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Final Exam (News In Broadcast And Electronic Media, December 2012)

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(Submitted December 2012 for BECA 460, News In Broadcast And Electronic Media)

The final exam questions are based on all the readings posted on iLearn from October 30th (including that date) through the readings required for our last class this semester.

This final exam is worth 25 points (of your 100 total points):
Each answer to the posted question is 5 points. **Each answer should fill half a type-written page (DO NOT include the question in your answer.  You will be marked down if you do.)**The exception to this is number 4 which should fill about 2/3 of a type-written page.  STAPLE you exam together.  If pages are missing, they will be marked incorrect.

All answers must be typed with no hand-written corrections.  Double space your copy as it is easier to read and correct.  No grammatical errors.  Use 12 point font.

YOUR FINAL EXAM FOR BECA 460:

1) This answer concerns war coverage.  Be sure to label the answers a) and b).

a) Watch a broadcast report (either television or online) of a conflict in the Middle East.  Did you find it too graphic? Explain why and be specific. Also, make two references in your answer to Arielle Emmett’s article, “Too Graphic?”

b) In Deborah Lynn Jaramillo’s article, “The Spectacle of War,” she writes in-depth of the complicated methods used by news organizations to cover wars. She poses the question: What purpose does war coverage serve and how do strategies of representation figure into the larger aims? Answer this question using her article for reference.

2) Explain what Reese and Shoemaker describe in “Studying Influences on Media Content,” as media reality and social reality.  In your opinion, how close do the media come to representing an objective reality?  Give two examples from local or national news broadcast outlets. Be sure to note which outlets you used. If a network or local TV newscast, write down time of day as well.

3) Give one example of celebrity news that, in your opinion, is genuine news and why. In your answer, cite two concepts from Steve Barkin’s article, “Celebrity News.”  Discussions in class referenced Comedy Central’s “Daily Show” and whether or not it can be used as a news source.  Does it fall under Celebrity News or News/Information and why or why not?

4) In about 200 words, sum up the important points from the article “Forgive Me Now, Fire Me Later: Mass Communication Students’ Ethics Gap Concerning School and Journalism.” (Need to include methodology.)

5) There are two, unrelated, parts to this answer:

a) In “60 Minutes and the News Magazine,” why was the program considered so revolutionary?  What was Don Hewitt’s role? How did “60 Minutes” forge new pathways for news programs? You may also use notes from class lecture.

b) What is the meaning of Cultural Chaos in terms of news in a globalized world, according to Brian McNair’s study?

1) a) The irony of this question is that, to answer it effectively, one is forced to actively seek out gruesome images in order to ask whether they are “too graphic” in the first place. It may be the case that Middle Eastern conflicts are a good bet for finding such footage, but there are no guarantees in an ever-shifting news landscape. The most reliable source I know of for both detailed analysis of Middle East issues and a marked lack of squeamishness in depicting human suffering is Al Jazeera. However, though developments in both Gaza and Syria, as well as land mine removal in South Sudan, were all among the top stories on the network on Saturday, Dec. 8, on this particular viewing we were treated to much insight but a dearth of gore.

Success, if you want to call it that, was achieved in a piece on religious violence in Rakhine State in Myanmar. (Yes, South Asia is not even close to the Middle East, but for this question I am forced to go with what is available.) In this story on the violent breakdown in relations between the local Buddhist and Muslim communities, several images of mutilated bodies flashed on the screen, followed immediately by testimonies from tearful, traumatized survivors who lost their families in the fighting. In this case, I found the graphic nature of the images, when combined with the interviews, to be appropriate in delivering the emotional impact of the destruction of human lives for the sake of competing belief systems as an authoritarian regime continues to benefit from the divisions between its citizens. Emmett’s article deals with the conflict between the need to tell the whole truth (quoting photographer Patrick Farrell on Haiti: “You could write a million times that there are 100,000 dead…but if you don’t see it for yourself…it just won’t register”) and the need to respect people’s privacy and dignity (Haitian school principal Payen-Jean Baptiste’s highly critical response that such images are “humiliating”). In my own opinion, the use of these devastating images may be necessary to convey the truth of a story in many cases, but without an accompanying context that analyzes the issues and explains the causes, effects, and possible solutions to these dire events, the viewer comes away no wiser: a mere voyeur left shocked, morbidly entertained, and easily manipulated by propaganda. In this case, Al Jazeera did provide the necessary context, which I appreciated.

