Media Discourse and Analysis: Week 11

“News stories are a summary, a synthesis; they convey an illusory sense of omniscience, as if we see some segment of events in their totality, with all parts brought together, so we can perceive the total pattern, including its meaning” (Ken Sanes). Journalist and proprietor of transparencynow.com, Ken Sanes, is speaking here about how news stories are a summary, a series of segments brought together to produce a total pattern in which we can perceive meaning. We could also say that a news story is a narrative and the producers of news use similar narrative tools and devices to tell a story as do storytellers of all sorts throughout the world, as they have done throughout history.

Those narrative tools may differ depending upon the medium through which the news story is being told. Imagery in a newspaper may play its part in a narrative through captioning and placement at a certain point in the printed story whereas the same image in a television news broadcast might be accompanied by a voiceover putting it into context or giving it a completely different meaning to what it might have if presented in a different way. The presence of sound in television news presents different opportunities and problems for producers of news compared with printed news.

However, at the end of the day, most news organisations, whether print or broadcast, are chasing audience numbers or sales and news becomes perhaps as much about entertainment as it is about informing the public. Much and all as we might disdain the ‘infotainment’ many perceive to be present in commercial news broadcasts, any broadcaster, commercial or public service, that tries to present news in a non-dramatised format will, I believe, have difficulties holding on to their audiences. This is not to say that news must become a personality-driven soap opera but it is rather to accept that news is in its very nature a representation of real life in a temporally and spacially compressed narrative and for that narrative to work it must be done well. It could, in fact, be argued that to merely present a series of facts without a connecting narrative would make news journalism more of a mechanical exercise and less a human activity. Perhaps acceptance that news can only be conveyed narratively, with all the inevitable bias that this implies, is a good first step to producing honest news. A variety of honest, if inevitably biased, news is probably preferable to a single, bland, also inevitably biased, representation of what is happening around us in the world today, dishonestly posing as non-subjective fact.

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