Creative Paths to Television Journalism

by Jacek Dabala (Author)
©2015 Monographs 184 Pages


The book is a scholarly and creative consideration of audiovisual broadcasting and what makes a TV performance professional. It combines an academic approach to TV News with a practical understanding of production and the new pressures bearing down on the industry. Combining a real-world understanding with a scholarly approach, it offers valuable new insights for aspiring journalists, students, researchers and lecturers into what is still the most powerful medium for news and information in the world.
«This book is an exciting and challenging look at how we can understand the way we regard people and how we create and make public our views of them in and through television. The author provides a critically engaging and detailed analysis of the practical aspects of television journalism and the ethical values replete within it as well as how it is complicit in the construction of the manifold mediated identities of those caught up in the increasingly two-way relationship between broadcaster and audience. This is a wide ranging and well researched account of the dynamics of the significance and impact of television journalism in all its richness and ambiguity.»
(Prof. Jackie Harrison, Chair, Centre for Freedom of the Media (CFOM), Joint Head of Department and Director of Research Department of Journalism Studies, University of Sheffield, UK)

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • From the Author
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • I. The Priority of Dramaturgy
  • 1. The essence of media thinking
  • A. Dramaturgy—definition of the term and and its limitations
  • B. The functioning of dramaturgy in television
  • C. Making the concept pragmatic
  • 2. Plot and Suspense in the News
  • A. Making the news “fresh”
  • B. Journalistic practice, hard facts and “packaging”
  • C. Audiovisual components of television and the experience of creative writing
  • D. Infotainment and the standards of informing
  • E. The boundaries of infotainment
  • F. Defining and eliminating boredom
  • G. The multiplication of the news
  • 3. The Quasi-Dramaturgy of Localness
  • A. Determined by location
  • B. Dearth of exciting events
  • C. Fewer journalists—more mediocrity
  • D. Faking it
  • 4. Between Sound and Picture
  • A. The paradox of our visual and linguistic needs
  • B. Making choices
  • C. Sound as commentary to vision
  • D. Sound vs picture
  • E. Redundancy and necessity of words
  • F. The status of the image
  • G. Sound and picture—potential developments
  • H. Indeterminacy of visual information and the need to make meaning explicit
  • I. The role of sound in counteracting randomnenss of interpretation
  • J. Attracting the viewer’s attention
  • K. The visual potential of words
  • 5. The Changing Style of Presenting Information
  • A. Mental rootedness and hypothetical development
  • B. The influence of viewers on television broadcasting
  • B.1. Political-determinative influence
  • B.2. The populist-emotional influence
  • B.3. The business—initiating influence
  • B.4. The civic—creative influence
  • B.5. The hacker—technical influence
  • 6. Initiative and Creativity in Television Journalism
  • A. Creativity as an element of initiative
  • B. Affirmation of initiative in journalism
  • C. Consequences of restrictions on creativity and initiative
  • D. Attitude to the profession and metaphysics
  • E. Responding to the myth of “individuated” programmes
  • II. Affirmation of the Art of Presentation
  • 1. The value of TV presenters
  • 2. Telegenity
  • A. Appearance
  • A.1. Clothing
  • A.2. Facial expressions
  • A.3. Body acting
  • A.4. How to sit, how to stand
  • B. Personality
  • C. Educating TV presenters—the preliminaries
  • 3. Pitfalls
  • A. Telegenic pitfalls
  • A.1. Being attractive
  • A.2. Over- and under-estimating good looks
  • A.3. Pitfalls created by the presenter’s personality
  • B. Physical hazards
  • B.1. Physical hazards caused by the presenter
  • B.2. Physical hazards caused by external factors
  • C. Psychological pitfalls
  • C.1. Predictable psychological pitfalls
  • C.2. Unpredictable psychological pitfalls
  • 4. Self-Presentation
  • A. How to speak
  • A.1. Language—use and misuse
  • A.2. The pace
  • B. Establishing contact with the viewer
  • B.1. Failure to establish contact with the viewer
  • B.2. How to look at the audience
  • C. Tiredness and the necessity to ‘adrenalise’
  • D. Openness to criticism
  • E. Relationship with the television crew
  • F. The profession of presenter as an art
  • The Future
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index of Names
  • About the Author
  • About the Book

From the Author

Having watched and analysed hundreds of programmes from all over the world, I saw a need of friendly (i.e., optimistic and creative rather than critical) input into improving the quality of television journalism, as well as of initiating new ways of thinking about how to work in and to study the media. It seems to me that mutual stimulation and closer co-operation between the journalistic and academic communities would benefit both, so that theory and practice influence each other more, with journalists more aware of the research into their professional performance, and academics better able to inspire the practitioners to produce programmes that make important contributions to their communities. In a world where information has a global reach, this needs to take place mainly at the international level.

