Excuse my “absence” lately as I’ve been extremely busy working on a project and haven’t had much time for writing although due to my (apparent) inborn ability to focus on multiple things at the same time, I have been watching a lot. In fact, thanks to a high-speed internet connection and a powerful computer (plus an iPad and an actual TV), I’ve been watching about 14 different television news channels at the same time.
It’s not something I recommend that anyone else do *laugh* but it has been interesting in its own right and far less of a headache than it was at the beginning. Of course listening to all 14 channels at once is a form of Babel style pandemonium but it turns out that it IS fairly easy to pay attention to all 14 channels at once if you have the sound turn off.
It was a temporary personal research project for me but I had the means and opportunity to do it and I was deeply curious about what I would discover.
Over the past month I have been monitoring the following channels for about 10 hours a day: Digi24, Realitatea, B1, Antena 3 and Romania TV (all from Romania), CCTV/CNTV (China), Al-Jazeera (Qatar), RTVE (Spain), NDTV (India), CNN* and Bloomberg (USA), Telesur (Venezuela), France 24 (France), Deutsche Welle (Germany), Rossiya 24 and RT (Russia), BBC (UK), Euronews (EU), TGCOM24 and Rai News (Italy), i24 (Israel), Press TV (Iran), KTN (Kenya), TVC (Nigeria) and briefly ABC 24 out of Australia.
The last one (ABC in Australia) is stupidly geoblocked, meaning you have to trick the website into thinking you are in Australia for it to work. The rest are accessible worldwide (although the BBC online feed is geoblocked but I have it on my television). Many of the above have multiple versions in different languages (Al-Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, France 24, Euronews and i24) but the different versions are all identical with the exception of Al-Jazeera, where the Arabic version (which I can’t understand a word of) shows far more graphic and hardcore imagery, including dead people.
Rossiya 24, TGCOM24, Rai, RTVE and Telesur were each in their respective home language and not in English.
If you add all of the above channels together you’ll see that it’s more than 14 but I would rotate between them on different days to get as global a perspective as possible, with all five continents represented. I really wanted as wide a base as possible in order to both get a (truly) global overview as well as compare and contrast to the five Romanian news channels.
I’m actually old enough to remember before there was a single 24-hour news channel, when all television news came in the form of morning and evening newscasts. I think the finding that surprised me the most was how little anything has changed since CNN first debuted in 1980. I’d say that in the last 33 years only two innovations have been added to what is essentially a standard nightly newscast that’s looped over and over with minor modifications.
Now without making this post insanely lengthy, I should add here that I used to read 550 different newspapers a day. This is possible with technologies like RSS and I did it because I was interested in something that Upton Sinclair investigated in 1919, namely, how does the news get to become the news? How exactly do certain stories get picked and others neglected? And what are we missing? And is another way of presenting the news possible?
Although no one at journalism school ever frames it this way, there is clearly (a largely unconscious) formula for determining which stories get broadcast and in what order. It turns out that it doesn’t matter if you’re an African station or an American one or Indian or Romanian, they all pretty much follow this formula. I took detailed notes over the past month and for the first time in history I will lay this formula out in clear and simple terms, just in case you ever want to open your own 24-hour news television channel.**
So… drumroll please… here is how you determine which stories to broadcast and in which order.
Domestic Bonus [x10] – If it happens in your home country, automatically add a 10x bonus to any potential story.
Therefore a fatal car crash at home might make the broadcast but a fatal car crash in a neighboring country will not.
The Colonies [x2] – If you are a former empire (such as the UK, Spain or even Germany) then news stories that happen in your former colonies (or in the case of Gibraltar, your current colony) gets a times two bonus.
Likewise a story in the Republic of Moldova (considered here to be the long-lost little brother of Romanian Moldova) will get coverage on stories that wouldn’t be newsworthy if they happened anywhere else.
Footage [x5] – If a major story happens and you don’t have video footage of the event, it’s highly unlikely you will broadcast it. But if you have a minor story and you do have video, it’s far more likely you will show it.
White Bonus [x5] – If any story happens that involves (primarily) white people, go ahead and give it an x5 point bonus.
On the other hand, if a story involves primarily brown/black people, you can safely ignore it.
Death Bonus [x2] – For any story that involves at least one person dying, add a 2x point bonus.
