Conflict Coverage Promotion: High Quality or High Concept? A multimodal analysis of claims-making in conflict coverage promotional spots of Al Jazeera English and CNN International

©2014 Textbook 94 Pages


Today even the war and conflict coverage of 24-hour news networks is subject to heavy promotion and part of the networks’ advertising and branding campaigns. These commercial aspects of news production, however, seem to oppose concepts of journalistic quality. This study analyses claims of journalistic quality and ‘high concept’ in conflict coverage promotion spots and how they are linked to better understand the ideological complexes of CNN International and Al Jazeera English. The findings show an equal number of quality and ‘high concept’ claims with differences in the nature of the claims between the two networks. Strong patterns are found in quality and ‘high concept’ claims of both 24-hour television news networks. The largest number appears in the visual mode. The research also shows that analysing this kind of media text needs to be multimodal and that a social semiotic approach is appropriate for analysing claims-making and linking in conflict coverage promotional spots.



Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: 24-hour News
2.1 CNN International
2.2 Al Jazeera English

Chapter 3: Literature Review
3.1 Television Studies
3.1.1 Semiotics
3.1.2 Social Semiotics
3.1.3 Hodge’s and Kress’s Ideological complexes
3.2 Branding and High Concept
3.2.1 Film Trailers
3.2.2 TV Promo Spots
3.2.3 High Concept
3.2.4 High Concept in Television News
3.3 Quality
3.3.1 Professional Competence
3.3.2 Moral Competence
3.4 Theoretical Framework
3.5 Research questions

Chapter 4: Methods
4.1 Multimodal Analysis
4.2 Transcription
4.2.1 The Visual Image
4.2.2 Kinesic Action
4.2.3 Voice
4.2.4 Sound
4.3 Linking Analysis
4.3.1 Verbal Linking
4.3.2 Visual Linking
4.3.3 Visual-Verbal Linking
4.4 Analysis
4.5 Pilot Study
4.6 Sample
4.7 Software
4.8 Coding Sheet

Chapter 5: Analysis
5.1 Research Question 1: How is ‘journalistic quality’ represented in conflict coverage promos of CNN International and Al Jazeera English? How do they compare?
5.2 Research Question 2: How is ‘high concept’ represented in conflict coverage promos of CNN International and Al Jazeera English? How do they compare?
5.3 Research Question 3: How do the representations of ‘journalistic quality’ and ‘high concept’ differ?
5.4 Research Question 4: How do the findings relate to the ideological complexes of CNN International and Al Jazeera English?
5.5 Additional Findings:

Chapter 6: Conclusion
6.1 Theoretical Implications
6.2 Methodological reflections
6.3 Personal Reflections


Additional Bibliography


Appendix 1: Multimodal transcription sample including linking of quality claims

Appendix 2: List of videos including links

Appendix 3: Data Sheet

List of Figures/Tables

Figure 2: Multimodal transcription sample sheet including linking analysis of quality claims

Figure 3: Quality claims: implicit/explicit

Figure 4: Most frequent quality claims

Figure 5: Quality claims by mode

Figure 6: Quality linking by mode

Figure 7: Quality linking by mode

Figure 8: Professional and moral competence

Figure 9: Quality: moral competence

Figure 10: Most frequent high concept claims

Figure 11:High concept claims by mode

Figure 12: High concept linking by mode

Figure 13:High concept links by mode

Figure 14: Total claims: quality/high concept

Figure 15: Overall claims by mode

Figure 16: Total links: quality/high concept

Figure 17: Number of links

Figure 18: Total claims: quality/high concept

Figure 19:Overall claims by mode

Figure 20:Overall linking by mode

Table 1: Information Linking. Categories found in conflict coverage promos are grey

Table 2: Adaptations of coding sheet

Table 3: Labels and examples

Table 4: Claims per clip

Table 5: High concept links and claims per clip

Chapter 1: Introduction

Ryszard Kapuscinski once wrote about war reporters that “Our salvation is in striving to achieve what we know we’ll never achieve.”[1] With these simple words, he described not only his personal motivation to travel the world in pursuit of death and destruction, but also outlined a myth about war reporting that seems to prevail even today. This myth depicts war reporting as something untouchable, idealistic and highly virtuous. It takes the genre out of the wider context of commercial news production, of various conflicting interests and is blind to the relevance of the markets. Like anything today, news is business and war reporting does not pose an exception. Several aspects of news operations today even suggest an increasing commercialization of the trade. One of these certainly is the phenomenon of heavy self-promotion and self-advertisement which does not stop short of trying to exploit and benefit from war, conflict and suffering across the world. War is a spectacle - in modern times mainly a television spectacle. Jaramillo claims that “contemporary television news has become a complicated genre because it attempts to balance serious journalism and entertaining television” (2009, p.33). Pressures come from various sides: media executives, advertisers, sources, and not least, the audience.