b) We would all like to think that the purpose of war coverage is to inform the public and explain the issues, but in practice, as Jaramillo argues, wartime media all too often operate in thrall to nationalistic myths and turn harsh realities into stirring romantic narratives. Jaramillo’s article applies Debord’s concept of “the spectacle” to the depiction of war on TV, also taking in Henry Giroux, who updates the idea by acknowledging the role of militarism in what he calls “the spectacle of terrorism”. War is mediated by ostensibly independent media that are not so much under the control of the military as motivated by a desire for profit and a need for access to the people and events they are covering.

After the Vietnam War, during which the news media often operated in a relatively independent and occasionally critical fashion, the Pentagon took a more active stance in preventing the free movement of journalists in war zones. First barring journalists outright from the Grenada invasion, then creating the “pool system” during the Panama invasion, the military used both force and co-optation to change the nature of televised war from hard journalism to flag-waving hagiography. Techniques from high-concept filmmaking are used to make war entertaining to viewers, and we root for our “team” (God, country, “the troops”) as if we are at a football game. The shift in attitude from news as a required public service to news as profit-generating splashy entertainment, the growth of media consolidation in recent decades, and a more media-savvy military industrial complex have created a situation where it is no longer necessary for governments to use an iron hand to compel the press or TV to do their bidding when the profit motive will do the job for them. In this atmosphere, it is easy to understand why so few people questioned the flimsy motivations for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, and how large percentages of the American public still remain so poorly informed about issues that are crucial to their own well-being.

2) Reese and Shoemaker use the term “social reality” instead of “objective reality,” arguing that objectivity is an elusive concept that is nearly meaningless when it comes to dealing with the perceptions of individuals. Instead, they compare “media reality” (reality as portrayed by media outlets) with “social reality” (“our best guess about what is actually going on the world”, based on data from a diverse and complex mixture of sources) to raise questions on how events are portrayed. They make a point of distinguishing between the “qualitative attributes of media content” and quantitative data; though it may be more difficult to measure how stories are told than to simply plot out the amount of times a subject is covered on a spreadsheet (a favorite tactic of conservative media critics who crunch numbers to prove “bias”), looking at media coverage in this way is highly revealing.

While Fox News Channel may seem like an easy target, the network is watched religiously by a large segment of the population and must be held at least partially responsible for how they see the world. Watching Mike Huckabee’s program at 5 PM on Dec. 8, it wasn’t hard to see the narrative being presented. Huckabee’s guest was William Marsh, head of a “small business” called American Bar Products (a Pennsylvania steel manufacturer…how “small” is his business, really?) who relayed a sad tale of how his taxes were excessively high and how “the coercive power of the federal government” was a “moral issue” that was “damaging small businesses” like his. “America is a unique place”, he went on to say. It is “the only nation in the history of man” formed on the idea that government should serve its citizens. Unfortunately, the government of this unique, singular nation “is no longer for the citizen.” The audience cheered every word and gazed attentively during the reaction shots. Now, one could grant that it may be inconvenient for Marsh’s corporation to endure a tax increase and to have to pay for his employees’ medical insurance, but is it really crippling his ability to do business? Perhaps he should support his claims by releasing all of his accounting records to the public so that we might fully understand his pain. (A quick Google search reveals that Marsh, unsurprisingly, has made a virtual second career of appearing on various conservative news outlets and Tea Party events to lament government regulations and taxes and denigrate the education and intelligence of his own employees.) One watches a segment such as this and gets an instant dose of a media reality in which we are living in a nightmarish dystopia where downtrodden CEOs of small businesses can’t catch a break. The tone is relentless, constantly angry, and strangely sentimental. Viewers attempting to think clearly and critically about what they’re watching may find themselves becoming almost physically exhausted while sifting through the torrent of desperate assertions being fired out from the screen, until the only choice is to either give in and believe or grab the remote in disgust.

