IDEA #62. Watch “The PBS NewsHour” on your local public television station for entire week. Do you miss the commercials? Share your thoughts with an interested adult or perhaps your school social studies or history teacher.
There are many positive aspects to engaging with public radio with regard to news and opinion, and the commercial- and sponsor-free national nightly news on the Public Broadcasting System is yet another source of information and ideas. Eschewing sound bites and short clips for extensive reportage on relatively few main stories each evening, “The NewsHour” fills its time slot with thoughtful reports illuminated by expert commentary, often from sages representing several sides of an issue. While a “NewsHour” viewer may not know the latest on the southside warehouse fire or the rollover on the freeway, he or she will likely have watched both Republican and Democratic leaders weigh in on the latest foreign policy proposal or have seen industry spokespeople and environmentalists duke it out on energy issues. Like public radio, PBS news likes to keep the level of discourse high, and full appreciation often presupposes an ongoing knowledge of many issues. Fortunately, this knowledge can be acquired by regular viewing.
Unique to public television news is the absence of commercials. It often comes as a disappointing shock to students to learn that commercial television and radio news are driven, just as entertainment programming is, by the need to keep listeners and viewers from switching the channel—that in a sense, the commercial network news programming is aimed at sustaining viewer interest between commercial breaks, since the sale of commercial minutes to advertisers is what pays the station’s bills. In other words, entertainment decisions determine what is shown on the commercial news and the kind of attention a particular issue receives. By taking a look at commercial-free news, the young viewer can compare the money-making approach with the informational approach.
Here is a great chance for the young viewer to begin a dialogue with a trusted adult about the nature of news and the nature of information in our society. It is hard to imagine an interested family member or teacher not wanting to cheer on any child engaged in this kind of exploration.