Much debate about the reliability of the news, and as to whether it is objective and unbiased or subjective and biased.
- argues that ‘news’ is not objective or impartial.
- Events happen, but this does not guarantee that they become news – 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, and sometimes proprietors, make choices and judgements about what events are important enough to cover and how to cover them.
Sociologists point out that the process of news selection is biased because it is dependent upon broader influences:
WILLIAMS (2003) identifies three important influences on media content:
- the power of those who work in the media - e.g. journalists
- the day-to-day organisation & routine of media companies
- the culture of society - the wider norms & values
1) INFLUENCE OF MEDIA WORKERS
- argued that particular individuals play a significant role in determining which items make the news
- study was based on the decisions made by one news editior on what should appear on national & international news in a small American newspaper
- the study suggested that the editors individual prejudices played a significant role in the selection process
- he acted as a 'GATE KEEPER' - only allowing certain preferred stories to pass through the 'gate' into the news
Later research by WILLIAMS challenged this view:
- did an investigation into the selections made by a number of news editiors did not find any significant variation in the news items chosen
- suggests individual media workers decisions are influenced by the organisation in which they work rather than their own preferences
- reinforced by the fact that news selection involves many people -- no one individual can be held responsible for the final product
2) INFLUENCE OF ORGANISATIONAL STRUCTURES
News coverage is shaped by the way television news companies and newspapers are organised:
- Financial constraints:
- e.g., sending reporters overseas and booking satellite connections can be very expensive - may result in ‘news’ reports even if very little is actually happening, in order to justify such heavy costs.
- more likely to spend money sending reporters to well known/western places - know more about what is happening in N. America & Europe than in S. American & Africa
- There has been a decline in expensive forms of news coverage such as investigative reporting or foreign affairs coverage because news organisations are cutting costs
- Time available for a news bulletin or the column space in a newspaper
- e.g. events are much more likely to be reported if they can be presented in a small amount of time
- more likely to include a shorter story than a long one if time is limited
- All news included usually happened the day before.
- Newspapers have a deadline of 10oclock, if event happens after, unlikely to be in tomorrows paper
- Television news is more immediate, often broadcast as it happens, i.e. rolling news.
- to enable news to be understood more easily, stories are put into common frameworks
- i.e. one story may be put into the framework of a 'barbaric terroist attack' and another similar story as an 'understandable accident'
- HALL ET AL - argues frameworking is common, powerful groups are able to act as 'Primary Definers' - immediately laying down the view that will be taken on the story (less powerful voices may be heard, but are often drowned out/ridiculed
- the content and style of news programmes is often dependent on the type of audience thought to be watching
- Newspaper content is designed to the social characteristics of newspaper’s readers, e.g. The Sun is aimed at a working class young readership and so uses simplistic language
Spencer-Thomas (2008) 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.
The following are some of the news values used:
- DRAMA - excitement, action & entertainment in an event
- SUPRISE - the unpredictability of an event, out of the ordinary
- PROXIMITY - more likely to choose a story occured closely as the audience will relate to it
- PERSONALITIES - royaltly, celebrities etc. - more interesting than ordinary people
- NUMBERS - the bigger the scale of the event, the better
- SIGNIFICANCE - social, political, economic or human
- SEX, SCANDAL & CRIME - popular topics
Sociologists agree that we need to take account of the influence of both media owners & organisational factors in order to understand the production of media messages.
- in many cases, these influences mean that media coverage reflects the interest of the powerful groups
HOWEVER, this is not always the case:
- powerful groups do not always speak with one voice, often conflicts over how events should be interpreted
- in these cases, it is not possible to identify one primary definer of the issue
The media itself sometimes challenge powerful groups:
- some investigative journalists can become the primary definers, with the powerful groups being obliged to respond to the way the media defines the issue
3) THE INFLUENCE OF WIDER CULTURE
What counts as news and the way its reported will reflect the wider culture - the shared norms, values, concerns and beliefs of society
-E.g. Basketball, Baseball, Ice hockey & American Football dominate sports reporting in the newspapers in the USA, rarely found in British papers
News often reflects strongly held values of the wider culture - E.g. murder is regularly reported/condemned - reflects high value placed on human life
News reporting draws on widely held cultural stereotypes - E.g. SCHUDSON (200) argues news reports representing young black men as problems & women as sex objects reflect shared cultural stereotypes
Organisations attempt to manage the news in order to present themselves in the best light - try to ensure their actions are seen to be in line with the wider cultures norms/values
However: governments & powerful organisations are not always able to portray their actions as fitting the norms & values of society - e.g. it is difficult for governments to control media coverage when accidents such as oil spills occur (McCullagh 2002)
CONCLUSION OF SELECTION & PRESENTATION OF THE NEWS
Most researchers see the construction of news in the following way:
- News is socially constructed - created within a framework of social relationships & cultural beliefs
- There is no 'truth out there' which is reported in the news
- News consists of information that is selected and interpreted on the basis of national norms, values and concerns
- Those who actually construct the news (editors & journalists) do so within organisational structures & in terms of news values. These define what counts as news