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. In some other countries it involves discrediting major news sources.
Today, much of the free world has access to sources of news such as the top five on-line sources below, which were ranked in 2016 in terms of unique monthly visitors.
In 2015, Pew Research ranked 30 major sources of news for millennials in the United States. This file lists the most and least trusted US news sources.
Surrounding the 2016 Presidential election a glut of fake news sites and stories emerged, cleverly designed to mislead voters on key issues.
Researchers at Stanford's Graduate School of Education spent more than a year evaluating how well students across the country evaluate online sources of information. The results showed that students typically couldn't differentiate between true stories and bogus stories.
These studies, which do not bode well for a democracy, have been repeated several times in different places with the same results.
A website that has a comprehensive summary information on all of the news media is The State of the News Media.
Comes To the Forefront
During hurricane Sandy, which hit the East Coast of the United States in 2012, citizen journalism was firmly established when social media, such as Twitter and Facebook became 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 photos and videos. Blogs contain personal reactions to events and unsubstantiated rumors, and even personal diaries.
The more valued blogs 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.
Mainstream 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.
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.
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 back in its day, have all but disappeared in mainstream commercial television.
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 cruelty were broadcast some states passed Ag-Gag laws against filming inhumane conditions that some animals are subjected to.
Public reaction against these videos threatened corporate
profits and that resulted in political pressure to disallow the filming of these
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 News that alleged bias in their reporting Fox won by maintaining that 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 add interest and
controversy to your news stories.
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 illegal or questionable activities.
Although there is supposedly a legal difference between whistleblowing and leaking, some recent court cases that 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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