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Neil Postman & Steve Powers

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1 Neil Postman & Steve Powers
How to Watch TV News Neil Postman & Steve Powers

2 Chapter 1 With such awesome technology at our beck and call, we tend to think of television as just another appliance. Put it on when you want to; turn it off when you’re through. Since you control it, you think that television is a one-way street: that you are using it and it is not using you. But that is simply not the case. It may not be able to see you eating snacks in your living room, but television is keeping an eye on you in different ways. The fact of the matter is that television not only delivers programs to your home, but, more important to the advertising community, it also delivers you to a sponsor.

3 Chapter 1 Developers of interactive programs boast that in the future they will be able to send specific commercials to their subscribers based on the household’s demographic composition. [custom-tailored sales pitches]

4 Chapter 1 The whole point of television in America is to get you to watch so that programmers, performers, and others can rake in the money.

5 Chapter 1 It’s no secret that news programs cost a lot less to produce than slick Hollywood dramas and laugh-track comedies. An hour-long news program, such as the CBS show 48 Hours, costs $500,000 or less. Compare that to an hour of so-called entertainment programming, with fancy production values, at well more than twice the cost, and you will know why the networks and other producers are interested in news programs.

6 Chapter 1 Networks are making heavy profits from news, and on-air talent is being paid more than ever to communicate to the public.

7 Chapter 1 People who watch news tend to be more attentive to what is on the screen. They tend to be better educated, albeit older, and have more money to spend than the audiences for other shows. They are, therefore, a prime target for advertisers trying to reach an affluent market. To reach that audience, sponsors are willing to pour money into well-produced commercials. These spots are often longer than most news stories and certainly cost more to produce.

8 Chapter 1 While public service does play a role in deciding what news programs get on the air, the main factor is profit. In fact, while news operations used to be considered a nonprofit public service, in the new economics, news departments and programs are expected to make money, and they do.

9 Chapter 1 The idea is to make as much money as possible from news departments, sometimes to the detriment of truth and journalism.

10 Chapter 1 What all this means is that while you are watching the TV set, you are being statistically watched, and very carefully, by managers, accountants, and businesspeople. They argue that they must know who you are to mirror your interests and give you what you want. And to pay for it, they must run commercials. They also point out that other news media – newspapers, for example – are moneymaking enterprises and rely on advertising just as heavily as does television. (continued…)

11 Chapter 1 (continued…) These arguments make perfect sense in a free-enterprise business with no social responsibility. But we would stress that broadcasting is not just another business enterprise. Broadcasting is a government-licensed activity using publicly owned airwaves and facilities, and therefore broadcasters have an obligation not only to make money but to enlighten the public by supplying news and programs of serious content, for all segments of the population.

12 Chapter 1 When providing entertainment, the public’s preferences must be paramount. But news is different. There are things the public must know whether or not they “like” it. To understand what is happening in the world, and what it means, requires knowledge of historical, political, and social contexts. It is the task of journalists to provide people with such knowledge.

13 Chapter 1 American television is an unsleeping money machine.
While journalists pursue newsworthy events, business-oriented management often makes decisions based on business considerations. Many decisions about the form and content of news programs are made on the basis of information about the viewer, the purpose of which is to keep viewers watching so that they will be exposed to commercials.

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