By Tikum Mbah Azonga
It is important that before we proceed, we should understand what television news is all about. Perhaps the first distinction is that it is one of the three main wings of news production and provision, the others being radio and newspapers/magazines, or as the latter are commonly referred to, the print media. One difference that sets apart the three lies in the definition : “The print media is all about writing and writing well: radio is all about speaking and speaking well, and television is all about presenting and presenting well.” (Azonga 2007).
Obviously, as news organs, the three media have common denominators, some of which are news gathering, production and dissemination. However, they differ in some aspects. The radio journalist typically needs a notebook and sometimes a recording machine for the recording of sound. Here we are taking the inclusion of a pen as a forgone conclusion. Input of sound could be either that of interviewees or other sources such as that of a breaking event, an ongoing fire disaster for example, or an armed battle like at the war front or the scene of a military coup. The print media journalist also needs a pen and a notebook, and perhaps a recording machine. He may additionally need a photographer, or as it has increasingly become the practice, a camera to shoot images personally, if there is no photographer. In some circumstances, the person in question could be a photojournalist.
However, although the two journalists may carry the same tools, the print journalist is likely to take down more notes than the radio journalist, even if he or she uses the recorder. This is because even when he uses the recorder, he will still have to go and listen to his or her interviews and transcribe them so that they are printed on to the newspaper or magazine, depending on which it is. On the other hand, the radio journalist is spared the trouble of excessive writing by the fact that he can broadcast his or her interviews directly without having to listen to the tape and transcribe manually. Normally, the interview will still be edited before broadcast.
With the television journalist, the situation is different in the sense that although the television journalist, just like the radio and print journalist, needs a pen and a notebook, he also needs a cameraman and a sound engineer. Ideally, though, the team of three must be complete for effective work to be done. However, often here in Cameroon, television news teams sometimes go out with just the cameraman and no sound engineer. When this researcher headed the Television Coverages Service (2006-2008) of the State-run Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV) he realized that when teams went out for coverage without the sound man, it was either because organisers of the event being covered complained they did not have enough money to pay mission allowances for the complete team of Four, or because after a coverage was scheduled and it was time to leave for the field, the sound man was unavailable. When it was the sound man who was present and the cameraman absent, it was usually possible to get the sound man to do the job of the cameraman with the camera. With the private television stations, when the team went out without the sound engineer, it appeared to be a systematic way of cutting costs.
It is to be observed that whereas in addition to the pen and notebook, the print journalist and the radio counterpart may or may not take along the recording machine or the photographer/ camera and still be able to do the news story, since not all stories carry interviews or photographs, the television journalist on the other hand is doomed if he or she does not have a cameraman on the job. In fact, there will be no coverage at all if nothing has been filmed for the viewer to see, television news being largely visual. While at the coverages service of CRTV, this researcher found that if for some reason there was no cameraman at hand and an event was missed, images of the event could be borrowed from another television channel that covered it.
Nonetheless, for the sake of efficiency and professional ethics, it is important that each team member be available and present. After all, each individual is trained in his or her own area of specialization. It will, no doubt, be interesting for future researchers to conduct an in-depth study on the importance of completeness in the constitution of teams for coverage.
Looking now in greater detail at the content of television news may shed more light on the points we have made above. For this case in point, we shall limit our case study to the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV). The reason is that in Cameroon, CRTV is the oldest, the best equipped and the most staffed of the television channels in Cameroon. Even so, CRTV still has its weaknesses which its detractors have never stopped exploiting to their advantage. One of these is the charge that as CRTV is State television, all it does is dance to the tune of the government. It only listens to “His Master’s Voice”. As such, CRTV news is said to lack credibility. Another criticism is that the corporation is too set in its ways, refusing to “grow up” and modernize, and is therefore being left behind by more progressive channels such as the privately-owned Canal 2 International and STV, for example. CRTV is accused of spending more time looking after its large number of Chiefs of Service and Directors than ensuring that the tele viewer.
However, despite these criticisms, CRTV still occupies pride of place on the media landscape of Cameroon because even those who criticize it return to it, at least occasionally, to watch the news and other popular programmes such as soap operas, international football matches, and the young people’s musical Star Simulation Programme, Délire, run by Foly Dirane, or the Sunday afternoon entertainment programme, Tam Tam Weekend, usually presented by a couple one of whom is Anglophone and the other Francophone. It is worth pointing out that when private television channels were authorized in Cameroon after the democratic wind of change that originated from Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union swept into Cameroon, the public and even government departments were reticent when it came to admitting the private channels to events they were organizing. However, with time, and official recognition by government, more doors are opening up to the private channels.
