Tools for Evaluating the News

How is a news segment’s mediated view of the world constructed? How is that aspect of the world simplified? What complexities, nuances, and contradictions are flattened out?

Whose knowledge counts as worthy of transmission, reproduction. Are there global imbalances about whose point of view is presented in a detailed way? Are there gender or race imbalances? How are the perspectives and cultures of people in other countries treated?

What are viewers’ expectations and pleasures in watching the news?

Which conflicts are presented in a good vs. bad kind of dramatic way? When have you seen daily or national conflict presented in terms of a drama of personality.

Do you find a use of these connotative word pairs: legal/illegal; moderate/extreme; compromise/dogmatic; cooperate/confront; order/chaos; peaceful/violence; open/secret; realistic/ideological; impartial/biased; industrious/idle? Any other connotative language?

Can you find examples of symbolic erasure or annihilation? When a group or issue is not covered, they are symbolically erased. Symbolic annihilation was used by sociologist Gaye Tuchman in 1978 to describe how women are marginalized or kept in their proper place, by their absence, neither seen nor heard. This strategy also describes the way TV has symbolically annihilated minorities and reaffirmed the normal, natural dominance of Anglo American society simply by excluding images of minorities from TV or limiting them.

Have you ever felt alienated from the news? Some people with little political and economic power feel that society is run by others, will go its way without their input. Do you ever feel disconnected from the news? Feel angry by the treatment of a subject? Have you ever felt that your perspective was well represented by someone on the news? Do you ever have a voyeuristic interest in others’ misfortunes, or in the lives and “sins” of the famous?

The news is important because it is closely connected both to information and the shape that information takes in our mind and in society in general. Think about your own mental map and that of your family and friends. How do we each personally arrange our individual “knowledge concerns,” what do we consider in detail and over time and what do we put to one side? What do we consider in its scope, variation, complexity, nuances, and contradictions? Here is a good test. What do you know about specific regions of the world and with what degree of complexity? About the religions of the world? What countries on the globe do you only have a few images about? When do you “tune out” of information readily available on the news? Try to analyze why and what you are feeling at such a moment. What factors in your life shape what knowledge is important to you? Of that knowledge which is important to you, who, if anyone, can you share ideas with? Can you find any formal place to go to build that knowledge? We understand the world partly from the way we were taught or encouraged to. And each generation expands on what they were taught. This is why there is a social struggle over the way the news represents the world. Furthermore, the life of children has changed forever because they have mental maps that encompass a lot of what is considered the adult world, mostly because of their exposure to television.

Tell a time when you noticed contradictions in the news and commercials that just slipped by. Viewers often accept widely differing information presented on TV and encompass contradictory ideas without exploring the contradictions. When a politician’s record is analyzed, that does not necessarily turn people against the politician, or the opposite, the trivial gets magnified. Here are some examples. The Lewinsky and Clinton scandal may just have been about sex and not about fitness for office [the trivial gets magnified]; our troops may be badly armed in Iraq [a serious contradiction for a rich country in wartime]; medicine that the news exposes as dangerous may be seen advertised in that very show [another serious contradiction, that also points up the existence of television as a capitalist institution].

How is the media useful to us for finding out about the world? What would we find out about people and places unfamiliar to us if it were not for the news and the subsequent public dialogue about issues raised on the news?

How does the news give us something to speak about with others, a common point of reference?

In what way is the world as it is represented on TV news an unrealistic or incomplete representation?

Does TV lead people to take action or not? A big question.

How might television news blunt caring about and acting on what we see?

How does television news create an effect of stability after a disaster?

Have you ever used the Internet to follow up on a news story? Explain, and what the results were.

What kind of images are used on the news? How can badly shot footage be incorporated without being too confusing?

How might dependence on news sources limit what journalists report or what networks air?

What makes a story newsworthy? List the elements or characteristics that a potential story has to have, starting with some kind of visual imagery.

What is a press pack or information kit? How does it affect the news? What makes a good one?

Consider the experts used on the news? When you see an expert, how much footage do you think was filmed or taped, vs. how much was used? Would you consent to be interviewed for the news and why or why not?

Note when you hear a thesis or argument presented on the news, often by an interviewee, sometimes by the presenter. What words or images connotatively reinforce a critical idea or a point of view? How is “reasonableness” established? How are images reused and recoded?

How does TV news affect our social structures?

If you were going to be involved in social action, how would you deal with the news media?