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What Does a Commentator Do?

Television commentators share their views on current events with a broadcast audience.
Commentators are often found on TV sports broadcasts.
A commentator may work for a radio station.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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A commenter is someone who provides commentary on events, current issues, the news, or a specific subject of interest. Commentators work around the world in a wide variety of settings. Many work in broadcast media, offering commentary over the radio or on television, and some may also contribute to print media with written commentary. Some commentators become very well known; Edward R. Murrow, for example, was a famous broadcast journalist and commentator.

One area in which commentators are commonly used is sports events, where they may be known as sportscasters or color commentators, depending on the type of commentary they offer. On the radio, a sportscaster describes the action so that people can follow along at home. On television, color commentators provide facts and information, commentary about the game, and material which they think might be interesting to viewers at home.

Commentators may also have regular columns, broadcast or printed, in which they can talk about a variety of issues. Political commentators, sometimes known as pundits, are very common, and tend to approach politics from a particular perspective. A conservative commentator, for example, would discuss political developments from a conservative point of view. Commentators can also comment on global issues, economics, social policy, and so forth.

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A commentator may also opt to analyze and discuss the news, artistic media, and other subjects of interest. Commentators who discuss the arts tend to be more rare. In all cases, a commentator often makes guest appearances in venues where he or she does not normally appear, because commentators are recognized as authorities on the topics they cover. For example, a radio station might invite a well-known economic commentator to do a guest spot discussing a current economic issue.

Working as a commentator is hard work. These professionals must keep up with constant news developments while working on their columns and material, which are often prepared beforehand. Being a commentator can require travel, and the need for constantly fresh material. When a commentator is preparing something every day for years, it can start to get challenging to bring new material to viewers, listeners, and readers.

Someone who wants to become a commentator can approach the career from a number of perspectives. Some start out with training in journalism and related fields, while others may opt to train in their area of interest first, and then learn commentating skills. Sometimes commentating is a second career; some athletes, for example, go on to become sportscasters or color commentators after their athletic careers are over.

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Crispety
Post 14

@Mutsy -I know what you mean, but I enjoy listening to legal commentators on air. Legal proceedings are fascinating to me, but I don’t always understand the significance of certain rulings.

This is why I like listening to legal analysts on television. I enjoy hearing their opinions and predictions on how the case will turn out.

It was amazing when most legal commentators heard the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial. Just about every legal commentator said that she would get convicted, but when the jury delivered an acquittal most of these legal commentators were shocked and a little angry at the verdict.

mutsy
Post 13

@Alisha- I also enjoy listening to political commentators but you have to remember that political discussions are always biased. Political commentators will always spin a story to reflect their political viewpoints.

While sometimes you do get exposed to information that you did not know about, you should really listen to a lot of different channels and read a lot of different newspapers to get more objective views.

I remember years ago political commentators were reporting on exit polling for the 2004 presidential election and were giving their opinions on are why the results of the polling were the way they were.

Well, not only was the exit polling incorrect, but so were the assumptions that many of these pundits made about the elections. This involved the presidential election of 2004 and the political commentators stated that John Kerry would win by five points, but President Bush was reelected by the same margin.

A worse problem happened in the 2000 presidential election. Not only did the pundits announce an incorrect winner, but they did so when the polls were still open which could have affected the outcome of that election. For that election virtually every political commentator was wrong and had to retract statements because of it.

geekish
Post 12

The commentators I have listened to are sportscasters. Most sportscasters are the main reason why I do not like watching most sporting events on television.

Most sports commentators on television seem to just state the blatantly obvious facts of the game, something that someone not even familiar with the sport can usually pick up. Also, they make fun of different players who make a mistake, like the sportscasters can do any better.

I can understand the radio sportscasters who describe every obvious detail because people that are just listening to a game may need a play by play to paint the correct picture of the game.

It seems as though few people watch sports to hear the sportscasters. I view sportscasters as more of a nuisance than anything. I know there is a lot more that goes into the job than meets the ear, but it seems like they get paid a lot just to judge/criticize others and to state the obvious.

I must miss the portion(s) where they say fun and interesting information that most wouldn't already know, because I do not feel like I have learned much after listening to hours of sports commentary.

PinkLady4
Post 11

I agree, working as a commentator, for example writing a newspaper column, can be very taxing. Some of them do it until they are quite old. They have to spend so much time searching for information, traveling and talking to others. And on top of that, they have to write an original column that is truthful and that will appeal to their readers.

The actual organizing and writing of the material is probably the easiest, because they have been writing for so many years. I think coming up with a topic and gathering information is the hardest part.

sweetPeas
Post 10

I enjoy listening to some TV commentators who review and comment on the news. I especially like those who put an historical spin on it. Like they say, "history repeats itself" and I like to see how the past fits in with what is happening now.

