Frequently Asked Questions
Why does C-SPAN take audience calls?
The call-in program - and our philosophy of focusing on the caller -- has been a fixture of the C-SPAN networks since the network's founding; it's so fundamental to us, it's incorporated into our company mission statement. Through the call-in program, C-SPAN encourages viewer interactivity by enabling viewers and listeners to talk directly to elected officials, policymakers, and journalists covering the national policy debate. C-SPAN frequently incorporates viewer call-ins into its programming schedule, both in regularly scheduled call-ins and open-phones programs that allow people to react to breaking news events.
When was C-SPAN's first viewer call?
On October 7, 1980, just 18 months into its history, C-SPAN inaugurated television's first-ever, regularly scheduled national viewer call-in program from the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., following a speech by then- FCC Chair Charles Ferris. C-SPAN's first caller was from Yankton, South Dakota. See the video here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/ID/119327&start=8889&end=9250
Now, where can viewer voices be heard regularly?
C-SPAN frequently incorporates viewer calls into its live programming offerings. More regularly, calls are a major focus of the network's morning interview program Washington Journal (7 to 10am ET). The program is always live (except when a segment is replayed later) every day, 365 days a year. On January 4, 1995, Washington Journal replaced earlier call-in incarnations as C-SPAN's flagship viewer call-in program. See the video of that first Journal program here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/62484-1
How is the program staffed and run - and who decides the guests?
Washington Journal, guided by an Executive Producer, has a professional staff of producers, guest bookers, and production assistants who work as a team to decide what topics are covered on each day's program and which guests should be booked to discuss those topics. Each program strives to educate the viewing public about national issues and to learn from them.
What is there to know about Washington Journal hosts?
The role of the C-SPAN call-in host is to facilitate the dialogue between callers and our guests. Throughout its history, C-SPAN has drawn call-in hosts from its ranks; they host the program in addition to other roles at the network. The idea behind this practice is to avoid creating "personalities" so that the focus of the program remains on the guests and the callers.
How many calls does Washington Journal air?
The program strives to take about 60 callers per three-hour program-another way that callers are emphasized over comments and questions from the C-SPAN host. That translates into more than 400 calls per week - which works out roughly to 20,000 calls per year.
What's the concept behind "open phones" segments?
During open phone segments, viewers can discuss a topic or news item of their choosing, giving them an opportunity to drive the discussion. This open forum is a regular part of the Washington Journal, and also can be heard on other programming on all three C-SPAN television networks and C-SPAN Radio.
How does C-SPAN deal with calls that are distasteful in nature or factually inaccurate?
Our program is modeled on a
live town hall format during which participants are encouraged to ask questions
of our guests or express their opinions via phone calls, social media and
emails. Our program hosts are tasked with being the facilitators of the
on-air conversation. By dividing our call-in lines, we attempt to
encourage a wide variety of view points during the program and it is the nature
of an opinion forum that views will be expressed that some will find
offensive. Being supporters of free speech, we don’t want our hosts to be
arbiters of callers’ opinions. Nor can program hosts be expected to be
on-the-fly fact checkers about the wide variety of subjects discussed on the
program. Over the 30 plus years we’ve been airing call-in programs, we
observed that the vast majority of our callers are respectful participants.
However, if callers make ad hominem attacks or use indecent language,
program hosts are expected to step in to cut off the call. Given that
this involves quick judgment on their part in the midst of a live television
production, it can be an imperfect process. Airing of callers opinions’ does
not constitute endorsement of the views expressed, just as we do not endorse
the opinions or analysis offered by the guests on our program.
Are the calls aired live?
Yes. This is another philosophical aspect of our "town hall format." We've always taken the calls as they come in so that the agenda is set by the callers, not by our producers in Washington. We don't screen - except if callers violate the 30-day rule, explained next - and we have different lines for different positions on issues. Typically these lines are for Republicans, Democrats, and Independents to ensure ideological diversity among callers, but they may be changed up for specific issues.
Why the "30-day rule" for callers?
To encourage an "open dialogue' we don't want the program to be dominated by a small cadre of regular callers. The program hosts remind viewers to allow one month between calls to allow as many voices to be heard as possible. This is another "not perfect" aspect of the program--there are callers who violate this rule, as is sometimes pointed out by other regular listeners.
Are telephone calls the only way viewer's voices are heard?
No. In addition to calls, hosts will take viewers questions and comments via e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Twitter (@cspanwj). Also, we frequently continue Washington Journal conversations on C-SPAN's Facebook page, and we welcome audience comments and a robust discussion there as well (http://www.facebook.com/CSPAN).
How many people watch Washington Journal?
C-SPAN's public affairs programming is available in nearly 100 million households. C-SPAN, as a non-commercial network, doesn't measure viewership; we conduct occasional demographic surveys to measure reach and impact. The most recent was a March 2013 survey, which estimated 47 million Americans watch C-SPAN regularly -- at least once or twice a week. We don't have viewing numbers for the Washington Journal but we know from several such surveys that the percentage of viewers who attempt to call in is approximately five percent.