It is this conflict between war reporting as a moral mission and war reporting as an element of a highly competitive entertainment industry, which has fascinated me for some time now. Coming from an undergraduate degree in media economics and pursuing a post-graduate degree in war journalism, this issue is also of personal interest to me.

The phenomenon of image and promotional spots of 24-hour news networks, which has become increasingly widespread in the past years, provides a wonderful foundation to study this moral-economic conflict. Clips of this genre promote the war and conflict reporting of a specific channel in the fashion of an advertisement or movie trailer, making claims about the channel and its reporting, differentiating the advertised media product from the competition and treating televised war like any other commercial programme or product. And yet, conflict coverage promos, as promotional spots of any journalistic programme, are very unique media texts, situated at the crossroads of news journalism and advertisement. They contain a mixture of elements from a rather wide spectrum of genres and are expected as well to contain conflicting claims that can provide an insight into the broadcasters’ organisational values.

Therefore the research focus presented in this project is on the representation of journalistic quality and aspects of commercial news production referred to as “high concept” in conflict coverage image and promotional spots of the international 24-hour news networks Al Jazeera English and CNN International. The study will look into claims made in the clips and how these are connected. That will provide insights into institutional values of these news organisations, what they deem relevant aspects of good or successful war and conflict reporting. The research will furthermore provide several structural, theoretical and methodological insights into this kind of very particular media text.

To do this, this first introductory chapter is followed by short profiles of the two broadcasters, Al Jazeera English and CNN International. Chapter 3 provides a review of relevant literature, a presentation of the theoretical framework and the research questions while chapter 4 describes the methods used to answer them. The analysis of quality and high concept claims and how they are linked is done in chapter 5 and a final conclusion containing theoretical, methodological and personal reflexions summarizes the study in chapter 6.

Chapter 2: 24-hour News

While I will introduce the two relevant 24-hour news channels below, the conflicts taken into consideration for this study will not get special attention for two reasons: first, the Arab uprisings including Egypt and the intervention in Libya are rather recent events with a lot of international media attention and therefore widely known, and second, it is not the conflicts that are under scrutiny here, but the promotion of their television news coverage. A basic understanding of the two broadcasters, however, might facilitate grasping their choice of self-promotion, their set of values.

2.1 CNN International

The 24-hour Cable News Network (CNN) is available to approximately 2 billion people in more than 200 countries around the world. In the initial stages after its launch in 1980, however, the news channel could merely reach 1.7 million homes within the United States (Cushion, 2010, p.16). After expanding its domestic reach in the early 1980s, CNNs founder, Ted Turner, decided to combine the signals of the two original channels, CNN and Headline News in 1985. CNN started broadcasting on satellite to a worldwide audience and CNN International (CNNi) was born. (Cushion, 2010, p.18; Flournoy & Stewart, 1997, p.3)

According to Flournoy and Stewart “CNN built much of its reputation as a credible source for international news on the basis of its on-the-spot reporting from such locales as Tiananmen Square in Beijing in May 1989, Baghdad under siege in January 1991, and the Parliament Building in Moscow in August 1991 (1997, p.7). Here, especially the case of Iraq is interesting, as CNN managed to produce exclusive, live images of the early stages of the conflict, putting not just the station, but 24-hour news as a whole, into the global limelight. This was possible because “CNN journalists had built up diplomatic ties with the Iraqi regime” (Cushion, 2010, p.18-19). Today, Turner Broadcasting claims CNN to be one of the world’s most recognized brands, a long way from being dubbed the “Chicken Noodle News” as in its early years.

At CNN, there is a great awareness that information is a commodity and news a business, with television’s purpose being the delivery of news (Küng-Shankleman, 2000, p.156). A CNN mission statement quoted by Küng-Shankleman (2000) further elaborates this: “Our mission is to cover the biggest stories in the globe, in a way that people want to watch them.” (p.155) CNN’s style is fast, immediate, entertaining and live (p.151-153). But in today’s world, with CNN standing amongst a multitude of 24-hour news channels from around the world, it has to “operate in a very crowded and highly competitive marketplace” (Cushion, 2010, p.23). As a result, CNN regionalised its programming in 1997, creating separate feeds for different regions and several local-language as well as online services[2].

