How to Watch TV News to Learn What’s Going On When You Have Ten Zillion Other Things to Do
The popularity of television news has come a long way since the 15-minute evening newscasts the networks aired out of obligation 40 years ago. Now, our society is inundated with local TV news at all hours, radio news, regional news, national TV news, hour-long newsmagazines and Internet news.
Despite the popularity of the Internet, most Americans say they get their news from television. A 1998 study by the Pew Research Center finds two-thirds of the public say they like having so many information sources available. Only 28 percent admit feeling overloaded.
If you’re like many people, scrambling between job, family and other obligations, you may feel more like sleeping than keeping up with current events. However, there are a few easy ways to watch the television news while you’re getting on with your life.
First, watch your local news.
Save time by skipping the national news. If the story is big enough on a national or international scale for you to need to know about it, your local station will cover it. You won’t miss much, I promise. Get to know the patterns of your local station. For example, if the main reason you watch the news is to see the “Five Day Forecast,” and it usually appears at a quarter after the hour, save time by just turning on the set at that moment, catching the weather, then turning the set off.
Second, know when the big stories air.
The most important news, affecting the most people, will air near the beginning of the newscast, unless there is a “breaking news story.” The newsreaders, called “anchors,” signal that a story is significant with phrases such as “Leading our news tonight…” or “Our top story is.” News producers, the workers that write the copy that anchors read, call the segment of stories between the beginning and the first commercial the “first block.”
Typically, each story in the first block has an impact on your community. If a story is really big, the whole first block may be devoted to the issue. For instance, if a tornado has devastated the area, the first story may detail the damage with lives lost and estimates of cost damage. The next report might profile a family that lost its home. Then, a correspondent conducting a live shot might round out the segment.
Third, listen for stories you want to watch.
Unfortunately, many TV reporters make it easy for you to cook dinner, help with homework, iron or read a book while the news is on. They do this by describing exactly what you’re seeing. So it’s easy to listen and get all the details of each story without looking. Good television news, though, will use natural sound and compelling writing to draw you in to the set, urging you to see the pictures.
Fourth, discern for quality.
My aunt watches a station in her small town just for fun. The forecaster still uses a pointer and to her, he’s so comical and antiquated that she laughs all the way through the weather. As some doctors are better than others, and some companies provide better service, some TV stations air more watch-able news than others. Find out which station’s style and depth of reporting resonate with you. Your tastes may change over the years, or when your favorite anchor moves to another market. If you find yourself thinking, “This man is arrogant,” you’re probably not alone—switch the channel.
If your market doesn’t provide good local news, you have more options than you used to. Those include watching cable news, logging onto Internet broadcasts, and the old-fashioned method, reading a newspaper. Or, you could just catch up on house cleaning.
Lorri Allen has a messy house, but she watches lots of news. She’s been a reporter, anchor, news producer and currently works with people who want to look smart on TV. If you need more information on those services, or would like permission to re-print this article, please contact Lorri at the numbers listed below, or e-mail her: firstname.lastname@example.org