The news is a socially manufactured product, rather than an objective ‘window on the world’.
Many events happen in reality which do not get reported in the news and those which do appear in the news are placed in a particular order of priority and ‘framed’ by the questions which are asked and who is asked to comment on the events.
It follows that the content and format of the news is a result of many decisions made by several media professionals and those they work with and that the news will thus reflect the biases of those who are involved in its creation.
‘The News is Socially Constructed’ = the news is a manufactured product, the result of decisions made by media professionals about what to include and how to present what is included.
This post presents a brief introduction to the factors which influence news content, covering news values, organisational routines, media owners and the background of journalists. It has primarily been written for students of A-level sociology, studying The Sociology of Media option, AQA specification.
News Values are general guidelines which determine how newsworthy an event is. The more news values an event has, then the more prominence the event will be given in a news programme or a newspaper.
Examples of News Values include:
- Extraordinariness – how unusual an event is. An event which is not routine and unexpected is more likely to be included in the news.
- Threshold – the bigger and event the more likely it is to be included – e.g. more deaths are better.
- Negativity – generally war, violence, death, tragedy, all are more newsworthy than happy events.
- Unambiguity – the simpler, more black and white an event the more likely it is to be included in the news agenda
- Personalisation – if a story can be linked to an individual, and a personal story made out of it, then it is more newsworthy.
Organisational or Bureaucratic routines
These are logistical factors which can limit what events are included as news items and include:
- Financial costs
- Time and Space
- The audience
- Journalistic ethics
Economic factors and ownership
Instrumentalist Marxists argue that owners can influence content, and a good example of this is the control Rupert Murdoch exerted over the reporting of the Iraq war in 2003 – he was for the war and his newspapers did not criticise it.
Advertising can also affect the news agenda – independent news companies are dependent on advertising revenue, so they are unlikely to report on issues which are critical of capitalism and economic growth.
There is a hierarchy of credibility – the news generally presents the views of the elite and wealthy first and then the radicals and critics in response, suggesting the elite view is the norm.
Most Journalists are middle class
More than 50% of journalists were educated in private schools, and most of the rest come from middle class backgrounds.
This means they share a middle class ‘establishment’ view of the world and will see middle class issues as more signficant than working class interests, and/ or present the interests of the middle classes as being the interests of everyone.