Mass Casualties [+50] – If more than 20 people die for any reason in a single event and/or more than 100 people are injured then you have a Mass Casualty event.
Planes and Trains [+45] – Any story involving a crash, an almost crash or a near crash involving an airplane or a train is almost mandatory to be included in your broadcast.
Note: other forms of mass transportation accidents, even ones with fatalities, can usually be awarded zero points.
American President [+40] – If the American president does anything, says anything or goes anywhere, be sure to add a 40 point bonus when weighting the news story in your broadcast.
Political Press Release [+30] – If a major political figure (domestic only) releases a statement or press release, it’s highly likely you’ll select a portion of it and repeat it back word for word on your broadcast.
Mass Unrest [+25 per 100 people involved] – Any rioting, large-scale demonstrations, protest marches, coup d’etats or civic unrest should make it to your news broadcast.
Note: if the unrest happens in a foreign country (and not one of your former colonies) then there must be at least 100 people involved minimum. If the unrest is domestic then there is no minimum number of protesters but it is required that signs/posters are displayed.
Naughty Weather [+20] – while all newscasts “by law” put the local (or regional/global) weather at the end of the hour, if a wide-scale weather phenomenon is happening somewhere and you’ve got footage of it, be sure to include it in your broadcast.
Crime and Punishment [+20] – Either the person being arrested or judicially sentenced must be famous and/or powerful or else the (alleged) crime must be especially scandalous, unusual or egregious, or both.
Roadwork [+15] – Stories involving problems with roads, streets, highways or other paved driving surfaces are a definite bonus for your newscast.
Yum-Yum [+15] – Discussion of food, especially new “breakthroughs” in food technologies as well as diets, recent academic research or competitions (biggest, most, etc) involving food should be included in your broadcast.
Product recalls [+15] – Whether food, cars, medicine or anything else, if a defect is found and it has to be withdrawn from the market, be sure to include it in your broadcast.
Voting [variable] – When an election is coming up, a sliding scale is used.
If the election is in your local domestic market, it will rise in prominence on your news broadcast exponentially as voting day approaches.
If the election is in a foreign country, it can safely be ignored unless it is the American presidential election or else in a former colony or else has the potential of Mass Unrest, the last one requiring particularly juicy footage if you want to include it.
Big Religious Holiday [+10] – Only if it involves religions that your viewers are members of.
Note: there is a special exemption for the Catholic Pope, who gets widespread coverage even in predominantly Muslim, Jewish or Hindu countries.
Car and Helicopter Crashes [+10] – Assuming there is good footage of the devastation, any automobile or helicopter crash can be included in your news broadcast.
The Luminiferous Ether [+10] – A tiny fraction of new medical research gains worldwide attention and thus must be presented on your news broadcast even though the information may be highly suspect, not thoroughly vetted or downright false.
Note: if the research is paid for or sponsored by or otherwise friendly to pharmaceutical products, be sure to add an additional 10 point bonus.
Mumbo Jumbo Numbers [+10] – Whether it’s about a large corporation’s profit or share price or domestic labor figures or other generalized economic “data” such as inflation rates or tax levels and the “news” has lots of numbers you can print up in pretty charts, be sure to include it in your broadcast.
Blockbuster [+10] – Often framed as a virtual commercial advertisement, mentioning upcoming movies or movies currently in the theaters (in America be sure to list their current box office earnings) is a great way to pad out your news broadcast.
Starstruck [x2] – If a famous or well-known person does something, add a times two bonus to the story.
Wacky Animals [+5] – If an animal is or does something unusual, it will be considered newsworthy. If an animal attacks (and preferably kills) a human, add another five points.
Baby, Baby [+5] – If a baby (or young child) is unusual, is super large, is super small, is born to an old woman or a young teenager or has some other oddity to it, be sure to include it in your broadcast.
Men Behaving Badly [+5] – While occasionally women can be involved, if you’ve got footage of men fighting, spitting, throwing things, fleeing from the cops, biting other people or otherwise acting “badly”, be sure to include it in your news broadcast.
Bikini Bonus [+5] – If you have still photographs or (preferably) video footage of a woman (or women) in bikinis, be sure to add a +5 point bonus.
