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How to Watch TV News [Paperback]

Neil Postman , Steve Powers
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (Sep 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140132317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140132311
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,035,631 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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First Sentence
Chances are you have at least one television set in your home that is used by most members of your family. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-informed analysis of the TV news industry 8 Mar 2004
By T. D. Welsh TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
More than just a manual on "how to watch TV news", this book explains the commercial and financial basis of the TV industry, and shows why news coverage plays such a central role in TV. At 168 pages it is by no means lengthy, and can easily be read in a day; but there are still parts that you can skip without much loss - for instance, the chapter that tells you exactly who does what in a typical TV news studio. On the other hand, it is all interesting, and backs up the authors' conclusions with solid facts.
Postman and Powers are by no means against TV as a news medium, but they warn us to use it intelligently and with full awareness of its biases, strengths and weaknesses. For instance, they point out that TV is intrinsically serial: a programme unwinds at a constant pace, and all viewers see all of it (unless they go off to make a cup of tea). Newspapers, on the other hand, can offer far more (and more varied) information, because each reader can select what he or she finds interesting. The sheer cost of time makes a difference, too - as of 1992, when this book was published, one hour of news cost $500,000 to produce. With each second being worth well over $100, "dead time" is a no-no, and long explanations (i.e. over about 10 seconds) are undesirable. This leads to a superficial style, heavy on pictures and short on meaningful analysis.
The authors make some trenchant points. "American television is an unsleeping money machine"; "...fires make a good subject for television news"; "Actually to see buildings topple is exciting..." They even argue that TV commercials offer a form of religious communication. Whereas gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, commercials assure us that we can right on engaging in it: just don't forget to buy the right antacid pills.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep. 8 Jun 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The last thing I thought I'd ever need was a book telling me how to "watch" TV news. Boy, was I wrong. The meaning, the subtext, the background, and the message were all there in front of me-- it took a little guidance to "get it." Postman and Powers are two righteous TV dudes who know how to peel the onion of telecommunications and expose the inner workings that, until now, sailed clear over my head. I have to thank my J-School professor for being cool enough to make it part of the required reading list. Rather, Brokaw and Jennings-- watch out! We know your secrets now! Five stars.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You cannot afford not to read it ... 14 Mar 2002
By Stratos Safioleas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio Cassette|Verified Purchase
After being almost 3 years in the business of dealing professionally with the press, both printed and electronic, I would say that most of the things that you read in this amazing book seem somehow 'obvious'. Yet, it is what's 'obvious' that passes unattended. It is because even the professionals in this business, (actually especially the professionals in this business) operate without questioning the very principals of the trade: 'What's 'news' really? Why choosing this particular form of presenting them on TV? What is it that we are aiming for? What's hidden behind?
I think that reading this book makes a better TV viewer, may be a better journalist, possibly a better citizen.
38 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Slap at the News Media Systems 6 Nov 2000
By Jeffrey Leach - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a great effort on the part of Neil Postman and Steve Powers. Postman is a media scholar who has written numerous books, and Powers is a journalist who knows first hand how media works. These two authors have the guts to take on the news media, a system made up of the biggest pack of liars outside of the Democratic Party. This book is a no-holds barred look at how news is manufactored and presented to the public. The book begins by defining news and then presents detailed accounts of how news is created. The book also looks at how commercials work in the scheme of things. There are also sections on television in the court room and an examination of how language and pictures can be used to distort news.
I found three items of particular interest in this book. The first was how the authors looked at commercials. As most know, the main aim of television is to sell. As cigarettes are a delivery device for nicotine, so television is for commercials. Since most of us have seen thousands of commercials, we have stopped viewing them objectively. This book has examined commercials, and it delivers a stinging indictment of them. Most effective is the view, presented by the authors, that commercials are a form of religious parable. A parable teaches people how to live the good life. The commercial, like a parable, has a beginning, a definition of a problem in the middle, and then a solution to the problem at the end. Unlike real life, the commercial teaches us that the answers to all problems are fast and easy, and are readily available at the local store. Hard work and patience mean nothing in the advertising world.
Secondly, the book also looks at how corporations have taken over televison and turned news programs into a source of profit. This profit comes, of course, at the expense of truth and responsibility. What is of particular interest is how much some of the anchors and others involved in the news media make millions of dollars in salaries. The authors find this a problem. They quote former CBS News president Fred Friendly (great name, wouldn't you say?) who believed that no one in news should be making more money than members of Congress or the President of the United States. Friendly called it, "unhealthy, unacceptable, and unethical". What's more, the corporate attitude of making profit at the expense of all else has led to the pooling of various media outlets. The authors see this as extremely dangerous, as it limits the sources of news made available to the public.
Finally, I was floored by the examination of the actual news programs given in the book. The authors point out that news teams are made of people who are meant to ape the structure of a family. The role of Mom and Dad are played by the anchors, who usually are a man and woman. The sportscaster and weatherman usually play the role of the silly kids. And even more sickening, this "family" is always presented as being happy. They all get along with each other and everyone knows their place. Most people probably wouldn't have a problem with this kind of arrangement. But remember, this is supposed to be news. It is how we form opinions of the events that shape our lives, and ultimately are descendent's lives. This shouldn't be some role playing game. It's serious business, and all of the little games that the media play seriously degrade our ability to make important decisions.
There are always a few downfalls with any book, and this one is no different. There are some annoying errors in the text which an editor should have caught. This might be nitpicky, but it is noticeable. Also, the book is too short for such an important topic. Still, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is concerned about getting the truth.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How to watch TV News and be informed at the same time. 3 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
An academic and a TV journalist combine forces to take on the most powerful and pervasive force in our daily lives and dissect its influence in a way no one's thought of before. Who'd think that a society so bombarded with information would be the least informed in the world? This book explains how-- and why. And it's quite prescient, having been written a few years ago, in showing how "news' and "entertainment" combine to form something that tastes great but is less filling. It's worth a read for anyone who suspects that "they" are not telling us what we need to know or want to know-- but what "they" decide" we should know. This is the Rosetta Stone of the Infotainment Age.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-informed analysis of the TV news industry 7 Dec 2004
By T. D. Welsh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
More than just a manual on "how to watch TV news", this book explains the commercial and financial basis of the TV industry, and shows why news coverage plays such a central role in TV. At 168 pages it is by no means lengthy, and can easily be read in a day; but there are still parts that you can skip without much loss - for instance, the chapter that tells you exactly who does what in a typical TV news studio. On the other hand, it is all quite interesting, and the authors back up their conclusions with solid facts.

