Mass media has capitalized so much on advertising and sponsorship for the past decades. In a show such as CNN’s Lou Dobb’s Tonight it is very noticeable that the commercials are from big companies unlike the programs with low viewers wherein the advertisers are from small companies. That’s really how it works, every time the program gets a lot of viewers the price of advertising on that show increases. The more viewers they get, the more money they have. So basically, shows are the commodity that needs to be appealing to the public and to the advertisers (Postman, 1992). Of course the viewers can’t directly give money to the program that’s why advertisers and shareholders have most of the influence in the content and basically everything.
Moreover, the nature of television as a media is very transient. It is time bound and is very limited in giving information. A news segment on a topic would normally take about a minute or two. In a one-hour-program such as Lou Dobb’s Tonight there is too little time for news because of advertisements. In a story as big as swine influenza, how much information can you give in five minutes? It is very limited in terms of communicating information plus the fact that the news was packaged so that it can be appealing to the viewers. Before the news was aired it went through a series of editing by different people who decides what to air and what not to air (Postman, 1992). News editors decide what is newsworthy and what is not by scrapping some stories to give way for stories that they think are worthy to be aired. All in all, before news gets shown on TV, it has already been sorted, processed, and canned just like a normal commodity. It even comes with a warranty that says “The issues that matter” (CNN.COM, 2009).
The news presented in TV and newspaper is different in not just form and presentation, it is also different in content and analysis. In story about the recent bill passed by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island to impose background check for gun buyers in a gun show, the story was very different. In the TV the headline it says “Rights Under Assault” and “There is a new attempt to curtail our Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms” while in LA TIMES it says “Senators aim to close gun-show loophole: Two Democrats seek to widen the scope of background checks.” The difference is very evident, the first one poses a threat and is very suggestive and is bordering to sensationalism. The title is very opinionated and imposing that makes the legislation look like a direct threat to our rights even if we are yet to hear the content of the news. The articles headline on LA TIMES on the other hand has been pretty straight forward and honest by stating what is happening without further judgment. The news was not leaning to any group, rather it tried to present both side of the story and it had more facts.
The news on swine influenza aired last April 24, 2009 revealed little information about the disease and the expert that they interviewed said even less. All in all the news was summed up to “We do not have enough information to fully assess the health threat posed by this swine flu virus.” Their expert Dr. Anne Schuchat kept on repeating “it’s very early days in studying this particular virus” so “we have no information yet”. Since they know they had no information yet they should have focused more in prevention and giving out measures to prevent yourself from contracting the virus. The program however mentioned a backgrounder on the disease and a little bit of history which was very helpful.
There were many articles on the LA TIMES that discussed the swine influenza indifferent angles. An article was allotted for the history of the virus and was very informative. Another article runs “Swine flu prompts U.S. emergency” which is rather calm than the threatening “What could be a very dangerous threat to public health in this country, a deadly outbreak of swine flu in Mexico that has apparently spread into the United States.” The article goes on by discussing the different cases of swine influenza in the US wherein all were healed. The rest of the details promotes caution, discussed economic effects, and ended with a quote that says “It’s all hands on deck, and we’re doing fine.” The TV show on the other hand promotes fear and panic.
The difference in news covering was really evident and their approach was different. TV shows have more biases, more limitations, and shorter time while articles are more in-depth, more informative, and more objective. Indeed it is true that if you rely on the TV alone for your information needs then you are very wrong. What you get is biased information largely affected by subjectivity of the news staff and capitalism. You just sit there and consume canned news but if you read a newspaper you actually get more information and fewer biases.
While it is true that articles offer more information, it is imperative that we don’t rely on a single source of information. We can opt for different sources of news such as radio, TV, newspapers, and internet. Each has it’s weaknesses but they complement each other.
CNN.COM. “Transcripts”. 25 April 2009 ;http://loudobbs.tv.cnn.com/;
DuBose, Ben. “Senators aim to close gun-show loophole” 27 April 2009 ;http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-gunshow1feb01,0,3396793.story;
Levey, Noam. “Swine flu prompts U.S. emergency” 27 April 2009 ;http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-swine-flu27-2009apr27,0,3534516.story?page=2;
Postman, Neil and Powers, Steve. How To Watch TV. USA. 1992
Shari, Roan. “Swine flu ‘debacle’ of 1976 is recalled” 27 April 2009 ;http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-sci-swine-history27-2009apr27,0,1182080.story;