Semiotics of Television News: oil and water?

Bernadine Jones

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


In the age of new media, social networking sites, and convergence journalism on online news channels, the role of television news, a static and some may say dying art form (Geller 2006; Van Der Westhuizen 2012), in representing the wider world is questionable. The trend in television news as a source of information gathering is definitely downward overall. Television news is the second most popular medium for sourcing news in South Africa (Malila 2013:5), and although television technology may be on its way out of our lives to be replaced by hard-drives, laptops, tablets, and digital media, news on this medium is still a universal common denominator in finding information. Television news still has the broadest reach, second only to radio especially in South Africa. Just this statistic tells us that this medium is worth study, but even more so is the impact television has on the world.

Television is a difficult and complex, yet rewarding, medium to analyse. As Ruth Teer-Tomaselli (2012) noted on my Master’s degree, “it is image, sound, and verbal text. These vectors slide across the analytical plate like peas eaten with chopsticks”. The texts located within television news include the audio track (dialogue, sound) and the visual track (images, as well as the political economy context of media ownership, and these three tracks contain separate meanings as well as a combination meaning when placed together. The juxtaposition between these different layers provides syntagmatic and paradigmatic meanings that can be awkward to decipher without a dedicated methodology. Teer-Tomaselli points out that “the how to do it part is so crucial” (2012) when studying television news. While several researchers have attempted a systematic analysis using semiotic, discourse, and content analysis (Chandler 1994a, Berger 2010, and Dueck 1995 for example), investigation is awkward and lengthy without a specific methodological approach.

Taking into account the image and narrative analysis akin to film studies, as well as discourse analysis as per print analysis, this paper argues for a dedicated methodological approach for television news analysis, a popular yet awkward medium to analyse. The precise methodology for best practice qualitative text analysis is yet poorly defined (Macnamara 2005:16), but this paper, passed on my own Master’s degree and current PhD research, provides a suggestion to that very concern. No qualitative content or narrative analysis can ever be as precise as quantitative, scientistic research, but I argue here for a simplified beginner analysis, or a “best practice” method to open the field for future research scholars and media students.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2014
EventSouth African Communication Association: 40th Annual Event - North West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa
Duration: 30 Sept 20143 Oct 2014


ConferenceSouth African Communication Association
Abbreviated titleSACOMM
Country/TerritorySouth Africa


  • television news
  • Semiotic analysis
  • multimodal methodology
  • Discourse analysis


Dive into the research topics of 'Semiotics of Television News: oil and water?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.
  • Best Paper

    Jones, Bernadine (Recipient), 2 Oct 2014

    Prize: Prize (including medals and awards)

  • DST/NRF Innovation Scholarship

    Jones, Bernadine (Recipient), 2014

    Prize: Fellowship awarded competitively

Cite this