Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Reporting Live from the Scene: Enough to Attract the 18-24 Audience?

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Reporting Live from the Scene: Enough to Attract the 18-24 Audience?

Article excerpt

Being able to probive live coverage of breaking news events is one of the unparalleled strengths of television. The purpose of this study is to assess the opinions of 18-24 year olds about live television news reporting. Variables identified by respondents are characterized in one of three ways: awareness of live reporting; positive aspects of live reporting; and negative aspects of live reporting. From the more than 500 young adults surveyed, findings show most do not base their viewing habits on how often a news operation goes live or whether that operation happens to be first to hit the air with breaking news.

Respondents show strong agreement that live reporting gives the story a sense of immediacy, leading the positive attributes of live reporting. However, leading the list of negative attributes is the criticism that there are times when a live report is meaningless. There were differences in resoonses based on the market in which the respondents reside.

"We begin with breaking news" is how many local newscast producers are opening their shows in the early 21st century. That breaking news might include live helicopter footage of a car crash on the freeway or an apartment roof on fire in the suburbs--stories that indeed are live at that moment but impact relatively few viewers and are somewhat routine, especially in large metropolitan areas. As a result of this growing trend in producing local newscasts, the traditional definitions of newsworthiness--proximity, timeliness, impact, prominence, and conflict (Tuggle, Carr, & Huffman, 2004)--are increasingly taking a backseat to what some might call the overreach of producers looking to find a "live element" to open the newscast (Miller & Hatley-Major, 2005).

Grabe (1996, 2000) and Messaris (1997) studied the impact of the visual frame on individual processing of images in news stories and advertisements. In this research young viewers' general perceptions of live news reporting are studied, with a specific focus on viewers in the 18-to-24 demographic. Individuals in this age bracket not only influence purchases within their nuclear families, but they are also in the process of establishing their own viewing and buying habits and brand loyalties.

Traditional television news operations are currently engaged 24/7 in a fierce battle against cable, satellite, and Internet-delivered news to attract and hold the attention of increasingly time-pressed viewers. Many news managers believe live reporting is a way to attract and keep viewers, especially younger, demographically desirable ones. As a result, being first on the air with live coverage has become a major goal in newsrooms across the country (Westin, 2000). News consultants encourage live reporting, saying it will distinguish a station in its market if it is done well (Tuggle & Huffman, 1999). The downside is that the wide diffusion of live technology has created an imperative to focus on events because they are happening "now" rather than because of their importance (Koppel, 1999). News producers thus run the risk of alienating the very people they are trying to attract by trivializing or overdoing live breaking news.

Literature Review

In designing research to look at this trend, it is helpful to think of television coverage as a frame, a window on the world, through which individuals learn about themselves and others (Tuchman, 1978). Frames are important because they help shape "the pictures in our heads"the stereotypes on which our thinking is based (Lippmann, 1922, p. 59)--about what is worthy of time and attention. Edelman (1994) described the social world itself as "a kaleidoscope of potential realities, any of which can be readily evoked by altering the ways in which observations are framed and categorized" (p. 232).

Iyengar and Kinder (1987) wrote that the power of the media rests on commanding the public's attention. In reference to television news, then, the length of the story and its placement in the news leads viewers to assign more or less importance to the issue being covered. …

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