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How to Watch TV News Paperback – September 1, 1992


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; 1ST edition (September 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140132317
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140132311
  • Product Dimensions: 7.6 x 5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,149,950 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Academic Postman ( Amusing Ourselves to Death ) and television newsman Powers (of Fox Five in New York) offer a brief, helpful analysis of America's most popular news source. In a sober but accessible style, the authors address theoretical issues, such as the difficulty of portraying nonvisual abstractions (for example, a new scientific theory) on televison, and describe the selling of the news through techniques such as the "tease" and the formation of an on-air "pseudo-family." They reveal how stories originate--often from newspapers and press releases--and show how difficult it is for harried reporters to provide substantive news. The most provocative chapter analyzes the inherent biases and limitations in both language and pictures. The authors conclude with several none-too-radical pieces of advice, including the suggestion that parents seek ways to have schools train children in watching TV news. Regrettably, the authors don't discuss the role of TV criticism or what television news does well. Further, the book would have been much richer if Powers had included anecdotes from his career and reflected from his own experience on in-house decision-making.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From AudioFile

This little manual undertakes to equip the user to watch broadcast news intelligently, if at all, and with realistic expectations. The authors aim to make activity out of what is too often passivity. Their approach is carefully reasoned, rather than emotional. This book is no more intended to be read aloud for dramatic effect than an automobile repair manual. On the other hand, being a model of clarity and not dependent on charts or graphics, it works perfectly well in audio. Jeff Riggenbach's reading is ideal: very clear, comfortably paced and objective in tone. This reviewer urges this book on every adult in America. J.N. (c)AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Neil Postman was chairman of the department of communication arts at New York University. He passed away in 2003.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Stratos Safioleas on March 14, 2002
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.
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37 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Leach HALL OF FAME on November 6, 2000
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 3, 1999
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By T. D. Welsh on December 7, 2004
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 8, 1999
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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