August 13, 2003
Seven Rules For Better News
In the last decade or so, media critics have argued that television news has become more and more sensationalistic, at the expense of being informative to viewers. A recent study published in the Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media could help broadcasters reverse this trend. The study, conducted by Annie Lang, Deborah Potter, and Maria Elizabeth Grabe, found that by using a set of seven post-production rules theoretically developed by Lang and Potter, broadcasters can produce news stories that are not only compelling, but also help viewers better retain their memory of the content.
The study, conducted at the NewsLab (a non-profit television laboratory associated with Columbia University) centered around four stories that had aired on local news stations across the U.S. and were revised according to the seven theoretical post-production rules. The seven rules set up the following general guidelines for broadcasters when producing news stories:
1. Use stories that elicit emotional reactions from viewers, as that helps them better retain information.
2. When dealing with stories that have complex subject matter, make sure the audio and video information is not paced too quickly.
3. When the video is complex, keep the audio simple to allow the video to be processed.
4. Try and make sure the audio and video match in terms of complexity.
5. When showing negative visual elements, introduce the most important facts following the negative video scenes and don't present important information right before a negatively compelling scene.
6. Use concrete words and images whenever possible.
7. Use strong, typical 'beginning, middle, end'-type chronological narratives. In general, the study showed that when the stories were revised according to the seven rules, viewers were better able to process and retain their information. Perhaps most importantly to ratings-conscious broadcasters, the revised stories did not reduce the viewers'attention or arousal.