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Fox News versus BBC

I chose to compare foxnews.com with bbc.co.uk in their coverage of the 2006 mid term elections because I wanted to see if there was any difference in how two major news sources covered the elections. The internet has become both a major tool and a major hinderance to the user. It is convenient, ready to surrender information at a mouse click, but at the same time it encourages a sort of “fast food� approach to the news, where there can be very little substance because of the emphasis of time and volume over anything else. I wanted to see if this is a localized thing, to our country alone or if it's an international affair.

Chronicle:

Foxnews.com
-On 2006 midterm election page: Large, angry picture of Rep. Jack Murtha
-Bright, primary colors pervade everything, as well as stars. There's a deep, prevailing theme of the flag recurring on their website. The two most popular colors are red and blue, with white and gold rounding out the top four.
Election Map Ticker: very basic, just numbers, and whether Republican or Democrat
Short video clips are always available, with a header such as “Disappointed President� or “Democrats Duel�
Focus on individuals, politicians, or states.
Lots of ads on the page as well.
Pictures are always big, bright.
Pictures of candidates are normally unflattering (ex. Murtha angrily pointing, blurred picture of Hillary Clinton, or a very upset George Allen conceding.)
Articles focus on the immediate outcomes, and upcoming/ developing news stories.
Everything's in lists, long lists on the web page. On the left, there is always their list of topics a person can view on that website and generally on the right there's a list of ads as well as video clips.
This trains the eye to the center, which is normally started with a large header such as “Pelosi Backs Murtha's Bid for Majority Leader,� a large, normally unflattering picture of said person, and a short blurb on the article.
Then this is separated by the rest of the article by an advertisement. In faint gray it'll say that the story is continued below, but it's easy to miss.
This encourages the person to stop reading for a variety of reasons.
First, advertisements are abhorrent. They in general tend to dissuade me from reading if I'm assaulted with ads for Viagra or something alerting me about the dangers of uncontrollable bowel movements.
Its structured as a quick news fix. That's why you get a large header, a short blurb and a large visual. After the advertisement break you get the actual body of the article, which has very little pictures, and maybe a few links to different sources.
When you look at the body of the article, it's unappealing. It's normally on a plain white background, without any bright primary colors to make you happy or any associations with the flag or anything else to entice.
- There are links that intersperse articles of people and different places, which leads you to further articles on the Foxnews website.
Normally, the farther down the page you go, the more actual substance you get. Also, the pictures get fewer and fewer as you proceed down the page
People in America as well as most of western countries read from left to right, and this is also employed in the website. On the left is normally a menu of everything the website has to offer, as in different sections, different pages you can go to. In the middle you have the actual article and on the right, you have a long list of videos or related topics.
This is something that's also used in the theater, and a traditional method actor will recognize that people generally look from left to right, concentrating more on things as they go. So they will position themselves accordingly, depending on their role.
The left column is just plain blue writing on an off bluish white background, whereas the middle column is headed in blue, accompanied by a large, bright picture and a little blurb. Finally the right column normally has a large, bright blue box full of “feature� videos and another eye catching picture of a politician as a supplement to the video headers.
This format never strays, regardless of what page you're on.
News in one language: English

Videos/ Broadcast:
- The inflection of the voice is very noticible. Certain words are emphasized more than others
Useless video montages of people talking, where there's no relevance to the actual story.
Lots of commercials on the videos, one per every video clip.
Broadcaster emphasizes things with his eyebrows- very energetic.
Only four colors used on TV/ videos: red, white, blue, and gold
Foxnews icon in upper left hand corner has flag waving in it's background
Big, brightly colored letters on the bottom of the screen for captions.
When they switch topics, you can tell, since they have a loud, graphic montage where the fox news symbol sweeps over the screen, denoting change.
Green only used with “Fox and friends� and softer news shows.
Head bobs, head tilts, blinking, head nods all used to change the weight of a sentence.
Frowning seems to be en vogue.

