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Topic 3 - The social construction of news
In 2005, 72% of people indicated that television was their primary source of news coverage.
Only 10% relied upon newspapers to obtain their news, a further 9% relied upon radio.
Selection and presentation of news
McQuail argues that `news' is not objective or impartial. Not all events can be reported
because of the sheer number of them. McQuail argues that news is a socially manufactured
product because it is the end result of a selective process. Gatekeepers, such as editors
and journalists, make choices and judgements about what events are important enough to
cover and how to cover them.
Organisational or bureaucratic routines
News coverage is shaped by the way television news companies and newspapers are
organised. This can be illustrated in a number of ways.
Financial constraints sending personnel overseas and booking satellite connections can be
very expensive and may result in `news' reports even if very little is actually happening, in
order to justify such heavy costs. E.g. BBC spent millions of pounds reporting the student
led demonstrations in Tiananmen Sq in China thus didn't have the money to cover news on
the Berlin Wall which was taken down later in the same year. News agencies often rely on
agencies like Reuters (an international news agency headquarters in London) to provide
Deadlines newspapers by their very nature are dated. All news included usually happened
the day before. Television news is more immediate as it is often broadcast as it happens.
E.g. BBC News a 24-hour rolling news television network in the United Kingdom.
Audiences the content and style of news programmes is often dependent on the type of
audience thought to be watching. Newspaper content too is geared to the social
characteristics of a newspaper's readers. E.g. The Sun is aimed at a working class young
readership and so uses simplistic language because it believes that this is what its
Political influence - the links between gatekeepers and politicians is inevitable as journalists
rely on politicians to gain unknown information to report as news. For example, News
International scandal involved News of the World employees who engaged in phone hacking
of politicians and members of the British Royal Family in the pursuit of publishing stories.
Spencer-Thomas notes that editors and journalists use the concept of news values to
determine the newsworthiness of a particular story and to judge whether it will attract a
significant readership or audience.
What is regarded as newsworthy varies according to the type of news outlet, i.e. it differs
between newspapers, as well as television channels, depending upon the type of person
who is thought to be reading or watching. These news values were catalogued by Galtung
and Ruge and include:
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Extraordinariness unexpected, rare, unpredictable and surprising events have more
newsworthiness than routine events because they are out of the ordinary. E.g. The
unexpected death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997.
Threshold the intensity of the event. E.g. Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest and most
destructive Atlantic tropical cyclone of the 2005 Atlantic hurricane season.
Unambiguity events that are easy to grasp are more likely to be reported than those
which are complex.…read more
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the uncritical over-reliance by
journalists on `facts' churned out by government spin doctors and public relations experts.
He found that 80% of news stories in two national newspapers were sourced in this way
over a two week period in 1997. Only 12% of stories were generated by journalists.…read more