Children's and youth television between public discussion, market and everyday life
In this study, press coverage of the topic 'children's and youth television' is analysed. Articles published within the last five years on the topics of "children and television" and "young people and television" are evaluated by means of content analysis. The quantitative content analysis focuses on: perspectives and lines of argument that journalists employ to discuss children's/youth television; on the roles they attribute to children, parents and producers; and on characteristic slogans. In a second analysis, reviews of some children's and youth programme styles in the year 2001 are surveyed and compared to "viewing rates". The press coverage of single programme titles is in the centre of this content analysis.
Children's and youth television:
Public discourse in the press
A quantitative content analysis of press coverage in the years 1997-2001
Conducted by Sylvia Nagl
In co-operation with Beate Kleiber and Ole Hofmann
Press coverage of children's and
youth television in the years 1997-2002
From 1997 to 2001, 1.115 articles about children's and youth television in general were published in the media analysed. They came mostly from national daily newspapers as well as from specialist journals on media, pedagogy and marketing. 84% of the contributions analysed refer explicitly to children's television; about one tenth of articles deals with television made especially for 14- to 19-year-olds. There are more articles about children's television than about youth television. However, in 2001 there is an exceptionally high percentage of articles dealing with youth television (more than one fifth of all articles). In this year the new youth format "Eins-live", which received a lot of attention, was, respectively, launched and discontinued six months later.
It is remarkable that year after year fewer articles about children's and youth television have been published. While journalists wrote 262 contributions during the first year of the evaluation, there are only 132 articles four years later - this is a decrease of 130 articles. However, published articles are longer and fewer of them are written in a plain, reporting style: the percentage of matter-of-fact and neutral news and reports diminishes for about 15% from 1997 to 2001. During the period evaluated, journalists more frequently emphasised service such as programme tips and guides for viewers.
Occasions for reports: Launches and
When do journalists write about children's and youth television? Most of the articles published, in the period evaluated, report on the launch or the re-launch of programmes and about new broadcasters. A closer look at the articles in each year shows that the number of texts dealing with such events varies greatly and depends on current events. In 1997, for example, nearly half of the articles centre on the launch of children's programmes. Three years later, with the launch of FoxKids on Premiere World and the new format Pokémon, the number of published articles on this topic increases again.
However, increasingly, journalists take scientific studies and expert's reports as starting points for their reports about children's and youth television. In 1997 nearly 5% of the articles contained references to such reports and studies; up to 2001 the figure rose steadily to 26%. Increasingly, scientific topics appear to attract the attention of journalists and to initiate public discourse - this can be interpreted as a sciencification of the discourse.
The percentage of articles that are not based on any specific occasion increases until 2001. Whereas in 1997 nearly 95% of articles about children's and youth television refer to a specific occasion, five years later, there are only 85%. This suggests the conclusion that journalists report less on specific occasions but that children's and youth television in general becomes a recurring topic of public interest.
Topic focus: Programme offer and
Which topics attract journalists' attention? After a first examination of about 100 articles a topic-tree was generated that divides into the main branches "programme" and "use". The "programme" branch is further split into topics concerning the factual program offer, containing market development, broadcasters, the programme (excluding content) as well as advertising, merchandising and specific programme content. The "use" branch includes purely quantitative figures of use and aspects of effects and appropriation. A maximum of five topics could be coded for each report.
With regard to the subject of the articles, journalists paid more attention to the purely factual programme offer than to the presentation of content. Three quarters of the articles evaluated refer to economic issues concerning the programme offer - which means market developments, broadcasters, the different titles on offer and merchandising/advertising. In about 40% of the articles, programme content is discussed such that reporters write more affirmative than critical articles about television content. Specific demands regarding content are defined in 11% of all articles.
Apart from the programme section journalists are interested in television use. Purely quantitative figures are thereby the centre of attention, whereas the location of television consumption in a wider context and the description of effects and motives are rather marginalised. Rather than taking a critical look at the deeper layers of television use, journalists more frequently write about handy figures. When discussing 'consequences', they speak rather of the 'appropriation' of television content by children as 'active recipients' than of 'the effects' of television on viewers. Appropriation serves as a subject-matter in a rather affirmative context. In contrast to that, the impact of television on children and young people is almost exclusively associated with negative effects.
Conclusion: when journalists write about programme content and the effects of television consumption they attribute quite positive aspects to them; a general demonisation of the medium in the children's section is not to be found. However, it is alarming that only a few articles discuss issues not connected with a description of programme offer and content or with the rates of use. Most of the reports on children's and youth television in the years 1997 to 2001 focus on economic aspects.