Television news editions take days to plan. At CRTV, the next day’s news begins with the pre-conference on the eve. This is usually hosted and presided over by the Deputy Director of the News Department (La Direction de l’Information TV), with participants including every member of the News Department with rank of at least Chief of Service. These include the Chief of Service in Charge of the Special Brigade of the Presidency of the Republic, the Chief of Service in Charge of the Special Brigade of the President of the National Assembly, and the Chief of Service in charge of the Reserved Domain of the First Lady of the Republic. All of the chiefs named above have the rank of sub director. Although these chiefs are expected to attend the pre-conferences and the daily news conferences presided over by the Editor-in-Chief, they are often absent, claiming that they cover “sovereignty domains” which makes it difficult to be present at all editorial meetings. Furthermore, they have the tendency to send in for the news, papers that are exaggeratedly long.
In addition to the Chiefs named above, Heads of Desk in the News Department attend the meeting. These include the Chief of Service in Charge of Coverages, the Chief of Service in Charge of the Economic Desk, the Chief of Service in Charge of the Foreign Desk, the Chief of Service in Charge of Culture and Society, the Chief of Service in Charge of Political Affairs, and the Chief of Service in Charge of Sports and Leisure Activities.
During the meeting, each chief proposes what he or she has and after debating it, the decision is taken whether to reject the proposal, amend and adopt it, or just adopt it as presented. At this stage, names of the team members to be assigned to that particular event may be taken down. Ideally, each team consists of an Anglophone Journalist, a Francophone Journalist, a Cameraman, a Sound Engineer, and exceptionally, a driver and a vehicle if it was agreed with the organizer of the event that CRTV would provide transportation, or if the event is one initiated by CRTV, such as an investigation (enquête).
A number of factors are used to determine where to send who. For an event that directly relates to a given Desk such as the inauguration of a new school building or the presentation of letters of credence by an ambassador, priority is given to members of that Desk, in this case, the education desk and the foreign desk respectively. However, if because the Desk is short-staffed or because there are more events happening in that same Service, someone else from another Desk that can do the job can then be assigned to do it. Throughout the meeting, the Chief of Service for Coverages is making a note of all the field assignments that have to be done the following day. After the pre-conference he posts his assignments sheet on the notice board. Reporters and technicians then consult it in order to know what they are doing, where they are going and who they are going with. The sheet is posted by the end of the working day so that before stakeholders go home, everyone has had ample time to acquaint himself or herself with it.At the end of the pre-conference, a preliminary ‘menu’ is then drawn up for the next day’s news bulletins. The following morning at 9 am, the daily editorial conference is presided over by the Editor-in-Chief.
After Amadou Vamoulké succeeded Gervais Mendo Ze as General Manager of CRTV in 2004, he brought in some modifications. These include the dual presentation of television news, which consists of an Anglophone and a Francophone sitting side by side in the studio and taking turns in speaking, each in the official language (English or French) he or she grew up with. Another innovation is the replacement of the single news desk that used to have only Francophones as Editor-in-Chief and Anglophones as Deputies, with two separate news desks, one for Francophones and one for Anglophones. In practice, what has happened is that instead of meeting as two separate Desks, both meet at the same time and at the same place. In other words, it is two newsrooms in one. So far, though, the Francophone Editor-in-Chief has dominated his Anglophone counterpart, in terms of posturing as “the editor-in-chief”, in terms of taking the floor first when receiving foreign guests, and simply in terms of running the meeting. So there seems to be an Anglophones problem here. Add to that the fact that usually when teams go out for coverage and seek to interview passers-by, Francophones are always willing to talk whereas Anglophones shy away from the camera. In the end, the Anglophone reporter resorts to interviewing the willing Francophones who will speak poor English. Failing that, the reporter may interview the respondent in French. There is need here to conduct a separate study that will probe the reasons for this withdrawal syndrome noticed in Anglophones.
