Chapter 6
Television and Radio

Chapter 6 - Television and Radio

Broadcasting is an entirely different medium from print or the web, and its journalism is necessarily different. But broadcast journalists adhere to most of the basic tenets of journalism that we have discussed previously in the book.

Broadcasting is a 20th century phenomenon. The development of radio in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was one of the great inventions of mankind. It not only revolutionized our way of communicating, but it also sparked vast changes in the way we lived our personal, civic and economic lives.

The first great news event involving radio was the sinking of the Titanic in 1912. Information about that event was sent by radio from ships close by, and people were astonished at how quickly the news was transmitted. From the 1920s, broadcasting -- first radio and then television in the 1950s -- has been at the forefront of coverage of every major news event.

The immediacy and impact of television news has continued, but television itself has changed drastically in the last half century. Three national networks dominated television for the first three decades of its popularity, but in the 1980s that dominance was challenged by the development of cable. Specialized news channels, particularly Cable News Network, delivered news all day every day, and the audience for network news has been steadily shrinking.

Local television news -- that produced by local stations -- varies widely in quality, but it still attracts a large audience for local stations and gives those stations an identity. Unlike newspapers, most local television stations have direct competition for audience and advertisers.

Study questions
  • Describe some of the particular challenges that broadcast journalism faces today.

  • What are some of the characteristics that make radio different as a news medium

  • What are some of the characteristics that make television different as a news medium?

  • What were the three events of the 1950s and 1960s that had a major impact on the development of television news?

  • The chapter describes radio news as poor or nearly non-existent. What are some of the reasons for this? Is this description accurate for where you live?

  • What is the major government agency that regulates broadcasting?

Chapter notes

Organizational charts.
The organizational charts on page 105 and 108 of the book are reproduced as interactive charts on this web site. Click on the images to the right (or here on the text) for the radio station organizational chart (top) and the television station organizational chart. Then click on the rectangles designating positions at each place to find a job description. (Not all positions have been defined.)

Network news sites. Each of the major television news networks maintains extensive news web sites. That makes it convenient to see how each is covering a news story. Select a major news story of the day and go to each of these sites to see what they have said about it. Does one site have more or different information than another. This is a good project to do when there is a big, breaking news story.
CBS News
ABC News
FOX News

Osama videotapes. Should television news broadcast videotapes made by nefarious characters such as Osama Bin Laden? That is a continuing dilemma for broadcasters. On the one hand, they are committed to bringing information to their audiences. On the other, they do not want to advance the cause of people such as Osama. What do you think? (Pictured at the right is a picture from a tape that Bin Laden made in December 2001; he is laughing with an associate about the attacks of September 11, 2001.)

VOA News. One of the best broadcast news sites is that of the Voice of America. VOA is operated by the U.S. government and broadcasts news around the world in more than 50 languages. VOA has a tradition of presenting the news in an unbiased way -- even when the news is not favorable or is embarrassing to the government. An additional benefit of the VOA news web site is that you can hear the broadcasts in various languages as well as read the news in those languages. If you are trying to learn a language, the VOA news site might be of great help to you.

RTNDA. One of the best ways to keep up with the state of broadcast news is at the Radio and Television News Directors Association web site. The foundation for the organization produces an extensive report each year on broadcast news and the public's reaction to it. Those reports are usually in PDF forms, and they may take a while to download, but they contain some excellent information.

State of radio and television. The Project for Excellence in Journalism has produced an extensive report on American news media. The report contains separate sections on network television, local television, cable television and radio, all of which are worth reading. The section on local television begins this way:

In nearly every aspect of local television - from viewership to economics to ownership structure - there are mixed signals of health and challenge. The next few years may determine whether the industry ultimately heads up or down. But at least one survey shows more people who work in local television news are pessimistic than optimistic about the industry's future.

Viewership of local news has begun to decline, much as it did years earlier in network news. Since 1997, the share of available viewers commanded by local early evening newscasts around the country has dropped 18 percent. . . (More)

Key concepts and terms

• Television is the news medium of impact and immediacy; when news of importance occurs, we are mostly likely to watch it on television first, and our impressions are formed by the words and pictures we see.

• When it was developed in the early 20th century, radio showed what impact broadcasting could have on its audience and how it had the potential to change journalism.

Format – the general type of programming that a radio station uses to fill up its day.

Ted Turner – the owner of an independent television station in Atlanta who pioneered the use of satellite and cable technology to expand the number of stations to which the audience had access.

• Broadcast news is criticized because it often does not deliver explanation or depth for complex stories.

• The business of broadcasting is regulated by the government, but the government and courts have been very reluctant to get involved with program content.

Related web
sites for
Chapter 6

FCC: Federal Communications Commission

Library of American Broadcasting

NAB: National Association of Broadcasters

RTNDA: Radio and Television News Directors Association

Section I | 1: News and Society  |  2: Culture of Journalism  |  3: Becoming a Journalist
Section II  |  4: Newspapers  |  5: Magazines  |  6: Television and Radio  |  7: News Web Sites
Section III  |  8: Reporters  |  9: Reporting  |  10: Writing news and features  |  11: Style  | 
12: Editors13: Editing and headline writing  |  14: Visual Journalists  |
  15: Graphics Journalism  |  16: Photojournalism  |  17: Publication Design  |
  18: Broadcasters  |  19: Writing for Broadcast
Section IV  |  20: Beginnings of Journalism  |  21: Journalism Comes of Age  | 
22: New Realities, New Journalism  |   23: 20th Century and Beyond
Section V  |  24: Law and the Journalist  |  25: Ethical Practices  |   26: Present and Future
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