CNN is part of the Turner Broadcasting system, which, in turn is a subsidiary of Time Warner Incorporated, a publicly traded media conglomerate and one of the world’s largest. Institutional shareholders include some of the largest financial institutions including JPMorgan Chase and asset management funds such as Wellington Management[3]. This suggests that the commercial network not only faces influence, possibly including editorial pressure, from advertisers, but more indirectly also from shareholders.

“CNN is not an organisation which places great emphasis on producing public statements of its strategies, goals and philosophies, preferring to leave such activities to its parent. In fact, the most succinct and accessible source of such information is its oft-repeated programme trailers.” (Küng-Shankleman, 2000, p.117) Therefore, analysing the claims in image and promo spots can lead to insights into the broadcaster’s mission and strategy, into parts of their organisational values.

2.2 Al Jazeera English

Today, one of CNN International’s strongest competitors is Al Jazeera, the name of which translates into “The Island”. While most of the programming is in Arabic, their English-language Al Jazeera English, caters to a global audience. The establishment of the Doha-based network in 1996 came as a result of the BBC’s failure to create an independent news channel on the Arabian Peninsula and a US $150 million grant from the Emir of Qatar (Aris, Geara & Johansen, 2010, p.2). Five years later came the time in the spotlights for Al Jazeera, when according to Cushion (2010) “it gained exclusive coverage of the first few weeks of the war in Afghanistan” and “video messages sent from Al-Qaeda members, most notably Osama Bin Laden” (p.22). The situation is reminiscent of CNN’s Gulf War success.

The Al Jazeera Media Network originally broadcast only in Arabic, but ten years later, in 2006, launched the English-language Al Jazeera English (AJE) as an international channel operated mostly by Western professionals (Cushion, 2010, p.3). In January 2013 and with a reach of 260 million households worldwide, the network announced the acquisition of cable operator Current TV and plans to create a separate Al Jazeera America[4] which will stand in direct competition with the likes of CNN (domestic), Fox News Channel and MSNBC.

Al Jazeera does not have a strong dependence on advertisers and their commercial interests (Aris, Geara & Johansen, 2010, p.8). The strong financial backing by the Emir of Qatar, does, however, create a sphere of political influence. This could have an impact on future programming, especially considering the intervention in Libya was the first foreign military intervention with Qatari participation.

Chapter 3: Literature Review

3.1 Television Studies

In order to place this research project within a wider field and larger academic context, I will discuss the related concepts starting with the very general field of television studies and then narrow the debate down to the more directly related issues.

Studying television has been traditionally inter-disciplinary and has undergone several shifts of focus over the past decades. After Horkheimer and Adorno’s ‘Frankfurt School’ the field became rather quantitative and, eventually, through a “breakdown in the conventional boundaries that once existed between the arts and social sciences”(Creeber, 2006, p.2-5) found back to its qualitative roots. The approach relevant for this study is found in the contemporary television studies category of ‘textual analysis’ which analyses, mostly in qualitative terms, form, content and representation in television programmes (p.6). The different approaches to textual analysis, furthermore, are divided into the structuralist and post-structuralist traditions. Semiotics is seen as structuralist, social semiotics on the other hand as belonging to the post-structuralist school. I want to discuss the differences between them, so that an evaluation of frameworks can be done at the end of the literature review.

3.1.1 Semiotics

Saussure (1974) defines semiotics as “the science of the life of signs in society”(quoted in Hodge & Kress, 1988, p.1). It “offers the promise of a systematic, comprehensive and coherent study of communications” (Hodge & Kress, 1988, p.1), not just for media or television texts but for meaning making as a whole, in arts, literature or culture. Semiotics analyses meaning through signs, as these are the elements communicating meaning (Bignell, 2002, p.1). The signs analysed by semioticians consist of the ‘signifier’, or what we see, and the ‘signified’, the concept of meaning that we associate with perceived signifiers. There are ‘symbolic’ signs, specified by their arbitrariness, signs in which the signifier reflects in part the referent, so-called ‘iconic’ signs, and ‘indexical’ signs, characterised by a causal relationship to the signified (p.15). Signs do have both, a denotative and a connotative meaning and are grouped into systems of codes. The combination of denotation, a labelling meaning, and connotation, a wider implied conceptual meaning, creates the ‘myth’.