Usually, the editor-in-chief simply goes through the menu drawn up during the pre-conference. If anyone has anything to say, he or she is given the floor. It is also during this meeting that the editor-in-chief announces what papers he has received from the ten provincial stations, some of which are then included in the day’s menu. Usually, no particular number of papers is imposed on the provincial stations, which means they work at their own pace, sending papers at different times and at different frequencies. As might be expected, there are some stations which send a large number of papers weekly, while others send only a few or even none. However, from time to time, the editors can contact one of the provincial stations and request specific papers, if this is necessary.
The editor-in-chief uses the news conference to programme papers for all the six news editions of CRTV. These are the 6pm bilingual provincial news, the 7.30 news in English, the 8.30 news in French, the Late Night bilingual news (at midnight), the 8am bilingual news and the 12pm bilingual news. At the end of the day there is a consensus and the menu is adopted. By this time, those who were supposed to be on the field have left the premises. There may be some who attend the news conference just because the time for their outing has not arrived yet. So, they stay in the news conference in order to participate in it while waiting to go out for coverage.
While this is going on, the Chief of Service for Coverages ensures that teams which are supposed to go out, do so. This is not a futile exercise because experience has shown that when it is known that certain Coverages are not “juicy”, no one is interested in them. So, people fake excuses. The cameraman may claim his battery is low and needs charging first, an activity which might take an hour; the cameraman and/or reporter may complain of not having a cassette for the event to be filmed. Throughout the day, the editor-in chief is in touch with the Chief of Service for Coverages, just in case there are any changes such as an envisaged and programmed event not being covered because someone did not turn up, or because it was abruptly canceled. This is important because it enables the editor-in-chief to strike off that item from the news menu and replace it with another. Otherwise, everyone will be expecting a story which in the end will not come and therefore cause embarrassment to a lot of people, including those at the helm of the country’s affairs. In some cases, such an event could even provoke a diplomatic incident.
Once teams have finished covering an event, they return to base. For the technicians, that is the cameraman, the sound man and the driver (if there was one), the job is over and they are now ready for the next assignment.
Unfortunately, for the reporters, the toughest part of the assignment is only just beginning. The reporter has to view the images on the tape in order to familiarize himself or herself with them. There is nothing as terrible as going on to write a television news story without having viewed the images first and then finding out at editing time that the images do not correspond to the narrative of the reporter or that the text is longer than the images that have to be used to accompany the text. When this is found to be the case and no other images are found to make up for the shortfall, the news editor is obliges to repeat some shots in the paper. However, this practice is to be condemned because it spoils the news with monotony! Previewing images is not to be taken for granted because CRTV has a short supply of equipment, although to be fair to the corporation, while steps are being taken to to procure updated and state-of-the-art equipment and not simply replace with the same type.
After previewing the images, the reporter goes to the newsroom or to his or her office if they have one, and writes the story and the lead. Some start by writing the lead before writing the story, while others write the story before the lead. From personal experience, I have found that starting with the lead makes the task easier because the reporter is then guided by the contents of the lead when writing the story. The lead is to the story more or less what the abstract is to the scientific paper.
Ideally, reporters are advised to let someone else read or hear their paper read because this is the easiest and cheapest way of assuring quality control. While some reporters willing allow their texts to be read, others unfortunately refuse on the grounds that it is a humiliating experience. After writing the text, the reporter now looks for a tape, usually a Betacam and then records the paper on it. He or she leaves the lead at the editing booth for the attention of the script girl who will copy from it, the ‘out’ and details of the team that did that coverage. Eventually, the leads are handed to the presenter who reads them and rewrites them in a way best suited to him or her. After all, it is the presenter who is going to ‘launch’ the paper on the news.
When the reporter finishes putting the sound on the tape, he or she takes the tape to the editing booth and waits in the queue until the editor has finished editing those who were there first. Editing (montage) is the combined effort of the editor who knows how to put what where and the reporter who knows the images and can therefore guide the editor on what to use where. Once the reporter’s paper is edited, he or she may heave a sigh of relief and call it a day. But mind you, it takes hours and a lot of patience to get to that point.
