Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Producers, Directors, and Horizontal Communication in Television News Production

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Producers, Directors, and Horizontal Communication in Television News Production

Article excerpt

In his study of communication networks, Everett Rogers (Rogers & Kincaid, 1981) determined that the way in which members of a system obtain and process information affects the performance of the system as a whole. Broadcast newsrooms spend their entire day gathering and processing information--both internally and externally. This process requires a great deal of communication, collaboration, and technology to ensure the final product is delivered accurately, efficiently, and professionally (Careless, 2005; Kerschbaumer, 2004). Previous newsroom satisfaction research makes much of communication in a vertical flow--from boss to worker (Barrett, 1984; Johnstone, 1976; McQuarrie, 1999; Samuelson, 1962; Shaver, 1978; Stamm & Underwood, 1993; Weaver & Wilhoit, 1996)--yet nothing has been written about the type of horizontal communication necessary across specialized departments such as those found in a television station. Newscasts, in particular, require a great deal of interdepartmental and interpersonal collaboration in their production (Careless, 2005; Kerschbaumer, 2004). Technicians, writers, producers, graphic artists, and engineers have their own language, their own procedures, and their own systems for accomplishing their work. None can realize the fruits of his or her labor without the assistance of the others. But, tolerance for differing approaches to a task is generally low, and a typical day would probably include at least one department discussing what "wankers" (to borrow a British term) those outside that department are.

With turnover rates skyrocketing (Stone, 2002) and viewers ambivalent toward the product (Potter & Gantz, 2000), close examination of all aspects of television news--including process, procedure, and working habits, seems relevant. Local newscasts have been losing audience at a rate of about one share point a year since 1997 (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2004). A variety of reasons are cited for this fairly dramatic trend. Changes in workday hours now mean that a larger number of people are no longer home during the times when news is on the air (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2004). For these people, alternative sources that are available on demand (such as the Internet), provide a convenience not offered by the local news. The 500-channel universe now offers so many programming alternatives that viewers who choose not to be exposed to news don't have to be (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2004). And many choose not to be exposed because they believe local news always shows them the same things, shows them too much crime, and otherwise does not satisfy their needs (Project for Excellence in Journalism, 2004). Public ratings of news media professionalism, morality, and compassion continue to decline (Pew Research Center, 2002).

As audience has declined, revenues are naturally affected. The Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) reports that news operations now produce more hours of news without additional resources (2004). This stretch of resources, in addition to watering down the quality of the product, necessitates creative use of manpower. Many stations have consolidated staff and rather than send a photographer and a reporter out together to cover a story, make use of "one-person bands" to gather news, calling upon a single individual to perform both the technical and the editorial functions that were previously performed by two or more people (Fine, 2005; Frutkin, 2006). The PEJ also reports that central casting and hubbing are becoming common among larger station groups, particularly as they move toward tapeless newsrooms (2004). The new buzzword in trade magazines and amongst vendors of digital technology is "workflow." While it is often used to refer to technology that moves video and information from place to place, it is increasingly being used to refer to the changing work roles of newsroom personnel. News directors and station managers of today make the case for investing in technology on both financial and editorial fronts. …

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