BBC.co.uk

On 2006 midterm election page: Big map of America
Colors are mellow, where a red or maroon seems to be the favored color, accompanied by white and shades of blue. Although these are the colors that comprise the Union Jack, there is no explicit reference to it. (ex. No cross of St. Andrew)
Still employs the tri columned format to their websites, but pictures are smaller, and there's more writing.
The page is broken up into smaller sections with headers, a picture and then a list of related articles below.
Pictures are in general more accomodating to the subject.
Religion is openly talked about, and the election is broken down into divisions between the differing religions and subgroups.
Its also analyzed by Christian Right versus everyone else and Fiscal Conservatives versus Christian Right.
BBC election ticker shows results from the last four elections.
The map is one color, tan, and on a faint background of the flag. The colors are not bright nor gaudy
Information on the election ticker goes more in depth.
Per each state, it gives a summary of all the big election results as well as anything notable, such as Ellison's election being a first for a Muslim.
This is in conjunction with all of the statistics and numbers of the election as well as the preceding three elections.
Reliance on more statistics and pie charts in general.
The emphasis in articles is the long term implications for the political scene in Washington, as well as broader subjects.
Furthermore, there are just a few video clips and more links to the full broadcast.
Clip links occasionally have pictures to accompany them but they often times just have a header and a little video button.
There's still sensationalism, but it's a much more subdued sort of affair. The pictures are not as dramatic, and neither are the headlines.
One really interesting feature on the midterm election page is a subpage where they encourage people to write in with what they think about the election and the ramifications of the turnover.
It's structured like one long blog where they just post comment after comment.
The only thing is that they do moderate it, weed out anything too explicit.
Lots of profiles on candidates.
Sent out a lot of their reporters and had them keep up blogs when the election wrangling was in its fervor.
Some are funny, some serious. Apparently grits are very close to porridge.
Have links to other interesting blogs from different news sources, both in the United States and abroad.
Gives a good view of what the Brits think about our politics
Interesting in the sense that you see these reporters regularly on the BBC and so it's nice to get more of an in depth look at what their own political inclinations are. It's something nice to keep in the back of your mind when you're watching them on TV or on a video clip, what if any bias they might subconsciously possess in reporting that story.
Something you don't see Chris Wallace or Brit Hume doing.
- Emphasis on other ways of getting news. Big, pictured links for email news, mobiles, alerts, news feeds and podcasts.
Most if not all are free
- Have a complete section detailing where the BBC gets it's election coverage source (AP) and it actually gives a complete rundown of the electoral process.
The articles themselves are very straight forward, they are separated by unobtrusive headings in black and there is a minimalist approach to appearance and theme.
Breaks down wins and losses in terms of House versus Senate, not necessarily just Democrat versus Republican.
BBC News's icon is a picture of the world.
News in 33 different languages.

Video/ TV Broadcast:
Less inflection of the voice
colors subdued, even clothing.
Less emphasis on the reporter and more on the story.
Little known information such as the fact that Harry Reid used to be a prize fighter boxer.
Interviews with experts from different thinktanks.
Dramatization of words, not necessarily visual.
Only saw reporter once in the entire clip, and that was at the end, when he was closing his segment, and identified himself.
Very little clutter on the screen.
Lots of interviews in general, even with lay people.
Focus on ideas, on general mood and opinion.
Not uncommon not to see the reporter at all.
Lots of video footage of events as well, but more focused, with a lot of audio.
Word usage is very important and indicates more than anything else
Even their evening news emphasizes world politics, not just in the UK
More maps used, and the graphics are much simpler. You see the graphics not the reporters.
Lots more exclusive reports
Seems like stress on quality not quantity.


Context:
The 2006 midterm election was identified early on as a key election, which is not always the case for midterm elections. Growing dissent over the handling of Iraq as well as domestic affairs have made people weary of the current administration. There is also a new movement from the Liberal Democrats where they do openly express their faith. Interestingly enough, several prominent “surefire� candidates on both ends of the spectrum were forced out of their party, like Joseph Lieberman for the Democrats and Kathleen Harris for Republicans.

Foxnews is a cable news source created rather recently, in fact it is just celebrating it's 10th year on the air. One of it's more well known phrases “fair and balanced news� has come under heavy criticism as some critics have contended that this is a thinly veiled attempt for the Christian Right to enter into a new medium: cable television. This has been rather vehenemently denied by the Right but the issue remains unresolved. In it's short duration, this news source has garnered some attention when one of it's reporters, Tony Snow became press secretary for the White House. Additionally, they have such noted reporters such as Geraldo Rivera and Chris Wallace, son of Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes. Rivera made additional controversy during the initial attack of Bush 43's administration in Iraq when he drew a map in the sand detailing where he was embedded with the army, a noted militaristic tactical error. Furthermore Rivera later went on to cover Hurricane Katrina, where he was seen saving infants, which was later to become parodied on many late night programs.

BBC News is reportedly the second largest news broadcaster in the world now, and it has a strong emphasis in not only local news but rather global news. They started in 1922 on radio, and in the subsequent years, change has always been welcomed. The network has undergone several changes and revampings but nonetheless has endured. Recently in 2003, the BBC was embroiled in a scandal involving an allegation that the Labour Party had “sexed up� the case for going to war in Iraq. In the ensuing inquiry, the Hutton Inquiry, the allegations made by a BBC 4 Radio host were found to be completely inaccurate. Criticism ran high and it was repeatedly asked why the BBC had not investigated the claim further before making such a brash move. This severely damaged the credibility of the BBC at a time when they were up for a charter renewal.