I look at TV journalism through the prism of varied experience of many years—as a former radio and TV journalist, a writer with ten popular novels of various genres to his credit, a successful screenwriter as well as a lecturer and researcher into the subject of media studies. To some extent, this book continues the research published in my Mystery and Suspense in Creative Writing (Zurich and Berlin: Lit Verlag, 2012), which focuses on the most practical rules for producing dramatic impact in a media work (in literature but also in audiovisual media) and in other forms of communication. I suggest that the basis of creating media works in practice should be “dissertational thinking”, a creative and insightful approach adopted in scholarly research which can determine the quality of televisual output. This is an open-ended approach which can be successfully applied in journalism, particularly in the assessment of programmes and people who appear in them. I am sure that both beginners and experienced practitioners, including the “stars” working for the most famous networks, can always improve their performance if they take a critical and detached attitude to their work. It may also mean finding new inspiration and escape from a routine that may grow stale, however successful it might be.

At many points in my reflections on television programmes I simply point to the possible ways of moving forward, trying to stimulate the “dissertational thinking” approach; sometimes this demands highly focused reading, as well as a preparedness to use one’s imagination and engage with new ideas. I thus regard the issue of creating dramatic impact and telegenity as a challenge to all those who strive for perfection in the field of audiovisual communications. ← 9 | 10 →

← 10 | 11 →


Having prepared the manuscript of this book for publication, I asked a number of experts and media researchers whose opinions I particularly value for their comments on it. I would like to thank them for the time they devoted to reading the manuscript in spite of the pressure of professional duties, for maintaining email contact with me, and of course for their comments. That is the kind of open and inspiring collaboration between specialists and scholars in the field of journalism and communication studies throughout the world which I imagined and hoped for. I would like to express my particular gratitude to Professor Jane L. Curry from Santa Clara University in California (USA), Professor Jackie Harrison from the University of Sheffield (UK), Profesor Ivor Gaber from University of Sussex (UK), Professor Dan Gillmor from the Arizona State University (USA), Professor Susan King from UNC Chapel Hill (USA), and Professor Richard Sambrook from the University of Cardiff (UK).

My separate and heartfelt thanks go to Dr Zofia Weaver, my excellent friend from the UK, without whose friendly help, competence and creative criticism I do not think the English version of book would have been written. I would also like to thank my students and my co-workers in the worlds of journalism and academia for their valuable opinions and comments. ← 11 | 12 →

← 12 | 13 →


The well-known ironic contention that “everybody knows all about television because everybody watches it” reflects the fact that viewers can express their opinions without any sense of humility about their lack of expertise. As a result, in media communication, the axiological and practical criteria blur, and more often than not, the journalistic profession, and professions within the communications industry in general, become caricaturised.1 This collision of mass culture, the demands of the market, journalistic ambitions, common sense, and the hedonisation of values2 within this particular form of entertainment, is thus worthy of attention.

The purpose of this book is to present a number of important aspects of working in television, especially from the journalistic perspective, but also from the wider perspective of media communications. In addition to evaluating the categories of television programmes in their various forms, we will draw attention to those elements and solutions which are rarely, if ever, discussed, as well as those which are well-known and frequently subjected to detailed analysis. The book thus attempts to discuss work in television on many levels in terms of various selected contexts. Specific television genres will be referred to frequently, but they are not the main focus of this study. The two aspects considered here—regarded by Michael Wedel, a German media historian, as the most important aspects of the work of the journalist—are the understanding of media dramaturgy, and the understanding of the art of presentation, or “transmedia narrative techniques.” Both reflect not only a new maturity in approaches to the subject of audiovisual communication, but also a sensitivity to the needs of the viewers. Both have also been insufficiently explored; dramaturgy tends to be examined mainly within the field of theatre and film, while the art of presentation (included in Wedel’s concept of immersive world creation) has been discussed only ← 13 | 14 → in the most general terms,3 usually ignoring such aspects as complementarity, holism, or what might be described as the philosophy of screen performance. How relevant these currently unresolved issues are is suggested by numerous statements reflecting the confusion as to how the media should develop. In a review by one of the most famous American television anchors, Ted Koppel, there is talk of bridging “the old world of serious political reporting with the new kingdom of talk (…),”4 while the columnist Greg Veis, examining the workings of cable television, notes the paradox associated with the style of communication in the conventions of “flattering monotony,” imitating the British press model, and the current, often abused, TV technologies.5 It appears that dramaturgy and the art of presenting are becoming increasingly complex, and require continuous updating. Yet it may be the case that the solutions applied previously are not completely irrelevant, and modern media communications may only appear more sophisticated, satisfying and well-understood. One might well ask how far the “kingdom of talk,” with the immediacy created by its lack of boundaries, the myth of technology, the mystification of truth, eclecticism, confusion of different semantic levels, and the primacy of celebrity culture, embodies the intellectual, practical and aesthetic values which are regarded as universal. Mass media, by creating the illusion of participation and direct contact with reality, can encourage apathy and passivity while appearing to bring engagement and enlightenment. The range of challenges facing the future of television journalism is thus not ephemeral and irrelevant; it is timeless, and it is also deeply personalistic in all areas of professional competence.