Political and economic dimensions
of evaluation prevail
Which evaluative dimensions do journalists mention in their arguments? In answering this research question it is more important to pay attention to the perspective of the given arguments than to the factual topics under consideration. In order to clarify this perspective several articles about the discussion of children's and youth television were sighted and different methods of argument were summarised into groups.
Nine evaluative dimensions:
The (marketing-/media-) economic dimension includes arguments that are situated in the context of market shares, quotas and merchandising. The (programme-/media-) political perspective summarises the importance for the variety of broadcasters and programmes, internal and personal decisions of broadcasting stations and political discussion. The artistic/creative dimension of evaluation refers to artistic performance. Legal aspects and judicial elements like the constitution, the protection of minors, advertising breaks and EU competition regulations are grouped in the media-ethical and media-legal dimension. The media-educational perspective deals with educating children for a reflected media use. Contents and functions of the media, their forms of use as well as the users` abilities (keyword: media literacy) are at the centre of media-pedagogical arguments. The medical perspective (healthcare) includes physical threats and effects to health. The personal-psychological point of view is focused on individual viewers and summarises mental threats or benefits, individual motives and motivations. The social perspective refers to the entire society and looks in general at cultural and sociological aspects.
The quantitative survey shows that the number of perspectives taken in each article increases: in 1997 the topic of children's and youth television is, on average, seen from two different angles; in 2001 there are about three different perspectives. The coverage of children's and youth television diminishes from 1997 to 2001 but simultaneously the articles become longer and more differentiated.
The most frequently used evaluative dimensions that journalists mention, when building their arguments, are media-political and media-economic perspectives. Consequently, market shares, quotas and merchandising as well as programme concepts or discussions about media laws are dimensions that are used most frequently in order to illuminate/discuss children's and youth television. Thereby, a media-economic point of view is taken more often in articles about youth television than in the field of children's television. One reason for this might be that the spending capacity of young people, which is also relevant for promotion and marketing strategies, plays a decisive role in the fight for market shares in this segment.
Concerning the development in the time evaluated it is striking that the personal-psychological perspective, which focuses on the individual level, is emphasised more and more. In general, the social dimension varies and is rather neglected. Journalists arrange their lines of argument, e.g. concerning psychical threats or benefits, with a view to the individual viewer. The percentage of articles with this focus rises from 10% of articles in 1997 to 43% four years later. An increased orientation towards the reader/viewer can be observed.
With regard to the media-pedagogical and educational perspective it is possible to state that these two perspectives are used independently of the respective age-group. Media-pedagogical arguments are given in about twice as many articles as educational arguments and can be found in about one third of the reports. It is not surprising that journalists embed pedagogical arguments in their discourse about children's and youth television as parents especially discuss television with a view to pedagogical arguments. What is remarkable, however, is that economic and political dimensions characterise the arguments more frequently.
It is also astonishing that the health/medical perspective is not given much attention at all in the articles evaluated. Thereby reporters use this evaluative dimension first of all in articles which refer to children's television. In the field of youth television, arguments with regard to health or likely physical threats appear only in a minor number of articles.
Actors/Protagonists: Focus on the
media industry, especially on broadcasting stations under
In the coverage of children's and youth television, the media industry is at the centre of attention. Within this group, journalists refer primarily to groups of persons from broadcasting stations under public law. In a comparison between broadcasters under public law and commercial providers, it is striking that representatives of public programmes - above all the Kinderkanal (Children's Channel) - are quoted more often. With regard to the attribution of decisive roles public service broadcasters are rather depicted as responsibles; however they are attributed the role of the affected respectively the bereaved one more seldom than private broadcasters. Therefore, journalists address their demands more often to broadcasters under public law. Journalists ascribe a more active and responsible role to public rather than private broadcasters.
Journalists also attach great importance to children's actions and their statements as they are the group immediately affected and involved in television use. Especially young people and children respectively are in the centre as consumers. However, they do not often get an opportunity to express criticism or to make demands. In contrast to this, parents are frequently seen to make demands.
However, from the data collected, it is not possible to detect an explicit tendency or stereotypical attribution of roles. Role distribution changes from year to year depending on current events. In the year of the Pokémon discussion for example, children are increasingly seen as consumers and their parents are strikingly often attributed the role of guardians.
In the group of researchers and experts, journalists increasingly refer to expert knowledge and the opinion of media experts. In contrast to this, institutes for media sciences are mentioned in the press coverage nearly exclusively in the context of conferences and the publication of surveys.
