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First published in Web Journal of Modern Language Linguistics in association with the publishers (to be announced). © 1997 Hugh Dauncey.
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The blurring of distinctions between different forms and genres of television is a well-known phenomenon in the contemporary audiovisual media. Often taking cues from American examples of television, European TV programmes are increasingly seeking new formats and styles of presentation to continue to attract viewers and advertising ratings in an increasingly competitive context. In the preface to this interesting study, Wittven cites early-morning breakfast shows, mid-day magazine programmes, afternoon talk shows, early-evening sitcoms and game shows, prime-time reality TV and late-night shows as examples of these new programming trends. A feature of the development of programming has been the inclusion of 'entertainment' elements in programmes whose brief is not entertainment but education, or the transmission of news information. The catchy neologism 'infotainment' has been coined to describe this 'hybrid' form of programme used especially by private TV channels to make their news programmes as attractive as possible to viewers.
The study of these developments can involve almost any discipline from sociology, psychology, linguistics, marketing, but Wittven's analysis chooses to combine two main elements of interpretation: firstly a 'phenomenological' perspective on the journalists' presentational style (including linguistic analysis), and secondly a quantitative breakdown of the presence of 'entertainment' elements in the programmes. This twin-track analysis is applied to corpuses of German, American and Australian news programmes including 'RTL aktuell', 'SAT-1 Blick', 'Aktuelle Stunde' (WEST 3) 'Tagesschau' (ARD), 'heute' (ZDF), 'Newsmagazin' (SAT. 1) and 'Welt Vox' (Vox) for Germany, PBS, ABC, CBS, NBC and CNN evening news programmes from the US and ABC, SBS, SEVEN, NINE and TEN news programmes from Australia. The choice of news programmes for analysis reflects the roots of the phenomenon of infotainment in commercial competition. Wittven's study is careful to define the context of hybridisation between entertainment and information as one of a struggle for ratings and advertising, and looks at the contrasting experiences of public service and private sector channels in the three countries.
In the analysis of the presentational style of the new programmes a number of elements are studied in detail, covering the use of headline titles, the use of different presenter styles and formats, the style and content of short news flashes, the style and content of short news reports forming part of a longer news broadcast, live reports, interviews and news commentary. Interestingly, a (too brief) section also considers what are termed 'experimental' presentational formats such as for-and-against debates, phone-ins and quizzes. Much of the breakdown of how these programmes function relies on speech-act approaches to what is said and how the presenters, reporters and other participants interact linguistically, making this book of interest to those involved in conversational analysis as well as to students of the non-verbal elements of TV interaction.
One of Wittven's conclusions is that American and German infotainment represent opposing poles of the new trends in programming, with the Australian examples constituting the middle ground in the conflict between more traditional forms of presentation and innovative market-ratings driven entertainment style of US news programmes, where the highly personalised style of anchor presenters and glitzy headline techniques characterise format and style. The study originated as a doctoral thesis and is at times rather dense. It is however of interest to anyone interested in German media, especially from a linguistic and cultural standpoint, and the extensive bibliography provided will serve as a useful springboard for further research. All in all, a useful source of information, examples and ideas.