A History of Television News [Kai Craig - MCS 333]

This timeline will explore the origins of broadcast news on television. Major milestones in television news will be examined through the lens of several communication theorists. This timeline will also highlight the impact of major global events on the development of television news.

Historical Events

World War II

Sept. 1939 - Sept. 1945

Occurring in the mid-twentieth century, World War II was a global armed conflict that involved the world's most powerful nations; it is considered to be the deadliest conflict in history. Many communications technologies were created for use in the war; for example, computers designed to encrypt and decode radio messages were used in both sides of the war. This war marked the point where the information became just as important as ammunition.

Vietnam War

Nov. 1955 - Apr. 1975

A notably controversial armed conflict between the United States and Vietnam, many remember this war as the first comprehensively reported war on television. Night after night, film of the battleground was broadcast in living rooms across the country. Walter Cronkite famously declared the war unwinnable in 1968, leading President Johnson to risk his political career by negotiating with North Vietnamese forces. (Halbrooks)

Assassination of John F. Kennedy

Nov. 1963

On November 22, the late President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald while riding through the streets of Dallas, TX in a presidential motorcade. This event provided the first real argument for television news, as neither radio nor newspapers could showcase the full moment of the assassination; only television could combine the immediacy of radio journalism with moving images. (Halbrooks)

Gulf War

Aug. 1990 - Feb. 1991

Responding to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, US-led coalition forces engaged Iraq in combat through Operation Desert Storm. This was the first war to be broadcast live by media outlets in the United States; live coverage was made available by use of satellites. (Halbrooks)

9/11 attacks

Sept. 2001

September 11 was a grim day in the United States, especially for the news anchors that reported the attacks. In the following years, threats and rumors of future attacks were reported, even though they were not guaranteed to happen. With the introduction of the Homeland Security Terror Alert System, news outlets reported each change in the code level. (Halbrooks) The constant barrage of possible violence in the news primed audiences to overestimate the threat of terrorism; the effects continue to this day.


"The Division of Labor in Society"


[Emile Durkheim]

In this reading, Durkheim argues that the division of labor (specialized jobs held by each individual in a society) creates a sense of social solidarity in a population. This population is bound by a set of societal norms and beliefs (e.g. law) known as the collective consciousness. This bond between individuals can be broken when its influence on the populace weakens; this disconnection is referred to as 'anomie'.

"Rules of the Sociological Method"


[Emile Durkheim]

This text states that individuals in a society are controlled by social facts; these are predetermined societal laws and customs that exist outside of the populace, and can range from paying taxes to daily dental hygiene. Durkheim emphasizes that social facts are to be studied as things, no matter how intangible they may seem.

"The Group and the Primal Horde"


[Sigmund Freud]

Freud discusses the hypothetical "primal horde", the main social group in human prehistory that today's social groups are based on. Primal hordes were hierarchical groups led by powerful men who exclusively claimed sexual freedom. When these leaders passed away, they were succeeded by their sons. According to Freud, totemism originates from the primal horde, as all actions were focused towards the dynamic leader.

"The Theory of Political Propaganda"


[Harold Laswell]

Right off the bat, Laswell defines propaganda manipulates the context of significant symbols (such as the image of a raised fist) to shape collective attitudes of a populace. The primary end that a propagandist aims to achieve is to condition individuals to adopt certain viewpoints towards an ideology or political figure.

"History Is a Weapon"


[Edward Bernays]

As the nephew of Freud, Bernays draws from his uncle's theories of group psychology to form his attitude towards propaganda. Unlike Laswell, Bernays argues that propaganda need only manipulate group leaders, not social symbols, to manipulate the masses. While symbols and values are important, Bernays argues that individuals are primarily motivated by their desires and motives, regardless of their acknowledgement of those same desires and motives.

"Radio: A Psychological Novelty" and "The Influence of Radio upon Mental and Social Life"


[Albert H. Cantril & Gordon W. Allport]

"Radio: A Psychological Novelty" goes into the relationship between radio broadcasters and their listeners. Unlike other forms of public speaking, there is no circular relationship amongst radio audiences, so broadcasters have to foster an 'impression of universality" by pointing out that several people have tuned in to the program at the same time as the listener.
In "The Influence of Radio upon Mental and Social Life," Cantril and Allport point out that, since broadcasters are supported by heterogeneous audiences, they must limit their topics to appeal to the most common interests. With this in mind, radio listeners tend to adopt the same points of view.