King Tut [+5] – If you’ve got either a lone individual or else an outcast social group (in Romania this means gypsies) doing something “scandalous”, be sure to include it. A perennial favorite in this category is child marriages but in other markets you can focus on those “weird” and “disgraceful” things that people do.
In American and British markets, often this shameful behavior happens on social networks (Facebook and Twitter) but also includes regular shaming of people for perceived sexual transgressions.
Lottery Jackpot [+5] – If a lottery’s potential payout goes over a certain amount and is therefore “large”, be sure to cover this in your news broadcast. For bonus points be sure to interview people buying lottery tickets.
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous [+5] – If you can find footage of what rich people buy, what rich people eat, what kind of cars rich people drive, where rich people go on vacation or jewelry that costs millions of dollars, be sure to include it in your news broadcast. Bonus points if the product is new to the market.
British royal family [+5] – For any story involving the “prestige” members of the British royal family, add five points when deciding whether or not to report it.
America’s Top 3 [mandatory] – For all markets outside the United States, you are required to re-broadcast or cover whatever the American news channels top three stories are.
Sports [mandatory] – You must include sports scores for all domestic teams and athletes. If you are in a former Communist country you can include academic “sports” such as chess competitions, etc.
Astrology [mandatory] – If your domestic market is primarily Catholic or Orthodox, you are required to broadcast horoscopes and astrological information but only in the morning, never after noon!
On the other hand, if your domestic market is primarily Protestant or not Christian, it is mandatory that you never, ever broadcast horoscopes or astrological information.
Ready to give this formula a test? Let’s practice. Assume you are the producer at a news channel and your “journalists” give you two stories. Which one do you run first?
For simplicity’s sake we’ll assume that you are a TV channel based in Romania.
a) The American President buys a Powerball lottery ticket because the jackpot is over 100 million dollars
b) A thousand people are killed in heavy fighting in the eastern Congo (Africa)
a) Scientists reveal that, surprisingly, eating ice cream helps reduce your cholesterol levels
b) A man in China is arrested for having sex with a panda bear
a) Eating healthy, nutritious foods can cure diabetes in a majority of cases
b) Prince Charles of England comes to Romania to stay at his estate in Transylvania
a) A woman gives birth to a child with an enormous lizard-like tail
b) The Prime Minister of Canada is in Australia for important trade talks
a) An airplane carrying weapons explodes into flames at Mogadishu airport in Somalia
b) Bentley and Maserati introduce new high-end cars in the luxury market
1) Story A has 225 points (American President +40, is a Top 3 story in America and involves a high Lottery Jackpot +5 for 45 points plus a x5 bonus because you have footage for it) while Story B has only 50 points because you have no footage of it and it doesn’t involve white people.
Therefore you’d run Story A first and Story B probably not at all.
2) Story A has 25 points because it has both a “new research” angle (Luminiferous Ether +10) as well as being about food (+15) while Story B also has 25 points, the story featuring an animal (Wacky Animals +5) plus someone being arrested (Crime and Punishment +20).
You’d probably run Story B first because of the King Tut factor in some cases although the fact that story B doesn’t involve a white person might cause you not to broadcast it at all.
3) Story A has 0 points because no scientist will ever get paid to research this kind of thing and no academic journal would ever get paid to promote it. Story B has 50 points because it involves the British royal family (+5 points) and gets a 10x domestic bonus since it involves Romania.
4) Story A gets 5 points because it involves an unusual baby (Baby, Baby +5) while Story B does involve white people but you can’t apply this bonus in Romania because there’s no other points awarded.
Answer: you’d run Story A and never mention Story B in your broadcast.
5) If you don’t have footage for Story A, you would award it 45 points (Planes and Trains +45) but if you did have good footage it would get 225 points (45 x 5). No white bonus though because it happened in Africa. Story B would get 25 points (Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous +5 points plus you’re sure to get footage for it so x5 bonus for that)
Therefore, in order for your broadcast (in Romania) you would run the stories like this:
1) American President buys lottery ticket (225 points)
2) Prince Charles to visit Romania (50 points)
3) Plane explodes in Somalia (45 points)
4) Ice cream reduces cholesterol (25 points)
5) Chinese man has sex with panda bear (25 points)
6) Carmakers introduce new luxury cars (25 points)
7) Woman gives birth to child with lizard tail (5 points)
Probably not in your broadcast at all:
1) Fighting and death in the Congo
2) Eating healthy food can potentially cure diabetes
3) Canadian PM in Australia on trade talks
See? It’s not hard at all!
