – note how far into the past or the future the local news broadcast delves or even references. How much of the news is that day and that day only, and how much is part of a longer timeline, a historical context, if you will? “Now this!”

If you’re really adventurous, or need to impress the prof one last time before grading ;D, then watch also one The Daily Show, at least through the first 15 minutes. Simply look for and chart conventions borrowed from TV news, like Stewart at a desk, with paper, wearing a suit and tie, ‘reading’ the news. In other words, what of the comedy show’s rhetoric is co-opted or hijacked from TV news?

Another way to think about this is to ask how much of what is presented on this comedic expression is actually a fairly serious commentary on the medium itself, on television, as well as on specifically TV news.

DUE as a comment to this post noon, Wednesday, Dec. 7