"On Popular Music"


[Theodor Adorno]

Adorno generally believes that the culture industry creates pop culture by repackaging previous forms of commercially successful culture. Narrowing his focus to pop music, Adorno states that a song becomes recognizable when it builds upon familiar melodies. Repetition of the new melody also gives the song its long-lasting sense of recognition.

"The Part Played by People"


[Elihu Katz & Paul Lazarsfeld]

One of the most famous ideas from this reading is the 'two-step flow of communication". Essentially, people are influenced by 'opinion leaders' (anyone in a given social group whose opinions are accepted by others in that group), and the mass media supplies ideas to the opinion leader. This theory is a widely-accepted expansion of the 'hypodermic needle theory', which flatly states that people are directly influenced by mass media.

"The Culture Industry Reconsidered"


[Theodor Adorno]

Here, Adorno examines pop culture in general. The thesis of this chapter is that the culture industry transmutes the profit motive into all forms of pop culture. Consequently, the spheres of high art and low art are fused together to the detriment of both. Consumers are led to believe that they influence the culture industry, but the culture industry actually conditions consumers to respond to whatever it creates.

"The Spiral of Silence: A Theory of Public Opinion"


[Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann]

Neumann first defines public opinion as any viewpoint that can be expressed without condemnation by others; this viewpoint usually agrees with the majority opinion. People are afraid of being isolated, and this fear takes precedence over their personal beliefs. Accordingly, the 'spiral of silence' theory states that individuals will refrain from voicing their opinions if they believe that others will isolate them afterwards.

"The Third-Person Effect in Communication"


[W. Phillips Davison]

In this reading, Davison writes about the 'third-person effect' hypothesis. Essentially, this hypothesis speculates that individuals believe that others are more likely to be influenced by mass media than they are. Consequently, the same individuals tend to underestimate mass media's effect on themselves.

"Public Journalism through the Lens: How Television Broadcasters Covered Campaign '96"


[Scott R. Maier & Deborah Potter]

Public journalism, a variety of news that engages citizens in the political process, is the subject of this reading. During the 1996 presidential election, several studies were made to analyze the efforts made in television and newspapers to deliver public journalism. Unfortunately, it was determined that, while both forms were somewhat committed to supplying public journalism, television followed through on that commitment the least.

"Visual Agenda Setting After 9/11: Individuals' Emotions, Image Recall, and Concern with Terrorism"


[Shahira Fahmy]

This article examines the role that visual agenda setting played in media coverage of the September 11 attacks. Footage of the plane crashing into the towers was played repeatedly on the news in the days after 9/11. Fahmy argues that since images can elicit emotions and improve retention of a news story, the media's coverage of 9/11 drastically shaped the populace's concerns with terrorism.

"Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models"


[Dietram A. Scheufele & David Tewksbury]

This reading sheds light on three ways that the news media can influence the way its audience thinks about politics. The first way is agenda-setting: if news organizations prioritize a subject, then audiences will prioritize it. Framing is another way: audiences will perceive a subject differently depending on exactly how it is reported. The last way is known as priming: to influence the way audiences perceive an issue, the news media can suggest that they examine it through smaller issues.

"The Symbiosis of News Coverage and Aggregate Online Behavior: Obama, Rumors, and Presidential Elections"


[Brian Weeks & Brian Southwell]

During the 2008 presidential election, rumors circulated that then-candidate Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim. Prior to its circulation on mainstream media, the rumor was first seen on a political blog; soon after, conservative websites began to report it. The rumor's presence on mainstream media led to an agenda-setting effect, and several Americans truly believed that Obama was a secret Muslim.

"The Crowd Mind: The Archival Legacy of the Payne Fund Studies' 'Movies and Conduct' (1933)"


[Christina Petersen]

Petersen's analysis of the Payne Fund study 'Movies and Conduct" concludes that its depiction of the 'youth spectator' as an impressionable film consumer became highly influential in how young film-goers are perceived. Herbert Blumer, who conducted the study, reported that youth spectators become emotionally possessed when they view a film, and their self-control and critical thinking skills take a backseat to their repressed impulses. Blumer also discussed the effect of crowds on film-goers; for example, the reaction of a viewer is reproduced by those around them, creating a 'circular reaction'.

"Meeting the Challenge of Measuring Communication Exposure in the Digital Age"


[Jeff Niederdeppe]

Today, people can obtain information from many sources at once. Niederdeppe makes two predictions: surveys will be increasingly unable to record where people get their information, and researchers will have to consider the time that people were exposed to information, instead of relying heavily on sources.

