Analysing TV news: The Project

Analysing TV news: The Project

If there is one thing that every student can relate to it’s the stress of being required to demonstrate their expertise under pressure. Respected Melbourne academic Dr Benjamin Habib experienced the full force of that potentially debilitating pressure this month, when he had a panic attack during a live interview on ABC’s News Breakfast.

As things do these days, the footage went viral. Two days later, Dr Habib wrote a blog post about the moment; opened up about his long-term, hidden struggle with anxiety; and discussed some of the responses he received in the days following his very public attack. The incident did attract responses from some malicious trolls, but it also generated a significant wave of support and understanding. One such positive response came from Channel Ten’s The Project. The show discussed Dr Habib’s experience, but also used it as an opportunity to highlight the wider issue of mental health – its prevalence and effects as well as some of the potential ways to combat such moments of panic. As Dr Habib tweeted, the show told his story with ‘seriousness, dignity and honesty’.

In addition to being a respectful discussion of anxiety, this segment provides a lot of interesting language and structural devices for students to analyse. It includes a range of speakers who all use quite distinctive language and delivery patterns, so it will generate discussion about the different ways that tone, mood and authority can be established. It is structured very clearly and uses visual and verbal cues to signal the transitions between ideas; these cues and transitions will be easy to spot even for students who have not previously analysed multimodal texts like this. The visuals also offer a rich range of techniques to discuss, such as split screens, titles, statistics and text across the screen. On the surface the segment seems purely informative, but it positions viewers to think about Dr Habib’s experience and mental health issues in very particular ways.

On a more general note, the segment provides some expert advice about dealing with panic attacks and anxiety that might be of benefit to you and your students. It discusses the issue in a compassionate and open manner, which can only help to promote respectful discussions about mental health issues in your class. Dr Habib’s blog posts are also a great study in how to deal with public embarrassment in an open, intelligent and thoroughly dignified manner, and are the best illustrations of resilience I have seen in a long time.

Scroll down for a concise content breakdown that will help you to assess if this resource is right for your school context or class, and for a free downloadable PDF of guiding questions and activities.

Best wishes and happy teaching.

Sandra Duncanson
Senior Editor

The resource

‘Anatomy of a meltdown’ segment from The Project aired Friday 12 February 2016.

Source: Ten Network and Roving Enterprises
Form: TV news/current affairs/panel show segment
Length: 4:22
Contributors to the segment:

  • Panelists: Waleed Aly, Gorgi Coghlan, Meshel Laurie
  • Guests: Brad McEwan, Beyond Blue Ambassador; Associate Professor Michael Baigent, Flinders University

Context: On 8 February 2016, Melbourne academic Dr Benjamin Habib experienced an anxiety attack during an interview on ABC News Breakfast. On 10 February, Dr Habib posted an eloquent, moving and honest account of his struggle with anxiety on his blog. On 12 February, Channel Ten’s The Project featured this story about Dr Habib’s experience, his blog post and the issue of anxiety and mental health.

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Download includes content for:

  • Years 11 and 12 English/EAL: analysing argument and persuasive language
  • Year 11 EAL: listening skills
  • Year 10: exploring how the structure of TV texts can help to position an audience (ACELA1566) and the ways in which shots, backgrounds, additional footage, on-screen text, and the features of spoken language (including delivery) may influence audience response (ACELT1641)

Suitability and relevance

Central ideas

  • The segment explains the context for the story and includes some extracts from a blog post by Dr Habib about his panic attack that was published two days after his interview.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks are discussed, including the proportion of people who suffer from anxiety. The segment also includes comments from a Beyond Blue Ambassador and an expert in anxiety disorders, and a personal anecdote about experiencing panic attacks from one of the panelists.

Cross references: Dr Habib’s ABC News Breakfast interview and his blog post.

Visual components: commentary delivered to camera, on-screen text, cuts to footage from interviews and ABC News Breakfast; includes a range of backgrounds used for effect including green screens, generic ‘crowd shots’ and an office background.

Content warnings: this segment discusses anxiety and mental illness and its effects, specifically with regard to panic attacks and anxiety. While all of the contributors to this segment deal with the issue in a very respectful and supportive way, the general content – especially the footage of Dr Habib’s panic attack – may be uncomfortable or a trigger for some students with ongoing or recent mental health issues. (If you use this segment in class, you might consider incorporating a discussion of the avenues available to students in your school if they need support.)

Additional resources

  • ‘“Excruciating, mortifying, devastating”: academic’s humiliating meltdown on national TV’ by Catherine Armitage, Sydney Morning Herald, 11 February 2016.
  • ‘What it feels like to freeze on national television’ by Dr Benjamin Habib, posted on his blog, Dr Benjamin Habib, 10 February 2016.  (Dr Habib intends to regularly blog about his experiences with anxiety. His latest post explores his experience of anxiety as a child and the role of physical activity in minimising its effects. Thanks to Dr Habib for his permission to feature his posts.)

©Insight Publications 2016

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