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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
T. D. Welsh (Basingstoke, Hampshire UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How to Watch TV News (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 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.
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!
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deep., 8 Jun 1999
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This review is from: How to Watch TV News (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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How to Watch TV News
How to Watch TV News by Steve Powers (Paperback - Sep 1992)
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