Fox is a special case of course, a network devoted to adrenalized, passionate conservative propaganda. But any news outlet has some measure of disconnect between “media reality” and “social reality”, simply due to the necessities of storytelling. A journalist must have an angle, and a story must have a point, but the creation of a narrative can lead to more subtle distortions. Tuning in ABC World News at 5:30, the top story was a “new NFL tragedy”. A football player was charged with manslaughter after a drunken car crash that killed one of his teammates. Certainly, this was an unfortunate event, but what struck me most was the emphasis that this was “the second NFL player involved in a fatal incident”, referring to Jovan Belcher’s killing of his girlfriend and subsequent suicide the week before. One might want to point out that one of these incidents was an alcohol-related accident and the other was a murder/suicide that leaves behind an orphaned child; are these somehow equivalent because football players were involved? Should we question the network’s respect for the dead when they refer repeatedly to both events as “tragedies for the NFL”, as if the NFL has suffered more than the late Kassandra Perkins?

3) If there is a recent story that qualifies as both celebrity news and genuine news, I would say it is the phenomenon of PSY and his runaway hit song and video “Gangnam Style.” For a South Korean rapper to break through to US audiences and reach the number one spot on the Billboard charts is unprecedented, and reflects a change in our own popular culture, suggesting that Americans might not be so provincial that we are incapable of enjoying something in another language after all. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a catchy pop song, the video is irresistible fun and the lyrics are actually a sharp satirical poke at class differences and upwardly mobile pretensions in the artist’s hometown. The difference between the surface impression of a campy bit of high-energy kitsch and the actual intent of the artist make the story more interesting when you delve deeper, and the new “scandal” about PSY’s previous guest appearance on a song by a Korean metal band with extremely inflammatory lyrics about American torture policies raises questions of its own. (Now that he’s big in America, do Americans expect a foreign artist to be loyal to the US? Does the fact that PSY recently made a public apology show what happens when a local star is suddenly thrust into the role of international diplomat? Does anyone in this country even remember the incident that sparked the song in which two Korean schoolgirls were killed by an American military vehicle?) All of this adds up to a case of celebrity that is itself newsworthy. Writers like Neil Postman, as quoted by Barkin, certainly have a point when they argue that Americans are as well-entertained as they are ill-informed; nevertheless, a closer look at the complicated relationship between citizens and popular culture reveals far more than a simplistic narrative about “poor brainwashed ignorant sheep” ever will. There is no question that, as Barkin painstakingly chronicles, the spread of celebrity news and celebrity journalists is ultimately money-driven, but this doesn’t mean that popular culture isn’t capable of telling us a lot about ourselves and others about us.

Regarding Stewart and The Daily Show, I think the question sets up a false dichotomy. In my opinion, the show is neither News/Information nor Celebrity News, but satire that deals with the press and the political scene in a mock-news format. Jon Stewart is a celebrity, and when he interviews celebrities on his show he may touch on celebrity news to an extent, but The Daily Show is no more “celebrity news” than a sketch comedy show like Saturday Night Live or a talk show like Letterman. Celebrity news shows like Entertainment Tonight may be delivered with irreverence, but they take the concept of “celebrity” itself very seriously. The Daily Show is a comedy, and therefore another genre altogether. One may as well ask whether a banana is an apple or an orange.

4) The article starts from the premise that students are more outraged by plagiarism in the media than by plagiarism in their own coursework. The authors conducted a survey of students at a Midwestern university for six consecutive semesters that not only tracked overall student attitudes toward plagiarism, but also tracked possible changes in attitudes over different points in their education. (e.g. do freshmen feel differently than seniors?) Students overall were indeed more concerned about and demanded more severe punishments for journalists inventing sources and fabricating quotes than for their fellow students doing the same. Students who worked in student media during their term in school showed increased concern for and expected punishment for dishonesty in both the academic and professional arenas. Students with media internships took a harsher stance against dishonesty in journalism (most noticeably among students whose internships were specifically in journalism) but only showed a slight increase in concern for cheating in school. Oddly, students with no internship experience at all had a higher degree of concern for academic dishonesty than those with non-journalism-related internships. The gap between degrees of concern for academic vs. journalistic dishonesty was far exceeded by the gap between recommended punishments for the two types of offenses; 60% of all students surveyed felt that a plagiarizing journalist should be fired, but only 5% felt a plagiarizing student should be expelled. Students, it appears, are considerably more apt to forgive their peers’ transgressions than those committed by supposed professionals.