"Agenda Setting in the Partisan TV News Context"


[Ki Deuk Hyun & Soo Jung Moon]

This study examined partisan news coverage during the 2012 presidential election. The study revealed that, while partisan networks had agenda-setting effects, watching coverage from multiple networks could offset those effects.


Television invented

Sept. 1927

Though the concept of television was invented in various forms, the technology's most direct ancestor was demonstrated by Philo Farnsworth in 1927. Working out of his laboratory in San Francisco, Farnsworth projected the first image (a straight line) through his image dissector on September 7. Farnsworth's technology led to the development of the television, as well as the television industry.
Edward Bernays would likely have seen television as the perfect tool for propaganda, as the combined effects of audio and video had the ability to manipulate many ofthe viewer's desires at once.

FCC is formed

June 19, 1934

The Federal Communications Commission, established by the Communications Act of 1934, sought to regulate communication across all forms of media, including television. The FCC granted networks licenses to broadcast on specific frequencies, which were a limited resource at the time. The FCC replaced the Federal Radio Commission, which (as its name suggests) limited its oversight to radio.
Since the FCC regulates the language that broadcasters can use, Durkheim would have written extensively about how the commission enforces social facts.

NBC News is founded

Feb. 1940

On Feburary 21, NBC began airing the first regularly scheduled news program in history after having established a presence on radio. In the early days of the network, radio personality Lowell Thomas hosted 15-minute newscasts on weekdays. Since many Americans couldn't afford televisions, NBC didn't make a serious effort towards a larger news program until 'Meet The Press' made its television debut in 1947. As the years went on, CBS and ABC began airing similar news programs. News coverage from all three networks would later cement their status as the "Big Three" American television networks.
Cantril and Allport would have written about how an impression of universality could be expressed using the visual aspects of television.

Cable television invented


The late John Walson. who owned a General Electric store in Mahoney City, PA, had trouble selling television sets. Since Mahoney City was located in a valley, TV reception was limited. To improve reception in his store, Walson placed an antenna on top of New Boston Mountain, then fed the signal to the store through a cable. Residents, seeing the improved reception, requested access to Walson's cable. Charging service and installation fees, Walson installed the cable in televisions across the city. This system is known as Service Electric Cable TV, which still exists to this day. In 1979, Walson's work was recognized by the United States Congress as the pioneering force behind cable television. ("John Walston Sr., 78")
Adorno would most likely have foreseen the commercialization of cable television; he may have even argued that the amalgamation of high and low culture would be exacerbated as more Americans bought cable subscriptions.

"Nightline" airs

Mar. 1980

Beginning as a series that documented the Iran Hostage Crisis in 1979, "Nightline" was the first news show of its kind. Airing on late-night television, "Nightline" utilized newly-created satellite technology to provide live coverage and analysis of daily events.
Katz and Lazarsfeld would likely have wondered about then-anchorman Ted Koppel's role as an opinion leader, since he 'reads' the news as opposed to reporting it.

CNN is launched


Founded by media mogul Ted Turner, the Cable News Network introduced the concept of 24-hour news coverage. Other cable networks, such as Fox News and MSNBC, were created in the following years to provide round-the-clock coverage to the increasingly partisan populace.
Noelle-Neumann would probably agree that cable news' aim towards general audiences would perpetuate the spiral of silence, since majority opinion is exclusively reported on.

Telecommunications Act of 1996 is ratified


Amending the Communications Act of 1934, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 did two major things: it broadened its focus to the regulation of the Internet, and it allowed corporations to own several types of media at once. Scheufele and Tewksbury would likely be alarmed to learn of this act: the cross-ownership of networks meant that framing, agenda-setting, and priming could be used to protect the interests of the corporations that owned each news outlet.

Works Cited

Full List

Approx. 1900

"John Walson Sr., 78, Pioneer of Cable TV." The New York Times. The New York Times, 29 Mar. 1993. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.

Halbrooks, Glenn. "12 Events That Triggered Media Coverage Evolution." The Balance. The About Group, 16 Sept. 2016. Web. 01 Oct. 2016. https://www.thebalance.com/how-media-outlets-cover-news-2315249.

Wright, Andy. "Philo T. Farnsworth Statue." The New York Times. The New York Times, 05 May 2011. Web. 30 Sept. 2016.