On Media Affordances: Broadcast vs. Print
Reading an early 1970s account of television news practices and history, Edward J. Epstein's News from Nowhere
, I was struck by a passage discussing Fred Friendly's
ultimately disasterous (to his career) attempts to provide expanded coverage of Congressional hearings.
Broadcast and print are, as is hopefully obvious, two different media, with two different affordances.
In particular, broadcast offers a cheaply expanded audience
, whilst print offers cheaply expanded content
In broadcast, time is expensive --- there are only 24 hours in a day, and normal news coverage is typically a small fraction of that. On the other hand, interest parties can tune in to a broadcast without creating additional load, and a signature of breaking news (or other high-interest events, with sport being the canonical example), audience reach
is effectively free to the broadcaster, at least within a given coverage region.
(Extended networks, cable, and more recently, online distribution, change this dynamic somewhat, but not markedly.)
In print, content depth
can be expanded reasonbly cheaply, though additional readership
scales only directly with the size of a print run. Where that can be predicted, additional distribution is possible. Since advertising space
increases with pages printed, it's possible to extend ads coverage with special sections, most espeically for predictable events (e.g., ritual, scheduled games or celebrations, etc.). But as a general basis, print can be extended if needed
, and even without
additional advertising, a few additional pages of text are a reasonably cheap mode of providing detailed additional depth-of-coverage.
As such, print and broadcast are somewhat complementary. This becomes more apparent in the online world, which has an option of multimedia (audio or A/V content), and
links to more detailed text descriptions (often published reports, in digial-consumable formats, whether HTML, PDF, ePub, Kindle .mobi, Kobo, or the like).
Fred Friendly was, to an extent, fighting the affordances
of his system in trying to run additional coverage, though other options (say, a less-expensive, audio-only radio adjunct which could run hearing testimony, or some sort of audio-record distribution, difficult in a period of physical recording media) would have been options.
This is probably bog-obvious to media studies / media professional types, but seems to me at least a not-conspicuously-addressed element of the domain.
Summarizing, for print and broadcast:Print:
- Can expand content
- Detailed text.
- Cheap remote filing. (Epstein focuses in depth on the phenomenal costs and limited capabilities of remote / on-location video production.)
- Telegraph, telex, phoned report.
- Limited by expressiveness of print.
- Printing capacity (number of copies) is finite. Copy (story length) is cheap, copies (print run) are expensive.
- Readership can choose what and when to read, but must engage actively when they do so.
- Durable & compact (facilitates archives / libraries).
- Can expand audience.
- Demonstrated image and motion.
- Limited remote locations ("long lines" costs, limited remote bureaux).
- Slowed by film / video processing requirements (this was the 1960s / early 1970s).
- Time is epensive, audience is cheap.
- Audience must attend, live or after the fact. Simultaneous in the case of broadcast.
- Ephemeral. Storage is bulky, volatile, difficult to index/search/access.
Digital seems to share aspects of each, though the ultimate story is ... more complex.
Get this from a library! News from nowhere : television and the news. [Edward Jay Epstein] -- "In an age when more of the American public relies on television for its news than any other medium, Edward Jay Epstein's detailed, probing analysis of the decision-making process in network news ...www.worldcat.org