Analysis and Discussion:

When I undertook this assignment I did not honestly think that there would be much of a difference between one news agency to another, despite a difference in locality. What I found however, was much to the contrary. One of the most interesting things for me was the availability of information. Not necessarily just the quantity but also the quality. While Fox news seemed to hold the monopoly on information about the midterm election, it wasn't as good in quality as the BBC. With the latter, you had more in depth coverage and explanation of issues, including a Q & A section of the website where they clearly delineated the electoral process, as well as the calling process for the news media. Additionally the BBC explained exactly where their sources came from, perhaps in response to the aforementioned Hutton Inquiry. People could argue that Fox news already supposes that the audience is well informed about the electoral process, but if you were to look at the information further, you'd see that there's a greater emphasis on a short amount of news per story, but many different stories. With the BBC, they're also not afraid to try different methods of information as well, such as that dispersed by blogs. It gave the viewer an interesting look at the individual reporters and their inherent biases. Not only did it help the reader establish some sort of repoire with the people who bring their news, but it gave you an idea of how your news is filtered. News is media, which is like a prism, filtering the news through it, perhaps distorting it, but indelibly leaving an impression on how its presented.

Fox News in general struck me as an example of “McDonaldization� actually. Here you have all this information barraging you, outlined in bright, primary, patriotic colors but if you look at the content of the information, it is almost insulting. It supposes that the person has a short attention span, or is incredibly pressed for time, so it offers the sensational, eye catching right up front whereas the actual depth of the article is submerged under advertisements. The pictures were also a bother since they were large, gaudy and did not render anything constructive to the issues they were associated with. This was in strong contrast to the BBC which took a minimalist, if there really can be one on the internet. Instead of glaring allusions to the Union Jack, the color theme was in maroon and black primarily, accented with softer, fainter colors. While it sounds trivial, I think it actually brings up a good point about preparing the reader. We all take in subconscious signals and when you're innundated with all of these symbols of patriotism you can't help but feel something, whether revulsion that such tactics have to be used or perhaps a grudging feeling or association of happiness.

One thing that I thought particularly interesting was the fact that both websites employed left-right techniques. Method actors are trained that people traditionally read from left to right and accordingly shape where they are on stage or screen depending on the prominence of their characters. This is apparently applicable to more than the performing arts. Fox always had the gaudy, the flashy on the right, in big, brightly colored boxes with a smaller article in the middle. It was furthermore cut horizontally by an advertisement, so the top half was the most appealing, with a large, unflattering picture of the candidate in question, a big header and a short summary of the story. I found that the advertisement encouraged the reader not to continue on with the story, and the full facts that were located in the severed body of the article. BBC employed a similar strategy, by having videos in the right hand corner, and the articles were located in the middle column. But where Fox news relied on large pictures of the candidates, BBC relied on charts and graphs. With the latter, I found that in general they favored statistical charts over other types of visuals and that it was referenced over years, not at a certain point in time. Which is not to say that BBC didn't use pictures, but that they were smaller, and less distracting.

After a while, I didn't believe that I could find such large differences between the two news organizations so I also looked to their television broadcasts and their video clips. What I found however was just more of the same, just in a different medium. Particularly interesting was the inflection of the words. Both broadcasts were guilty of this, but in different ways. Fox news had reporters and anchors that overexaggerated their words. It is remarkable how the tone of a word changes with a misplaced emphasis on one syllable over another. To supplement this, they also traditionally used other facial indicators such as expressively waving their eyebrows to further illustrate their point. Some would do a body tilt as well, or lean in to the table if they found something rather significant. BBC had some exaggeration as well, but it was in a more subtle form. The inflection of words wasn't nearly as noticible, and there was a drier sense of subcommentary. It might not necessarily be what was said, but rather what was omitted. Additionally, you hardly ever saw the reporters in the field. They would report on their piece, but it was primarily a voice over, and if the viewer was lucky, you'd see the reporter at the end as they signed off. Again in general, even though there was still considerable amount of exaggeration and playing to the sensational, a more noticible part of the broadcast with the BBC was devoted to facts, to the actual story, as well as a multicultural approach that was lacking with Fox.

Ultimately, both mediums work. Realistically they both deliver the news in a timely fashion. But the crux of this lies with the reader/ audience. What sort of audience do they want to be? Even with a medium like the internet, there are important differences in the content that they receive. Do they just want the drive thru version of the news, quick with a lot of sparkle and little substance? Or would they rather take a little longer and get a little more substance, information? Perhaps it is more comforting to see news that is filtered through a medium that supposedly more closely aligns with your political ideologies than more diversified news. I truly think that there is some sort of underlying comfort in consensus of opinions that shouldn't be ignored in comparing these different news sources. It all depends on the prism you choose to see the world through, the paradigm.