I like a commentator who does his research and backs up his opinion with facts.

I try to listen to commentary on a topic from several different viewpoints. If a commentator get angry and critical of others - off goes the TV.

ZsaZsa56
Post 9

As they say, everyone is a critic. As true as this is I sometimes think that the world could do with a few fewer commentators. It seems like everyone has an opinion but there are very few good ideas out there.

I can respect expert opinions and I know that there is a time and a place for commenting. But sometimes It seems like everyone with a blog and a twitter account has something to say about the Greek debt crisis. Frankly, the Greeks barely understand the crisis so why would I want to to listen to the opinions of some car dealer in Arizona?

SZapper
Post 8

@indemnifyme - I don't think you necessarily need to play a sport professionally to be able to discuss it intelligently. I feel like most commentators are plenty informed about sports and the rules of the games. That's just my opinion though.

I will say that I find some political commentators particularly irritating. I know there job is to kind of state their opinion, as well as talk about what is going on. But sometimes I think they go too far with their "slant." Sometimes they seem to distort the facts so they fit their views instead of just speaking the truth!

indemnifyme
Post 7

I find a lot of commentators extremely annoying. I think it's especially annoying when they hire someone with no experience in sports to commentate on the game.

I feel like actually playing a sport would give you the qualifications to talk about it. But if you've never had the experience, how are you supposed to accurately talk about it.

Also, sometimes I get the impression that it's one of those "If you can't do, teach" situations. The commentators seem so quick to criticize the players, like they could have done a better job if they were out there or something!

SkyWhisperer
Post 6

@simrin - The only time I listen to sports commentary is after a big game, like the Super Bowl. After the game is over I like to listen to a play by play commentator give a wrap up of the big successes and failures of the game, showing the highlights in replay video. Other than that, I’m not really interested in their opinions too much.

Charred
Post 5

@NathanG - I think the worst commentator you could ever listen to is someone who runs for political office, fails – or gets kicked out for scandal – and then gets hired on by a cable news network to have his own show!

What’s the point in that? Failure qualifies you to deliver political commentary? As weird as it sounds, that appears to be the case. But it reinforces the difference between broadcast commentary and print commentary.

In the broadcast sphere, it’s all about personality. If you can pull in the ratings, the cable companies will give you a platform. Your opinions may not really matter a whole lot.

NathanG
Post 4

@MrMoody - I love watching the talking heads on television, and I listen to just about all of them. I don’t necessarily agree with them, but I like to find the range of opinions on a subject.

I may watch a CNN commentator or listen to the panel on the McLaughlin Group or tune in to The O’Reilly Factor. There’s a wide spectrum of opinion there.

I tend to weigh the value of what’s said by the quality of the commentary. For example, some pundits have a rich knowledge of history. When they discuss current events in the light of history it puts an interesting perspective on things.

Other pundits deliver more shallow opinions. I sometimes wonder how these people ever got in the business. There’s a certain amount of marketing in this business I think.

MrMoody
Post 3

Believe it or now, growing up I wanted to be a commentator – more specifically, a newspaper columnist.

I had read the essays of Russell Baker, William Saroyan and Art Buchwald (his were humorous) and I loved the format of the newspaper column. It was short, pithy, filled with insight.

I enjoyed writing and thought this would be the ideal medium to showcase some of my talent, and it wouldn’t be as “hard” as being a journalist. I thought the difference between reporters versus commentators is that reporters had to write the hard news whereas the commentators simply wrote their opinions, which was certainly easier.

However, later I found out that many commentators got their start working as reporters. Nowadays you don’t need to have a column to air your opinions of course. You can have your own blog. Somehow that has never had the same appeal to me as the newspaper column.

SteamLouis
Post 2

I'm not a huge sports fan, so I can't say I listen to sports commentators a lot. But my boyfriend loves baseball and I watch games with him once in a while and listen to the baseball commentator to keep up with what's going on in the game.

Commentators I do follow regularly are film commentators, which are also called film critics. I love watching films and usually head to the theaters the first or second week a film releases. But I don't want to waste my money if the film is not good, since tickets are not that cheap.

So I follow several film critics that have a review of the film up in their comment section the day after it releases. I decide what films I want to see based on their reviews. Most film critics have a section in an online newspaper or a web site, so it doesn't cost anything to read their comments.

discographer
Post 1

I love reading political news commentators' columns in the newspaper. Pundits tend to know more about a political situation and discuss things that I often don't get to hear about in news programs and articles.

So when I want to get the inside scoop or if I want to hear different views on a current issue, I read the commentator columns in newspapers after hearing about it. I think it helps me get a better idea of what's really going on. It's also helpful when it's time to vote on a issue because I feel like I'm making a well informed decision when I know the viewpoints of expert pundits.

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