Of course you’ll have to do some “fine tuning” based on your local market and who owns your station. Some of the channels I’ve been watching are government financed so reflect the official position of the ruling party (or in Qatar’s case, the undemocratic and unelected sheikh). Others are owned by partisan concerns and will necessarily slant news in their favor (such as Mediaset owned by former PM Silvio Berlusconi).
The only innovations in the past 30 years to 24-hour news channels over the old-school nightly newscast are Short Documentaries and Experts Confabulate.
With Short Documentaries, the news channel has a pre-recorded short documentary program which details something of (presumable) interest to the viewers. In Romania, Digi24 is the master of this but Realitatea does it occasionally.
Experts Confabulate involves having guests in the studio (or via remote connection on the telephone or Skype) sit around and discuss the stories which already made your main broadcast. In Romania, B1 is the champion of this with Antena 3 not far behind.
Strangely enough, that’s really all there is to running a 24-hour news channel. Mostly it’s just mixing and matching feeds from other sources and then ranking them using the formula I’ve outlined above. No matter whether it’s a private or state-funded channel, no matter the language, no matter what country or continent your TV channel is in, the stories are almost all identical.
I saw the royal baby show up on 10 screens simultaneously on channels all around the world and whatever Obama says/does (such as announce 22 embassies closing) gets repeated pretty much identically around the world. Likewise, even in India, which has its own thriving and profitable domestic movie industry (Bollywood), the same American movies are discussed ad nauseum.
About the only difference between one channel and another is the ownership bias (whoever owns/controls the channel in question) and of course a heavy focus on domestic stories (or stories from former colonies), which changes depending on the market.
Therefore here in Romania there’s really no difference between any of the channels (except for ownership bias), with only the tiniest differences, like Romania TV freaking loves celebrity gossip a lot (especially if it involves Becali) and is far “better” at sneaking in shots of topless women at the beach during all the reporting on “this goshdarn hot weather we’re having”.
But really, there’s hardly a lick of difference between them and if you switch between them you’ll get the same shot of Omar Hayssam being escorted by masked thugs (aka “police officers”), just from different angles.
The “formula” thus explains why there’s next to no coverage of what’s going on in neighboring countries like Ukraine or Serbia, even though it could be of strategic or regional interest, and why fucking Elena Udrea’s recent diet is getting so much coverage (she posted pics on Facebook of herself in a bikini).
I will say though that Digi24 has one reporter who is based in Spain and speaks excellent fluent Spanish and does a superb job of reporting on stories from that country (right now the Gibraltar conflict and previously the Rajoy corruption scandal).
Also, with the exception of ProTV, who employs a weatherman dressed as a clownish buffoon, all Romanian channels use attractive women both to report the weather and the sports scores. The women reporting the weather seemingly “must” wear a dress/skirt. Why this is, I don’t know.
Another weather oddity is that either the entire globe’s weather is covered or else only your own country and not even logically the weather in neighboring countries. In other words, Romanian TV never, ever, ever shows the weather in the Republic of Moldova and Spanish TV never, ever shows the weather in Portugal. But, strangely enough, the one exception to this is Hungarian news channels (from Hungary), which show the weather in Transylvania and Szekelyland in addition to Hungary proper, just not the rest of Romania *LOL*
BUT NOW YOU KNOW!
* – CNN actually comes in three different versions, two of which can be seen online. Inside the United States is an American-only version, with a heavy fixation on celebrities, movies, gossip and “scandalous crimes”, particularly the latter (and tons of commercials for pharmaceutical pills and nostrums). Outside the United States (such as in Romania) is CNN International, a far more sober and dignified channel (which primarily has advertisements promoting travel or investment firms). And inside of American airports is a specially tailored version called CNN Airport Network, which has far more frequent weather updates but any mention of plane crashes is deliberately expunged.
** – Obviously I’m being facetious here as anyone who actually did want to go to the trouble of spending a metric ton of money to open a news channel would have no need for this formula as everyone “knows” all of this stuff unconsciously anyway.