Contextual StudiesA Brief History of Broadcast Journalism

Historically, news reports were filmed on film or video tape by crews using large, heavy and expensive equipment. However, recent advances in technology have seen this technology shrink in size. Satellites and digitalisation have meant that the days of waiting for tapes to be sent from reporters are now gone (Thompson, 2017). Today, news reporting is instant. Anyone with a mobile phone is a potential journalist. We no longer get all our news from newspapers and a handful of broadcasters, now we have many TV stations and websites, as well as journalists and members of the public on social media, all driving the news.

Universal newsreel showing demonstrations
against the Vietnam War in 1967.

How have these advances in technology changed the way that news is gathered and reported? Have these advances made news reporting better or worse? Do these advances improve the quality of news reporting? With so many outlets, does the fact that broadcasters have to fight for our attention mean that some important but less exciting stories are not covered so much?

From 1910 well into the 1960s and beyond, newsreels were a source of broadcast news, viewed once or twice weekly in local cinemas (Emm, 2002). The style was very different to news broadcast today, with the news presented in a more dramatic, yet staid fashion, with the presenter speaking over dramatic footage in a reverential tone, over dramatic orchestrated background music (McKernan, 2009).

24 Hour News

Iranian Embassy Seige, 1980
Iranian Embassy Seige, 1980 [© BBC]

In May 1980, advances in technology meant that viewers of BBC News could watch the SAS storm the Iranian Embassy in London, as it happened, live (BBC, 2000). For the news viewer, this added to the tension of the situation: they were seeing something happen live rather than being told about something that had already happened.

In the same year, Cable News Network (CNN) was founded. It was the very first 24 hour news network and would have a profound effect on the way news was presented. Rather than a traditional time slot for the whole day's news to be presented, stories could now unfold in front of the viewer in real time. This led to a rise in the number of live outside broadcasts over pre-recorded and edited pieces (Taipei Times, 2005). This has the potential to make the viewer feel more connected to a "live" event but could mean the quality of the report is less polished - there is no chance to retake a piece, for example.