Semiotics, just as qualitative analysis more generally, “can be defined as speculative in nature, allowing room for personal interpretation, theoretical issues and subjective conjecture in its investigation of culture” (Creeber, 2006, p.4). Semioticians, however, respond to this criticism arguing that coding systems as well as systems of signs are universal and pre-exist in society. Messages, furthermore, are attached to the texts themselves. (Hodge & Kress, 1988, p.12; Bignell, 2002, p.7-16) They would argue that myth, on the other hand, shapes the sign so that only a partial meaning remains, suggesting to read the sign in one certain way as opposed to any other (Hodge & Kress, 1988, p.22).

Semiotics is sometimes called a ‘semi-scientific’ approach and has passionate followers as it does fierce opponents. Over the years, the discipline has evolved and brought about the creation of sub-disciplines, different streams of approaches to semiotics in a range of research fields. One such research tradition that has evolved from traditional semiotics is social semiotics.

3.1.2 Social Semiotics

Though a continuation of semiotics, there are a few key differences between the traditional school of semiotics and the post-structuralist stream of social semiotics. Hodge and Kress (1988) argue that a central part of the critique of traditional semiotics was that “the social dimensions of semiotic systems are so intrinsic to their nature and function that the systems cannot be studied in isolation” (p.1). Therefore, and as the name suggests, in social semiotics there is a focus on the social. Meaning is no longer fixed to the text, but rather exists in plurality within the text and is ultimately subject to interpretation based on social values (Creeber, 2006, p.28). Codes are renamed ‘resource’ to emphasize the semiotic potential, their potential for meaning making, rather than the meaning itself (Van Leeuwen, 2005, p.3-4). Iedema (2001) argues that while signs present analytical categories, texts are social categories. It is important to note that social semiotics sees texts as the “material realization of systems of signs” and therefore also “the site where change continually takes place” (Hodge & Kress, 1988, p.6). Texts are influenced by discourse, which is seen as an engagement of social organisation and systems of signs, the combination of both ultimately influencing meaning and values of culture (p.6). By focusing on texts therefore, social semiotics can analyse how certain social values are promoted over others (p.187).

Van Leeuwen (2005) however argues that “there can be no ‘how’ without a ‘what’” (p.93) – in order to analyse how social values are promoted, social semiotics also needs to take a look at which social values are promoted (and which are not). Another key difference concerns modality and the question ‘As how true is something represented?’ Social semiotics defines language as being multimodal, with all aspects of communication holding modality resources (Van Leeuwen, 2005, p.160, 165). A multimodal approach offers new possibilities, but by making the approach more complete, certainly does not facilitate it. “Kress and Van Leeuwen (1996, 2001) have been influential in showing how meanings are produced not only through different modes, but also through their interaction and intersection with each other.” (Maier, 2009, p.163) This does not only strengthen the argument for language as multimodal, but also requires ways to analyse this integration and interaction. These tools will be discussed in the ‘Methods’ chapter.

3.1.3 Hodge’s and Kress’s Ideological complexes

Hodge and Kress (1988) state that in contemporary societies there are great inequalities and structures of domination, and that

“In order to sustain these structures of domination the dominant groups attempt to represent the world in forms that reflect their own interests, the interests of their power. But they also need to sustain the bonds of solidarity that are the condition of their dominance.” (p.3)

It is this duality that brings about the use of ideology and ideological complexes. They consist of seemingly opposing or contradicting claims of truth about the world which are related in their function and purpose (p.3). In the case of this research, these two contradicting claims of truth are journalistic quality and economic interests of the broadcasters.

Ideological complexes, however cannot function by themselves, they need social rules for production and reception of meaning, so-called logonomic systems. Rules concerning production are termed ‘production regimes’, as opposed to ‘reception regimes’ and are most visible in legislation, etiquette or industrial relations (Hodge & Kress, 1988, p.3-4). The production regime can be divided into the two opposing claims mentioned earlier, which in the case of researching conflict coverage promo spots form solidarity with the viewer - a solidarity complex - and a direct, target-driven approach, or interest complex. The solidarity complex is needed to achieve the goals more openly defined through the interest complex. Both claims, though superficially contradictory or opposing, eventually pursue the same goal.