After all the papers are edited, the news supervisor (Chef d’Edition) together with the editor (monteur) rearrange (aligner) the edited papers in the order in which they will be broadcast. This makes it easier for a paper to be launched when it is announced by the newscaster (présentateur du journal). The script girl (la scripte) takes down the references of each paper and produces her own run down (conducteur) a copy of which she gives the news presenters. By this time the newscasters also have a copy of the run down produced earlier by the editor-in-chief. However, since the editor-in-chief’s run down is always subject to changes because a scheduled story may not be covered and is therefore dropped, or because there is an unforeseen breaking news event, the news supervisor usually does a final run down based on the news stories he or she is sure are available. Before the presenters enter the studio to present the news, they go to the make-up room for make-up by the make-up girls who were specifically trained and recruited for that purpose. After the make-up, news presenters take their place in the studio, test their microphones and put them on.
In the meantime the teleprompter manipulator is testing his or her own equipment. Sometimes the teleprompter breaks down, thus obliging the newscaster to read directly from the leads rather than the screen. That is why it is always a good idea for the presenter to enter the studio with the leads, just in case. Also, just before the news begins, the studio cameraman checks the equipment and switches on those that may be off. It happens! When the count down for the news ends and the news begins, it is a delight for everyone. The following day in the newsroom the news conference will begin with a critique of the previous day’s news.
In lining up news items, the editor-in-chief respects the pillar institutions of the Republic and usually has as his or her hierarchical choice, news about the President of the Republic topping the run down, followed by news of the President of the National Assembly, and then the Prime Minister Head of Government.Sometimes the First Lady`s events are reported after those of the Presidency of the Republic. At other times this is done after those of the President of the National Assembly. News about the Prime Minister Head of Government can be broadcast before that of the First Lady, when for instance the Prime Minister has represented the Head of State at some event. Nonetheless, sometimes, an event considered as major or a breaking news item may upset that order.
Any aspiring journalist who is thinking of taking up a career in television journalism must think about it very carefully before getting involved. This is because television journalism is very demanding and not appropriate for the faint-hearted. The experience is vividly captured in the following experience by the Television News Production Assistant, Paev S. (2006), the post of the Television News Production Assistant being essentially an entry-point one whose job is to help out with administrative tasks and give additional support to the assignments desk, reporters, photographers and editors.
This is what Paev says:
“It’s 3am on a Saturday. My friends are either at twenty-four diners or crashing after a long night of barhopping. My alarm clock is going off. I swipe blindly at the clock, my phone, and everything else in that general vicinity, trying to find and severely punish the source of the noise. Then my sleep-deprived brain realizes that it’s not just some awful disruption. it’s time to get up.
Feeling rather like a coma patient waking for the first time, I sit up. My eyes burn. No contacts today, that’s for sure. Even though I’ve been at this early morning stuff for five-plus months, the wake up call doesn’t get any easier.”
Despite what Paev (2006) says about her job as a journalist, it is significant that she has not quit the job. Nevertheless, there are some who have not stomached things for too long and have therefore quit their jobs, some moving into new-found jobs and others simply taking a leap in the dark. The Cameroon Herald newspaper (2008) in its 12-13 May edition reports “massive departures” from the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), the state-run Radio and Television Corporation, although it is not very clear whether the only reason for quitting was the difficult nature of the job. According to the newspaper, some of those who are still at the corporation are also contemplating the same move. The paper names eight top journalists who have left the corporation in the last few years. These include Antoine Marie Ngono, Nyoh Moses, Alex Mimbang, Jessie Atogho Ekukole, Akara Ticha, George Esunge Fominyen, Barbara Etoa (unconfirmed by the paper), Jean Materne Ndi (equally unconfirmed by the paper), Hawa Garga, and Wamba Sob Ngu Tayou. Others are Anne Nsang, Susan Bamu and Caroline Kilo Bara. Those who left in the very first wave were Eric Chinje, Ntemfac Ofege, Denise Epote, Julius Wamey, Boh Herbert, Charly Ndi Chia, and Eno Chris Oben.
Young Cameroonians, especially those who may be inspired through the present study and its recommendations and want to become television journalists in the future must bear in mind that they will need to exercise patience while on the job. The normal way of climbing up the journalistic ladder is by getting in, starting from the bottom and then progressing upwards. Journalism is one profession in which what matters is not what one has in terms of paper qualifications but what one can do. .