Thinking about television and other media, we must take into account a number of specific aspects, often looking at the same ones from different points of view.6 When, for example, talking about dramaturgy, many nuances of television theory and practice are immediately revealed, such as drama in language, speech and image, drama in the forms of written and spoken word, and the differences introduced into communication by specific descriptions; we are also dealing here ← 14 | 15 → with the drama of shots, sets, locations, and lighting, with the dramaturgy of presenting the news or a current affairs programme, with the dramaturgy of facial expressions, gesture, timbre, tempo and the euphony of the phrases used, as well as the dramaturgy of news components, their composition, the storylines, beginnings and endings. Dramaturgy, like the art of presentation, expresses itself in a myriad of details on the borders of many disciplines, including acting, directing, philology, anthropology, philosophy, computer sciences, graphics, design, fashion, cinematography, photography, choreography, musicology, psychology, sociology, political science, statistics, geography and the law, as well as theatre studies, film studies, hermeneutics, and creative writing. These elements are part of contemporary media studies both in areas that are well-established and those requiring new approaches, transformation or expansion. Discussion and thinking about television needs to be aware of this complexity, since “their [the media’s] autonomous power of influence and importance in the socio-politico-economic system, as well as the constantly increasing scale and complexity of their diversity, is forcing rapid development in the field of media studies research.”7

In this book, the latest technical developments in the media have been deliberately excluded from the discussion but, there are references to the current possibilities of television recording, transmission, equipment or software. Certainly, the new technologies are important, but not the most important; true knowledge of TV journalism develops through thinking about creative styles and their implications, rather than about the constantly changing technology. Reflecting about the universal issues as they affect journalistic practice, about the human contexts and ways of “putting the message across,” is always relevant to the journalistic profession. These issues do fall within the essential textbook knowledge about the practical aspects of the profession (including frame selection, sound recording or lighting); on the other hand, the ever-changing technology is always subservient to the creativity and intelligence of programme editors and producers.

There is an obvious need for a thorough examination of television’s influence, and for developing professional sensitivity in television journalism. The observations and conclusions arrived at in this book obviously cannot provide an exhaustive analysis of how television works; the intention is to take a step towards a better understanding of the world’s most popular medium, and a recognition of the complexities of the work of a TV journalist. Television is an ever-changing ← 15 | 16 → medium, and this does not encourage day-to-day in-depth analysis, while media experts tend to conduct their research in isolation, distancing themselves from the subject in an effort to be as objective as possible.

Paul Attallah, an expert on communication and journalism, makes the claim that “one of the features of studies on television may be their institutional fragmentation. No discipline has claimed television exclusively as its own nor has television generated its own stable set of questions or methods. (…).”8 Perhaps this multidisciplinary nature of the subject, and the gap between the teaching and practice of journalism, demands that we start by mastering this diversity, in order to gain confidence in the validity of the research and the means of translating the knowledge acquired into practical solutions. Maybe Attalah’s suggestion that it is also important to “generate new knowledge itself and new questions”9 will influence the academic and the journalistic communities to open up to each other. Just because this has been difficult, even impossible, to achieve in the past, does not mean that failure is a foregone conclusion.

TV and press journalists, and those who work with them, do not usually have the time to read research results or to carry out critical analyses of their efforts. Furthermore, on the fringes of the deeper theoretical and practical interest in communications we find a multi-layered nebula of press officers, PR people, directors, actors, film producers, historians, and editors of media publications.

In this context, the flow of information needed to expand the opportunities for improving skills is clearly insufficient. There is a lack of differentiation, a tendency to ignore the results of current research on media communications, and limiting one’s knowledge mainly to the popular critical reviews in the press or online; there is also what might be described as resentment and mistrust regarding the need for any professional development. But the problem exists, and needs to be tackled by improving our knowledge about television at different levels, by promoting a mature understanding of the medium regardless of one’s position and role, and learning to be aware of one’s own professional needs (or limitations), something which, if we are honest, simply does not occur to us and, if it does, often seems irrational.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (April)
self-presentation media dramaturgy anchor (presenter) telegenity
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 184 pp.

Biographical notes

Jacek Dabala (Author)

Jacek Dabala is a professor, novelist, screenwriter, and a former TV and radio journalist. Media, communication, literature and film cover the range of his specialization. He is Head of the Department of Media and Axiology at the Catholic University of Lublin and Head of the Independent Section of Communication Skills in Medicine at the Medical University of Lublin (Poland). He has published, i.a. Mystery and Suspense in Creative Writing (2012).


Title: Creative Paths to Television Journalism
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186 pages