Different professional and social groups, media channels or formats can make use of various logonomic systems. These are also present in the media industry and media companies where they can be explicit in the form of editorial guidelines, style manuals such as that of AP, and others. A clear division, or clear separation of elements into these two aspects of production regimes found in ideological complexes, however, is not always easy. Though grounded in theory, the classification does hold a strong interpretative element.

3.2 Branding and High Concept

Before taking a closer look at television news promotional spots, it is important to understand their origin, which is to be found in the promotion of movies and advertisements more generally.

3.2.1 Film Trailers

Kernan (2004) defines a movie trailer as “a brief film text that usually displays images from a specific feature film while asserting its excellence, and that is created for the purpose of projecting in theatres to promote a film’s theatrical release” (p.1). Maier (2009) adds that “parts of texts created for other purposes are transferred, rearranged and supplemented in order to attain a promotional purpose” (p.159). Most trailers include an introduction or conclusion, selected scenes from the film, a way of identifying the main characters, as well as a male narrator. These elements can also be identified in conflict coverage promotional spots of 24-hour news channels. Furthermore, and due to their semiotic density, trailers make up the core of movie promotional campaigns (p.7-15) and are among the “most overtly persuasive texts of the film industry” (p.37). Trailers are a form of advertising, and, as Williamson argues, the most important function of advertisements is to differentiate the promoted product from competing ones (quoted in Bignell, 2002, p.36). The trailer, however, is also fulfilling functions of branding (for the film or the studio). And just as the main function of advertising is product differentiation, the mission of branding is brand differentiation. Movie trailers used to be exclusively presented in theatres, but today are prominently featured on television and the internet as well.

3.2.2 TV Promo Spots

But it is not only movies that need promotion. Commercial television broadcasters are reliant on advertising revenue in a highly competitive market. Their success in attracting viewers and advertisers depends on how well they differentiate themselves from the competition (Jaramillo, 2009, p.33). According to Andersen (1995) one of the strategies used by broadcasters in this increasingly competitive setting is “aggressive self-advertisement” through promotional spots (p.41).

Promotional spots on TV can be compared to cinematic trailers though the setting is different. They are broadcast on the small screen as opposed to the big, but both are short promotional texts of a larger media text shown within the same medium and pursuing the goal of product or brand differentiation. Promo spots today not only promote fictional and entertainment programmes, but also the respective news programmes and news networks. CNN has used promotional spots as early as 1991[5].

TV promo spots of news channels, either advertise a specific programme, a journalist (e.g. a foreign correspondent), a beat (e.g. the coverage of the war in Afghanistan), or the channel’s operations in general. Non-programme –specific spots prominently featured on CNN and other 24-hour news networks are often referred to as ‘image spots’ and do not advertise a particular product or service, but rather work towards branding.

Maier's (2009) claim about film trailers (p.159) mentioned earlier can be applied to television news promos just as much. They consist of excerpts from relevant programmes which are rearranged and supplemented by additional material shot for the purpose of promotion. News promos are a special type of promotional text, however, because they are located at the crossroads of advertisement and news. While advertising “is defined by its function of selling products or services […] the genre of news is defined by its function of providing information about recent events of public interest” (Van Leeuwen, 2005, p.123). According to Lippman, Boorstin and Geller, conflict between the role of the media and commercial pressures have been researched since the early days of media studies, while the distinction of news and promotional content continuously diminished (quoted in Buchman, 2000, p.1). In the case of TV news promo spots, this barrier has fallen completely. They consist of elements of news, but also advertise news and form a ‘lead-in’ and ‘lead-out’ transition between news programmes and advertising content - further blurring the two.

3.2.3 High Concept

Jaramillo (2009)argues that “within the coverage of the war [in Iraq], promotional advertisements at CNN and Fox News Channel communicated an ‘image’ in much the same way that ad campaigns for high-concept films do” (p.179).

The exact origin of the term ‘high concept’ is unclear, but is most likely related to changing film marketing techniques in Hollywood in the 1970s. It describes a “product differentiated through the emphasis on style in production and through the integration of the film with its marketing” (Wyatt, 1994, p.109-110, 20). High Concept requires simplified characters and narrative, correlation of image and soundtrack and a ‘high-tech’ visual style to increase the films marketability (p.15-16). These specifications suggest that most high budget Hollywood blockbuster movies and many television shows do follow the principles of high concept. As media productions on this scale bring about substantial economic risks and the need for a strong form of product differentiation, economic and marketing concerns are central to high concept films. These include a strong emphasis on the visual form of marketability through cinematic trailers and television spots (p.19, 23). It is important to note that the ‘high-tech’ visual style typical for high concept changes over time, just as technology advances and popular culture undergoes transitions. This becomes apparent when looking at Hollywood movies from different decades or more relevant to this study, conflict coverage promos aired by CNN during the 1991 Gulf War, the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the 2011 military intervention in Libya.