Keirstead P.O. (2004) examines the specific domain of computers and software in the broadcast/cable newsroom. In his book, Using Technology in Television News Production, the author who is a longstanding writer of television news over the years which have been characterized by technological advancement, seeks to enable television news managers to cope with the rapid changes in technology. At the same time, he zooms in on how technology and especially the computer can help today’s journalist to deliver the goods. Keirstead uses a hands-on practical approach which brings his narrative to life and thus makes it appealing to the professional as well as the student journalist at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.
If there is one criticism one can level at the author, it is that his book appears to assume that the technology he describes is available everywhere, which in reality is not the case. So his book becomes useful to those who know first hand what he is talking about, and not the numerous media professional in the suffering professionals of the Third World who are still groping in the dark.
New entrants to the field of television journalism will realize that in addition to finding a willing shoulder from the older members of the newsroom, there are also a number of good books available which they can consult and even keep for reference. They will find them indispensable companions. One of these is, A Beginner’s Guide to Television News Reporting and Production, authored by Cappe, Y. (2006). The author who boasts over twenty years as a reporter and broadcaster is a professor of journalism at the University of Kentucky in the USA.
The book is written in a style that is practical and includes tips on how to find story ideas, conduct interviews and write news scripts as well as leads. The chapter on news production includes a section on the expanding media craze that is the video. The book which is ideal for beginning journalists, painstakingly explains how to successfully use videography to frame interviews and edit jump cuts.
The Elements of Journalism (Kovach & Rosenstiel 2007) is one of the most recent books on journalism which the budding journalist will find very useful. In a style that is clear, concise and straight-to-the-point, the authors explain to the reader the rudiments of the trade such as the importance of truth and objectivity in reporting news, loyalty to citizens, the need to check out facts before publishing, and the need to exercise personal conscience in the performance of ones duty as a journalist. Additionally, practitioners are urged to make independent informed judgments, keep the news comprehensive and proportional as well as endeavour to make the story interesting and relevant.
The book has so far received a good press from some of the best critiques in the profession. Neil Rudenstein, President of the renowned Harvard University for, example, says:
“The Elements of Journalism is a remarkable book that does a superb job of describing the problems, articulating the values, outlining the risks, and offering understandable and practical ways to respond to the difficulties of the present state of journalism. The Elements of Journalism ought to become required reading for every institution (and individual) engaged in journalism." Tom Goldstein, Dean of the Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University, says: “Of the many books that have been written about reporting the news, this one best captures the shortcomings, subtleties, and possibilities of modern journalism. It deserves to become as indispensable to journalists and journalism students as the Elements of Style." According to Rasmi Simhan of Boston Globe, “What this book does better than any single book on media history, ethics, or practice is weave . . . [together] why media audiences have fled and why new technology and mega corporate ownership are putting good journalism at risk.”
David Talbot, Editor-in-Chief of Salon.com puts it this way: “In an age when partisan rancour and ratings-driven showmanship have crowded out the more subtle virtues of solid journalism, Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach provide a timely refresher course in the importance of press fundamentals. They remind us that at its best, journalism is a high public calling, and all those who practice it have a deeper obligation to their readers and viewers than to the demands of the market." Carl Sessions of the American Journalism Review goes beyond the appraisal of the form and gets down to the substance when he opines: “Kovach and Rosenstiel’s essays on each [element] are concise gems, filled with insights worthy of becoming axiomatic. The book should become essential reading for journalism professionals and students and for the citizens they claim to serve.”
1.Azonga, T.M. (2007): Rough notes on television news production, unpublished
2.Paev, S. (2006).The Life of a Television News Production
Assistant: A Look at the Media Industry from the Bottom Up,
2006. Available at
of_a_television_news_production.html (Downloaded 20 May
3.Keirstead P.O. (2004). Computers in Broadcast and Cable
Newsrooms: Using Technology in Television News
Production, Rutledge, London. Also available at
(Downloaded 20 May 2008).
4.Cappe, Y. (2006). A Beginner’s Guide to Television News
Reporting and Production, Marion Street Press, USA.
Available at http://www.amazon.com/Broadcast-Basics-
lmf_tit_. (Downloaded on 20 May 2008.)
5. Rosenstiel, T. & Kovach, B. (2007). The Elements of
Journalism (Revised and updated edition), Three Rivers
NOTE: This article is taken from my ongoing Media and Communication PhD thesis on the topic; Television News as a Pedagogic Tool in the French as a Foreign Language Class.