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 "Finnish Views of CNN Television News" by Brett Dellinger
"Because of the structures of the various discourses within this broadcast genre, structures which were imposed by the pressures of its encompassing commercial objectives and design, it has an inherent inability to communicate information in the same way as the written word."

"CNN's format is a proven competitive broadcasting commodity while other formats, and discourse styles, are not competitive and will have more difficulty attracting audience attention in a predominantly commercial environment."

"Cueing ... as an artificial contrivance becomes a complex phenomenon, one which, after time, can develop into a formalized and familiar cultural experience whose frame becomes ritualized."

"The American public got what many critics and "conspiracy theorists" did not entirely expect: Instead of the "jackboot" and fascist-style propaganda, American television viewers got an endless stream of entertainment..."

"Stuart Hall ... sees the operation of the media within western capitalist societies as "all inclusive." The media shape our tastes and our desires--as well as our expectations. There is 'a shaping of the whole ideological environment ... a way of representing the order of things ... with ... natural or divine inevitability ....'" 

To Finns, it seems, American television news is read "with a gleeful smile and interspersed with laughter, punctuated by frowning--as if ... emotions were totally disconnected from the text.  American audiences ... expect "happy talk" and banter during a news broadcast. Finns, on the other hand, associate such behavior with clowns..."

This chapter also appeared in Mediapolis: Aspects of Texts, Hypertexts und Multimedial Communication under the title: "Concision in American Commercial Broadcasts." 

For more information: See Sam Inkinen, the editor, in Research in Text Theory Untersuchungen zur Texttheorie, a series edited by János Petöfi.

Chapter 8: [Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

The Structural Constraint of "Concision" as it is Used in the Discourse Style of American Commercial Broadcasting

(Continued from previous page)

The chart depicts the 44-minute hours of American commercial television, its "given normal flow," and the embedding of the commercials (lighter areas of the clock-wheels) within the programming (darker areas) to create a "symbiotic whole."

Commercial broadcasters in the United States have developed many intricate procedures for rhetorically creating and signaling to audiences that the appropriate environment and mood for a particular television program or commercial is in place. Such procedures are structurally designed to facilitate a particular relationship between program content and advertising which Postman has so aptly called "symbiotic."

Good commercial television, to be successful in a competitive environment, must adopt proven competitive structures, including discourse, which can significantly contribute to creating, pulling in, and retaining audiences. Capable commercial television hosts and their guests, if they are to succeed in the highly competitive world of the commercial media, must also learn to adapt their style of discourse to the advertising environment. They must learn to modify their speech registers and diversify lexical and semantic items in a way which provokes feelings of intimacy, excitement and anticipation among audiences. By choosing to use innovative lexis (including hyperbole, derision, alliteration) or by assuming the appropriate appearance (depending on the message and inferences to be created) or by adapting the appropriate body language (including hand gestures and other body movements demanded by the particular format, including the right facial expressions), a popular television personality or guest will be able to successfully refer commercially targeted audiences to specific ideas, emotions, other popular media frames, and even points of view.

While a commercial television host must be semantically skillful, the choice of a suitable and proficient guest is just as important. Such guests should be experienced with the commercial media or they should at least be competent to choose the proper lexical items, or the right gestures, or the right intonation and vocabulary to "carry" the audience to the next commercial--and the next program. The goal, therefore, is to deliver a certain number of a certain type of viewer to the sponsor’s sales pitch (represented on our graph by the lighter shaded areas between the "spokes," or actual programming) and to "tease" them back again for the next broadcast element in the hour’s "wheel." Ultimately, a good commercial 44-minute hour of broadcasting will be able to hand over the targeted television audience to the next 44-minute hour and the accompanying commercials.The purpose of this study is to investigate separately one of the "spokes" in the 44-minute hour (as shown on the chart), which has been criticized as causing "structural constraint" by Noam Chomsky. The programming will be considered as discourse and, above all, it will be considered in relationship to its function within the structure of the commercial environment. To overcome the problem of implicitness, a Finnish audience will assist in the investigation.


In their research, Halliday, Strevens and Fowler have found that discourse strategies used in the broadcast media are not the same as those used in writing. Thus, they have revealed that radio programming, including news, is "cued," by which is meant that contrastive stress in speech is used to underline or call special attention to a sentence or a phrase with the purpose in mind of establishing for audiences a feeling of intimacy, or a "one-on-one" relationship between the program and the audience. Other discourse strategies may be included as a component of cueing, such as adjusting intonation and various forms of paralanguage and kinesics—including voice pitch and gestures—which can be very effective in calling attention to certain concepts on radio or television.Other "special effects" also contribute to cueing, including sound, video editing and certain visual effects, including rapid videotape editing techniques or voiceovers, which can break up the monotony and uniformity of a long speech. Cueing, as an artificial contrivance used primarily in radio and television broadcasting, has become a complex but essential element in modern public discourse, especially when entertainment and competition are involved, and after years of exposure to this modern commercial discourse style, audiences take it for granted.

Thus, on American television, commercial television talk purposely mimics real interaction in order to present television audiences with the illusion that they are indeed witnessing a spontaneous event which should not be missed. To accomplish this purpose, commercial television’s writers and producers use various discourse strategies, including content arrangement, inclusion of sensational remarks, music, banter or some personal exchange between a news anchor and the weatherman, to emphasize the familiarity of the situation or to establish a certain "feeling" or a certain point of view for the audience.The development of the "magazine concept"


Chapter 8: [Part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7]

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Brett Dellinger lives in Finland.

Copyright © 1999 by Brett Dellinger. All rights reserved.

 Chapter 8's Go to chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6a | 6b 7a | 7b | 8 | 8b
Footnotes Discussion  Conclusion Bibliography