5) a) The impact of 60 Minutes was its thorough rethinking of the possibilities of TV news programming, for better or worse. Veteran producer Don Hewitt created the show after seeing his own job gradually marginalized by CBS president Fred Friendly and needing a breakthrough if his career was to continue. What Hewitt did was to conceive a new format for a documentary series, modeled after the then-popular Life magazine, which combined serious news, lighter fare, and stunning photography. The new show was to be a “TV magazine” with three stories per episode and a staff of star reporter/anchors who played central roles in the stories they delivered. The prevailing sentiment had been that news was an unglamorous necessity, the vegetables you had to eat because they were good for you. 60 Minutes upended that paradigm by presenting news stories as entertaining narratives with drama, structure, conflict, and resolution, and the experiment paid off, becoming the highest-rated show on TV by 1978 and continuing to this day.

The success of 60 Minutes led to competing newsmagazine shows like 20/20 and Dateline, but it could be argued that the show’s greatest influence was that it demonstrated that TV news could be profitable, which has caused networks to expect higher ratings from all of their news shows and influence their formats accordingly. 24-hour cable news networks like CNN show a great deal of influence from the show as well. (Would Ted Turner have even considered investing in such a thing without the precedent set by 60 Minutes?)

Perhaps one of the most insidious influences the show had may be the “sting interviews” that Mike Wallace and others were famous for, in which the producers would record some unscrupulous character being drawn into a compromising position before the star reporter made a surprise appearance in a sort of non-comedy version of Candid Camera. We could trace a thread from these segments not only to the current pervasive phenomenon of reality TV (an early example, Cops, could plausibly be pitched as “Mike Wallace with a badge”), but also to the likes of right-wing would-be journalist James O’Keefe, whose staged video hoaxes may seem too absurd to take seriously, but had the very real effect of helping to destroy the community advocacy organization ACORN and attempting to wreak similar damage on Planned Parenthood. Again, 60 Minutes has often engaged in some admirable journalism, but the framing of news as entertaining, well-packaged, streamlined storytelling invariably creates a “media reality” that does not always match “social reality”, and has set a precedent for far less responsible actors.

b) The term “cultural chaos” as used by McNair, though never explicitly defined in this excerpt from his book, seems to refer to the recent climate of decentralization and diversity of news sources beyond the old Cold War West vs. East paradigm. He begins with a jaundiced review of standard Marxist cultural theory critiques, arguing that Western culture was not merely imposed on the rest of the world but actively sought by people in other countries, and that resistance to Western influences was merely a mask for elite-run authoritarian regimes to hide their own repressive policies behind. All of this strikes me as little more than one glib generalization being countered by another, but as the article progresses, McNair touches on some interesting points, many of which have been covered from many angles in this class already. The advent of 24-hour cable news spearheaded by CNN and followed by BBC News 24 and many others transformed news into what he refers to as “a flow medium,” unfolding constantly rather than confined to scheduled one-hour reports. Technical developments from cable to satellite to the internet have enabled a station to become a truly global voice, reaching anywhere that viewers are allowed access. The big development McNair points to is the international success of Al Jazeera, a breakthrough for non-Anglophone media in the global media market. McNair points to this as a sign that the world is moving in a direction toward more diverse voices in journalism and a vibrant, exciting media future fueled by increased competition for a global market. One caveat to McNair’s optimistic prognosis is that it may require more faith in the vagaries of international capitalism, and, while he has a fine time debunking a straw man caricature of “cultural imperialism,” he may not be considering the full implications of his one-world vision. If the market alone determines how information is distributed on a global scale, and the market is a multinational one that cannot be subject to any oversight or regulation, what prevents one or two powerful corporations from taking over all available outlets? A more encouraging alternate view is one of a genuine “cultural chaos” in which a multitude of independent “narrowcasters” are exposed to small but widely scattered worldwide audiences because they offer journalistic content that the big conglomerates cannot.

(Critiqued texts are from CRITICAL ISSUES IN BROADCAST NEWS, edited by Dina Ibrahim, Cognella, San Diego, 2011)