Landman Library

Distinguishing Fact from Opinion on TV News

Different Types of Television News Programs

When you turn on a nightly news program on a local station such as Philadelphia's 6abc or Fox29, you encounter a very different type of program than what you might see during prime time on a national cable network such as MSNBC or Fox News. Like different types of text-based news articles, different types of TV news programs have different goals and are intended for different primary audiences. While there are common elements among many different types of TV news, there are also qualities that differentiate types of programming. 

Let's consider a few different types of TV news programs.

Local daily or nightly news programs typically deliver fact-based reporting alongside some commentary, analysis, or opinion. Generally there will be one or two anchors based in a news studio who deliver content and make transitions from the studio to correspondents at different locations, pre-recorded segments, or in-studio segment hosts. Typical segments in local daily news programs include things like top national and local headlines, traffic, and weather, and human interest stories. Local daily news programs also sometimes contain segments of sponsored content, which promote a business, product, or tourism, and are paid for by a company or organization.  In the Philadelphia area, two examples of local daily news programs are 6abc Action News and Fox 29 News.

National broadcast news programs also typically offer primarily fact-based reporting alongside some analysis, commentary, and opinion. Like local news, national news shows typically have an anchor in the news studio who both delivers content and moderates the show as it moves between segments and correspondents. National news programs do not provide local content such as regular weather coverage. Some examples of national broadcast news programs include shows such as PBS NewsHour or ABC World News Tonight.

News talk shows tend to follow one of a few different formats. One charateristic that they have in common is that these types of shows are not focused on delivering fact-based reporting on the news of the day. Instead, these shows mostly provide analysis and commentary about the news, and generally contain a lot of opinion.

  • Pundit shows usually feature one person, often seated at a desk in a news studio in the same manner as a typical broadcast news anchor. Instead of simply reporting news, the host provides analysis, commentary, and opinion. The host may also interview people or convene panels to discuss current events and issues that are in the news. Pundit shows can be very opinionated and can exhibit varying degrees of political bias, so it is important to distinguish them from shows that are focused on providing fact-based reporting on the news of the day. Examples of such shows can often be found during prime time on cable channels, such as Tucker Carlson Tonight on the Fox News Channel or The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC.
  • Panel talk shows have more than one host sharing their commentary and opinion on current events and issues in the news. Guests may join them to add their voice to the discussion. There are a range of panel shows with different focuses. Some examples include morning talk shows such as ABC's Good Morning America, NBC's Today Show, and Fox News's Fox and Friends. Morning shows tend to have segments on current events, lifestyle, entertainment, and human interest stories. Other types of panel talk shows include shows such as ABC's The View, in which a group of women discuss the social and political issues, and ESPN's SportsCenter, in which a panel of hosts discuss the day's games and current topics in sports. 
  • Satire or comedy shows also provide analysis, commentary, and opinion on current events, and do so in a way that is meant to be entertaining, and often to poke fun at prominent people. They may use some of the conventions of a news show, such as having a host seated at a desk in a studio, much like an anchor. However, these shows generally do not provide original reporting. They may instead share information gathered by news organizations, alongside commentary, opinion, and jokes. Examples of this include satirical news programs such as The Daily Show on Comedy Central, as well as the monolgue portion of late night shows such as The Late Show with Stephen Colbert or the "A Closer Look" segment of Late Night with Seth Myers. 
    • Satire and comedy news shows have evolved over the past decade or so, and now may occasionally include some content that blurs the lines of comedy and original reporting alongside their secondary information sharing and commentary. For example, The Daily Show correspondent Jordan Klepper's recent special, Jordan Klepper Solves Guns, involves journalistic elements such as embedding with a group for an extended interview and seeking multiple perspectives on a topic, but remains a comedy program. Similarly, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver generally does a good job of presenting the sources of the information they use in the program both in the narration and using graphics, but also sometimes orchestrates pranks that reveal new information, such as tricking local news programs to air a segment promoting a fake medical product in the May 2021 episode about sponsored content.
  • Each of these various types of talk shows can be considered infotainment - a format that combines information and entertainment. However, it is important to note that individual shows, regardless of type, may tend to combine information and entertainment in different amounts, even from episode to episode. As viewers, it's important to practice distinguishing elements of fact from elements of opinion when evaluating information and perspectives presented in news-oriented talk shows.