National TV news is split up into two types of channels: broadcast and cable.
CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC are cable TV channels. They talk about current events 24 hours a day. They do not aim for neutrality.
ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox are broadcast TV channels. Most of the time they air entertainment shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, NCIS, or American Idol. National news airs from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. New York time, and then again at 6:30 p.m. New York time. These shows and the local news aim for neutrality.
If you would rather read about how local news works first, click here.
Key vocabulary & bias/trust guide
Reporter (correspondent) — The person who focuses on collecting new information from sources. At the national level, this person is called a correspondent, but to keep it simple, this guide will use the word reporter. This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
Field producer — A jack-of-all-trades journalist books hotels and flights, finds good locations to shoot video, arranges interviews, transcribes interviews, collects information, and makes sure video is sent to shows. This person also shoots video sometimes. This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
Photojournalist — The person who focuses on recording video and sound for the reporter to use. National networks often hire a person who’s only job is to collect sound, so sometimes photojournalists are only responsible for shooting video. This person works hard to be unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
Show producers (broadcast) — A group of journalists given control over one hour of national TV. These people work hard to be unbiased and are paid to be unbiased. You can rely on them for truthful information. You can trust them.
Show producers (cable)—A group of journalists given control over one hour of national TV. These people are sometimes biased. Their aim is to inform the public. You can mostly trust them.
Anchor (journalist)—A journalist paid to give their opinion and back it up with facts. Anchors are often show producers with an executive producer credit and often have final decision-making authority over what goes on the air. This person is biased and was chosen because the network liked their bias. You can generally trust them.
Anchor (commentator) — A person paid to give their opinion. This person is biased and was chosen because the network liked their bias. You can occasionally trust them and should fact-check everything they say before believing it.
Contributor — An expert on a specific subject, generally with 10 to 20 years of highly specialized work experience, paid to be available 24/7 to come on TV when show producers ask. This person is paid money to come on TV. This person is biased and was chosen because the network liked their bias. You can generally trust them.
Guest — A person who is invited on TV to give their opinion or do an interview and does not get paid. This person is biased and will push their agenda at any cost. You generally should not trust them.
Bureau chief — The boss of the reporters, field producers, and photojournalists. They are selected from the country’s most experienced journalists. You can generally trust them. This person is biased and was chosen because the network liked their bias.
Primetime — 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. Anchors during this time period are chosen because the network liked their bias.
Liveshot — A reporter appears on TV live, meaning they’re able to include new information in their report up to the minute before they go live. This also lets them talk back and forth with anchors on TV. The information within is unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on liveshots for truthful information. You can trust them.
Package — A news vlog with a reporter’s voiceover. The information within is unbiased and is paid to be unbiased. You can rely on packages for truthful information. You can trust them.
VOSOT — A news vlog with an anchor’s voiceover. The information within is sometimes biased. You cannot always rely on VOSOTs at the national level for truthful information.
Discussion panel — A group of people with strong biases arguing about stuff. Don’t trust any of it.
Bureau — The office where the reporters, field producers, and photojournalists work or just hang out when they aren’t traveling.
National beat newsgathering
Both cable and broadcast networks have offices around the world and in major cities across the United States, and each bureau is responsible for the states surrounding it. Field producers, reporters, photojournalists, and a bureau chief (the boss) all work at these bureaus and they aim to do nonpartisan and unbiased reporting, regardless of who they work for.
For example, almost all networks have U.S. bureaus in New York, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego, Miami, Washington D.C. and Seattle.
Most networks base their international correspondents in London and Hong Kong because those two cities have a lot of airplane flights to choose from. CNN has the most foreign bureaus because they also own CNN International, a separate channel from CNN that covers world news more than U.S. news.
Throughout the day, reporters, field producers, the bureau chief, and occasionally a manager at network headquarters in New York collaboratively decide which stories reporters will cover. Sometimes there are heated arguments, sometimes everyone is too tired to do anything but nod and sip their coffee. But everyone cares about their country and wants to do what they think best serves the public.
Once the decision is made, these reporters and their stories are put on a list. Show producers (covered later) based in New York and Washington D.C. choose stories from this list that they want to include in their show.
Sometimes show producers don’t give reporters any direction other than how much time they’re allowed to speak. Sometimes show producers ask reporters to dig deep into one part of a story, while simplifying other elements for the sake of timing. For show producers, timing is really important. More on that later.
If the reporter is at a news scene (like a hurricane, tornado, missing person, business opening, or a wildfire) a photojournalist shoots video and give it to the field producer. The field producer then types out everything the interviewees said and give that transcript to the reporter, so he or she can pick soundbites to use. The field producer then sends that video to the show producers.
If the reporter is covering a less exciting story from the bureau, a field producer helps design graphics and finds video and soundbites to offer to the reporter to pick from.
Reporters choose which video, soundbites, and graphics they want to use, then tells the field producer their choices, and starts writing their script. While the reporter is writing their script, the field producer transmits the necessary technical information to the show producers.
When a reporter is ready to speak to the show’s audience on TV, they use a cell phone to call a special number where they can hear what the anchor says. This is called “dialing IFB.” They read the script they wrote, hopefully the control room doesn’t screw up and the video, soundbites, and graphics all work perfectly. Once they’re finished, they have to try to get more interviews with people involved while keeping an eye on what is happening with the story that they’re covering, because as new things happen, they have to update their script or package, because they have to do this process all over again in an hour for the next show.
Cable TV shows
Opinion, analysis, and live events are the priority for cable TV shows. The Gen Z equivalent of cable TV is a Twitch streamer, and the Gen Z equivalent of broadcast TV is any news website.
Like in local news, show producers decide what goes on TV, although on many shows, the anchor is the most senior show producer and decides what to cover.
During daytime, show producers normally reserve the first ten minutes of every hour for reporters delivering factual, nonpartisan reports from around the country. The remaining 50 minutes of the hour is live interviews with politicians or analysis from experts. Sometimes shows decide to interrupt their regular news for important events which have cameras sending back a livestream.
When the sun goes down, primetime begins, and shows focus on opinion and analysis from experts. Anchors generally write their own scripts (or rewrite their scripts to put them in their own voice) but every show is different. Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilly famously dictated his scripts over the phone every day in the back of his limo between arguments with his driver.
Shows begin their day by holding a meeting where they decide which stories are most important, any possible breaking news or live events that might interrupt their normal show (happens a LOT, especially during daytime), and which guests they want to ask to come on the show.
Show producers like to ask politicians to come on the show. Most anchors decide which questions they want to ask, but some anchors let producers come up with the questions. The anchor can ask them questions about what they plan to do to fix the country, hold them accountable for their actions, or get them to respond to accusations from other politicians. These interviews are often scheduled near the beginning of the hour, usually immediately after correspondents from around the country give their reports.
Show producers search Twitter, the Associated Press feed, and niche publications for interesting stories to do VOSOTs about. They search for knowledgeable or interesting guests to discuss those stories, then create graphics and find video and soundbites to accompany the story.
Show producers are responsible for their show taking exactly 60 minutes, 0 seconds, and 0 milliseconds. Every video clip shown is timed down to the millisecond. A built-in calculator in our specialized news software (Avid iNews) calculates the time it takes to speak every syllable. All of this timing information is added to a gigantic multiplayer spreadsheet accessible by everyone that integrates directly with our control room equipment. Here is a video of what happens in a local control room. Here is a video where you can hear what people working in the control room say when things go wrong.
Broadcast TV shows rely heavily on their bureau reporters and local news stations across the country to provide liveshots and packages. You can generally trust everything broadcast TV airs, they aim to be unbiased and are paid to be unbiased.
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