Critics point to the single sentence pitches, remakes and combinations of successful films common in high concept to dismiss the creative quality and stress their focus on economic success (p.13-14).Some go so far as to say that sophisticated promotions are used for unsophisticated products (Jaramillo, 2009, p.26). According to Wyatt (1994), film executives have even ceased using the term, while film critics refer to high concept to describe movies they don’t like (p.15). The phenomenon at the core of high concept, however, remains relevant and does so beyond the boundaries of the movie theatre as we will see.

3.2.4 High Concept in Television News

The rise of high concept goes hand in hand with the conglomeration of media companies. When the break-up of the powerful Hollywood studio system was reverted through continuous deregulation in the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of media related company mergers took place every year (Jaramillo, 2009, p. 29). The separation of media production and distribution as well as that of television and cinema ended. Jaramillo (2009) claims that this conglomeration of media corporations has led to a “multifaceted mode of newsmaking that borrows its marketing strategies from high-concept Hollywood films” (p.22) and in the course has “moved the news away from public service and toward profit- and entertainment-oriented programming” (p.31-32). News programmes based on entertainment values, infotainment as well as the use of celebrities and celebrity reporters more specifically are part of the marketability of news programmes and therefore characteristic of a high concept media industry. Another aspect of high concept in television news is the simplification of the story into a marketable concept as already discussed in relation to Hollywood movies. A complex story, or in the case of news, a complex matter is simplified to a level where it can be described in a single-sentence pitch – the division into ‘good’ and ‘evil’, for example. Analysis, background, context and nuance are lost at the expense of marketability and the pursued economic interests. The recreation and re-invention of previous media texts as referents that is common in high concept movies, is therefore also relevant for television news. One example, intentionally exaggerated to clarify this thought, would be to refer to the Iraq war as ‘Afghanistan without mountains’.

More specifically related to this study, the relevancy of promotional spots originates in their location at the crossroads between news and advertising. These two categories, traditionally are strictly separated. Television promo spots, however, do not only combine contents and stylistic elements of both, news and advertisements, but also form a temporal buffer in the programming between the two. Image and promotional spots, no matter if of conflict reporting or other kinds of programming, are usually found before and after advertisement breaks. They therefore create a lead-in and lead-out between what seems to be a solidarity complex on one hand and an interest complex on the other.

Promotional spots are dense television texts loaded with claims about possibly conflicting versions of reality and have to satisfy both, an institutional self-interest and solidarity with the consumer. I therefore expect a strong and visible conflict between the two opposing production regimes forming CNN’s and Al Jazeera’s respective ideological complexes in promotional spots of their conflict coverage. The findings will be able to tell us more about CNN and other commercial 24-hour news networks institutional values. To analyse these ideological complexes, it is not only necessary to take a close look at the representation of high concept, but also at claims and representation of journalistic quality.

3.3 Quality

To answer the question ‘What is quality journalism?’ seems impossible by scientific means. Answers would be highly subjective and not bring about consent, but rather tendencies of quality perceptions in different social groups. Essential to this project, however, are claims and representations of quality characteristics, not a measureable concept of journalistic quality. What I offer, therefore, is not a definition of journalistic quality, but rather an overview of the topics and issues commonly referred to in debates about quality journalism and war reporting.

Based on the discussions of Klaidman and Beauchamp (1987), Charles and Stewart (2011), Atkins (2002) and Zaller (1999), I put the discussion of journalistic quality in the two categories of (1) professional competence, and (2) moral competence.

