ABC's "Person of the Week": American Values in Television News

By Larson, Stephanie Greco; Bailey, Martha | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

ABC's "Person of the Week": American Values in Television News


Larson, Stephanie Greco, Bailey, Martha, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


This study analyzed five years of "ABC World News Tonight's 'Person of the Week"' segments to identify prominent types of people and values endorsed by mainstream news media. Individuals most frequently selected for ABC's honor lived in the United States; worked in politics and entertainment; and were white, male, and famous. American values such as individualism, heroism, and unselfishness were more commonly portrayed than were populism, capitalism, and patriotism. Women who were chosen were less famous and more likely to be in social services and to have caretaker roles than were their male counterparts. Blacks were more likely than whites to come from humble backgrounds and to be the first in their fields and involved with social issues. Selflessness, especially when exhibited by women, was a frequently celebrated value.

In 1989 ABC World News Tonight instituted a weekly feature called the "Person of the Week." Since then almost every Friday the national evening news on ABC has closed its broadcast with a fairly long (for televised news) "mini-biography" of one individual or group deemed newsworthy. Despite the feature's permanence, length, and ample promotion through ABC advertising, no studies have examined its content. This article examines the ABC feature in terms of the people selected, the stories told, and the values promoted.

In many ways the "Person of the Week" feature exemplifies the values of television news. It focuses on people, it is easy to plan for and produce by air time, and it offers viewers something that the other network news shows do not. By definition the "Person of the Week" segment is personalized giving "preference to the individual actors and human interest angles."' Personalized news is encouraged by audiences, reporters, and the requisites of the news organization.2 It also stems from our cultural commitment and attraction to individualism.3

Not only does the "Person of the Week" feature satisfy the news' desire for a personal focus, but it makes sense for economic reasons as well - it is easy to produce and promote. The news organization needs routines to standardize the process of news gathering. Creating features that are not vulnerable or dependent upon late-breaking events makes the organization's job easier.4 ABC has time to plan and prepare the "Person of the Week" segment while promoting the feature as an innovation over the other networks. The feature gives the audience something predictable in its format (we know there will be a "special person" discussed on Friday's show) yet unpredictable in content (we wonder who that person will be).

Nevertheless, it is less interesting to understand why the "Person of the Week" feature exists than to understand how it is used. Because daily breaking stories allow less discretion, they are not as revealing as special features like the "Person of the Week" which require more choice on the part of editors. Although timely events might make some people "logical" choices for the feature, ABC alone controls the spotlight. Furthermore, the way the feature is constructed - revealing the name of the "Person of the Week" at the end of the segment in a manner implying an unveiling of a mystery-indicates that the feature's intention is not necessarily to promote well-known celebrities or people who have become nationally visible due to their involvement in topical events.

We believe that ABC's choices of individuals reveal the network's news priorities and definition of who and what is worthy of acclaim, thereby illustrating the values, stereotypes, and ideologies the network adheres to. By looking at the various Persons of the Week over a five-year period, we can see the picture drawn by a mainstream media news organization of what "we" are like when "we" are our best and what kind of stories a news medium tells about us.

Who Is the "Person of the Week"?

News conventions and audience appeal factors seem to guarantee that some types of people will be covered more than others.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

ABC's "Person of the Week": American Values in Television News
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.