Postman and Powers are by no means against TV as a news medium, but they warn us to use it intelligently and with full awareness of its biases, strengths and weaknesses. For instance, they point out that TV is intrinsically serial: a programme unwinds at a constant pace, and all the viewers see all of it (unless they go off to make a cup of coffee). Newspapers, on the other hand, can offer far more (and more varied) information, because each reader can select what he or she finds interesting. The sheer cost of time makes a difference, too - as of 1992, when this book was published, one hour of news cost $500,000 to produce. With each second being worth well over $100, "dead time" is a no-no, and long explanations (i.e. over about 10 seconds) are undesirable. This leads to a superficial style, heavy on pictures and short on meaningful analysis.

The authors make some trenchant points. "American television is an unsleeping money machine"; "...fires make a good subject for television news"; "Actually to see buildings topple is exciting..." They even argue that TV commercials offer a form of religious communication. Whereas gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, commercials assure us that we can right on engaging in it: just don't forget to buy the right antacid pills.

Anyway, do we really need to watch as much TV as we do? Postman and Powers note that, by the end of high school, the average American has spent more time watching TV than in school! TV news can be seen as addictive; we don't really need to know most of what it tells us, but once we start getting sucked in, it is hard to stop coming back for further fixes. Just like soap operas, in fact!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep. 8 Jun 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The last thing I thought I'd ever need was a book telling me how to "watch" TV news. Boy, was I wrong. The meaning, the subtext, the background, and the message were all there in front of me-- it took a little guidance to "get it." Postman and Powers are two righteous TV dudes who know how to peel the onion of telecommunications and expose the inner workings that, until now, sailed clear over my head. I have to thank my J-School professor for being cool enough to make it part of the required reading list. Rather, Brokaw and Jennings-- watch out! We know your secrets now! Five stars.
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