3.3.1 Professional Competence

Professional competence consists of concepts such as production skills, context and immediacy. Klaidman & Beauchamp (1987) as well as Atkins (2002) put emphasis on context and immediacy, as do other academic debates. The professional discussions are more centred on production skills. Machin & Niblock (2006) argue that “proficiency in communication is essential for accuracy and ease of reading” (p.137), but expand the concept to the visual. White (2005) extends on this and suggests that lively stories need “good pictures, interesting sound bites, and a well-written script”(p.257). There is an on-going debate on whether text or images are more important, but ultimately television news needs both. Production skills on an institutional level are part of the production value. “Production value is a term employed by media professionals as one visible, manifest marker of program quality, often associated with technical aspects of content” (Cummins & Chambers, 2011, p.738). It is a combination of skill and available funds and though it is not defined in its particulars, Cummins and Chambers (2011) argue that in their research, “viewers were able to detect variations in production value” (p.746). Considering, however, that CNN International and Al Jazeera English operate at the highest level of news production, certainly in technical terms, I intentionally excluded production values from the list of professional competence quality concepts used in the analysis.

3.3.2 Moral Competence

Dimensions of moral competence can be divided into aspects of fairness, accuracy and idealism and consist of such heavily debated issues as objectivity, balance, completeness and empathy. Most interestingly, objectivity, which is still seen as substantial to journalistic professionalism by many, “has become the target of unremitting attack by academic critics of news and journalism” to a point where a consensus against the idea of objectivity has been reached (Charles & Stewart, 2011, p.19). Martin Bell of the BBC and CNN’s Christiane Amanpour support this academic perspective and suggest that objectivity eventually results in neutrality between good and evil (p.25). Even war reporting legend Ryszard Kapuscinski, if not explicitly, dismisses objectivity by promoting empathy and solidarity. In an interview he claimed “Empathy is perhaps the most important quality for a foreign correspondent. If you have it, other deficiencies are forgivable; if you don’t, nothing much can help” (Atkins, 2002, p.219-221). The debate about objectivity seems to feature prominently especially in the field of war reporting, where the opposites of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ can be far apart and have an impact on a relatively large number of people. Less contested, but unclear in evaluation is completeness.Klaidman and Beauchamp (1987) suggest looking at completeness on a scale from ‘no truth’ to ‘the whole truth’ and aspiring to achieve ‘substantial completeness’, a degree at which a targeted reader’s desire for information is satisfied (p.35). Similar and sometimes overlapping with ‘completeness’ is the concept of ‘understanding’, about which Gjelten in a war reporting context states that good journalism has to “put developments into a historical and political context and identify root causes of conflicts” (1998). Rules of fairness, such as balance and impartiality, should be in place to balance opposing claims and conflicting interests (Klaidman & Beauchamp, 1987, p.21). Accuracy, on the other hand, suggests reporting only information that can be sufficiently proven (p.50). The problem, generally, with academic or professional discussions on moral aspects of journalistic quality is that there are not many areas of consent and many concepts either lack a clear definition or an accepted way of measuring their occurrence. This discussion of qualitative aspects of journalism therefore barely touches the tip of the iceberg. It is, however, merely intended to illustrate some of the concepts involved, so that they can be identified and put into the context of high concept and TV promos of war and conflict reporting.

This is important, as high concept and the commercial pressures that provoke it potentially have an impact on the professional and moral competence of journalism. High concept also suggests the production and broadcasting of the kind of promo spots that are analysed in this study. These do not only use high concept techniques, but also have their origin in high concept. Therefore, and because quality claims in TV news can be used to pursue the goals of high concept, I would argue that both, implicit and explicit mentions thereof are prominently featured in promo spots alongside cues of high concept.


[1] Ryszard Kapuscinski ‘A Warsaw Diary’, published in Granta no. 15 (1985)

[2] http://edition.cnn.com/services/opk/cnn25/cnn_newsgroup.htm

[3] http://www.nasdaq.com/symbol/twx/institutional-holdings

[4] Press Release: Al Jazeera to start new U.S.-based news channel http://www.aljazeera.com/America/Al-Jazeera-Purchase-of-Current-TV.pdf

[5] The first CNN spot in the online television museum ‘TVARK’ is from 1991. I am not aware of any spots predating that. http://www2.tv-ark.org.uk/news/cnni/promos.html


Type of Edition
ISBN (Softcover)
File size
10.9 MB
Publication date
2014 (February)
conflict reporting social semiotics multimodal analysis television promotion


Christian Veits was born in Austria in 1984 and has studied media management in Germany, Chinese language in China, and journalism in Denmark and the United Kingdom.

Title: Conflict Coverage Promotion: High Quality or High Concept? A multimodal analysis of claims-making in conflict coverage promotional spots of Al Jazeera English and CNN International