Drama or melodrama? Perceptions and definitions of television news by Chilean editors

TitleDrama or melodrama? Perceptions and definitions of television news by Chilean editors
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Mujica, C., and I. Bachmann
Affiliation (1st Author)Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile
Section or WGJournalism Research and Education Section
DateSat 29 June
Slot CodeJRE S1b
Slot Code (Keyword)JRE S1b
Time of Session9:00-10:30
Session TitleCreative Destruction & Media Hostility: Painful Professional Realities Theme III: Professional Journalism
Submission ID5674

Several studies have addressed drama and emotion’s role in television news. However, for all the appraisals of the emotional appeal of audiovisual messages, there is an important line if inquiry that condemns the use –or abuse– of these features in television news, often regarding drama and emotion as opposed to quality journalism, and linking them to infotainment, tabloidization, and melodrama. Such approaches ignore the cultural resonance of melodrama in regions like Latin America, and the discussion about it in the Latin American theoretical tradition. They also pay little attention to newsworkers’ perceptions about dramatic news events and theirmelodramatic treatment. Yet the literature shows that news content presentation depends to a great extent on standardized forms of news production, editorial decision-making, management characteristics, and property structure. Based on in-depth interviews with 14 news editors from four over-the-air networks in Chile, conducted in July and August 2012, this study explores what television journalists make of TV news storytelling and how they understand melodrama’s role in their newscasts. Interviewees were responsible for the main newscasts in Televisión Nacional,  a publicly-owned network, funded through advertisement; Canal 13, which belonged to the Catholic University —and assumed public service functions— until 2010, when it went on to be controlled by privates ; and MEGA and Chilevisión (CHV), two commercial networks. Findings reveal a common perception among Chilean editors of audiovisual language as inherently dramatic —emotional and close. This was positively framed as a “potential” of television news that let viewers relate empathically to news events. Rather than detrimental to informing about socially relevant events, it was perceived as complementary to that social mandate. Emotionalization and personalization were seen as a key communicative potential of television journalism. Emotion was described as an inextricable part of reality, and thus its reporting and portrayal was considered necessary for an accurate coverage of events. Most interviewees considered “regular people’s stories” as a way to engage their audiences with significant issues and to  explain abstract elements otherwise too distant to viewers. They also deemed necessary the use of audiovisual rhetorical procedures to inform about emotions and to attract audiences’ attention. For instance, interviewees spoke about including close-ups of faces that “say it all,” the repetition of “emotional images to captivate the audience” showcased by the use of  slow motion. Melodrama was negatively framed as an excess of emotion that supersedes the rational core of information. None of the interviewees described their work as melodramatic. That said, editors from commercial stations saw the line of what was acceptable as more flexible, accepting higher levels of emotionalization, whereas the editors from public service networks considered themselves as having a more detached audiovisual language. These findings suggest that for these editors, the problem (or prejudice) is in the label “melodrama” and not in using techniques that past literature has defined as melodramatic. This also highlights the importance of expanding this line of inquiry, and the current literature on television news features by considering the Latin American conceptualizations of melodrama.

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