A synonym for high-quality children's programme: Information and documentation programmes by broadcasters under public law
Public service broadcasters are not only mentioned as actors/protagonists but their programmes are considered in articles more frequently than private formats. This tendency is not surprising in itself; however, the extent of it is indeed a matter of surprise. Programmes by public broadcasters are predominant in a list set up by journalists compiling examples of programmes that are popular and keep high standards. The children's classic Die Sendung mit der Maus (Programme with the Mouse) is mentioned in 9% of the articles. Journalists write nearly as much about private programmes which are not defined as children's programme but are quite popular with children and young people - e.g. the soap Gute Zeiten Schlechte Zeiten (Good Times Bad Times) - as they write about explicitly commercial children's programmes.
Some of the programmes, mostly those by private broadcasters, serve as negative examples for journalists: Pokémon, Power Rangers and Teletubbies, as well as programmes for adults such as Arabella Kiesbauer and Big Brother. The Teletubbies, a programme for infants, is the only negative example of a programme by a public broadcaster and gets very differing evaluations: apart from critical articles, some reporters even judged the series to be "exemplary" and "popular".
What journalists believe to be unsuitable
television for children and young people therefore centres
on well-known, commercial programmes. These programmes, especially,
are frequently discussed in public and in depth and are known
to every adult television user. The Teletubbies are the only
exception because they are broadcast by the public service
children's channel. However, the evaluation of the programme
is not merely negative.
A closer look at programmes organized in format groups shows that commercial broadcasters get more attention for their cartoons: these are more popular in the journalists´ eyes. However, according to journalists, the quality of public programmes is more convincing as these show cartoon formats with better contents.
The label "suitable for children" seems to be allocated clearly to information and documentation programmes by public service broadcasters and seems to be connected with the format Sendung mit der Maus (Programme with the Mouse) (see Götz 2001).
Comparison between press coverage
and television quota 2001
In addition to the survey on the general discussion of children's and youth television there was a second survey on successful programmes watched frequently by children which was evaluated via content analysis. The focus was thereby set on the correlation between press interest and viewing rates. Due to the enormous amount of material the time frame of the study had to be limited to the year 2001. The most successful children's programmes were determined by the hitlist of the 5000s in combination with the number of entries there. 122 qualifying articles taken from 43 leading publications and publishing outlets (newspapers, magazines, journals, specialist journals and news agencies) about the most successful programmes were filtered out with the help of commercial database like "gbi" and "genios".
The comparison between the most successful programme titles in 2001 and the coverage of them confirms tendencies from the analysis of the general coverage: according to the press coverage Die Sendung mit der Maus is the icon of German quality television.
Journalists write less about popular
commercial children's formats
In 2001, nearly all articles about the most important programme titles deal with the programme offer by public service broadcasters. One half of these articles refers to public children's programmes in the section documentaries and information, i.e. the "classics" like Die Sendung mit der Maus (46 articles), Löwenzahn (Dandelion) (8 articles) and Logo (6 articles). The frequent appearance of public programmes in the coverage is surprising here whereas even successful children's formats by commercial providers get only little attention. However, it is important to note that the Maus celebrated her 30th anniversary in 2001.
The coverage of children's and youth television changes during the time evaluated in this study. As time passes, fewer articles can be found about this topic. However, those texts which are published are longer and more varied. The number of objective, neutral reports diminishes but at the same time journalists emphasise service aspects such as programme tips and guides for viewers more strongly. Furthermore, journalists include different evaluative dimensions more frequently in their argumentation and illustrate these by naming specific titles. Journalists also write more articles on the occasion of the publication of scientific studies and reports. The coverage therefore becomes more differentiated over the five years and tends towards serving the readers` interests.
At the centre of the discussion of children's and youth television are not pedagogical arguments but economic and political aspects (programme policy). The topics which journalists mostly write about are market development, broadcasters and programme offer. Purely quantitative use rates are also mentioned frequently. A discussion far away from economic aspects and handy figures takes place in very few articles. The consequences of and motives for television consumption, such as appropriation and effects are seldom at the centre of attention and specific demands regarding content are not defined.
The discussion of media in the articles evaluated is frequently centred on public service broadcasters. They are more often the focus of the coverage than commercial providers. At the same time they are attributed a more active and responsible role. Programme titles are mostly penned by public broadcasters and get more positive and popular response than commercial formats. With the exception of the Teletubbies, the list of negative examples is headed by popular private programmes such as Pokémon and Power Rangers. However, this specific programme by a public service broadcaster has positive connotations for some journalists as well.