Media Representations of women

Women have historically been underrepresented and misrepresented in stereotypical roles within mainstream media.

This post focuses on symbolic annihilation, the cult of femininity and the male gaze as examples of this, and then looks at whether things have changed in recent decades.

Under-representation and symbolic annihilation

Gaye Tuchman (1978) developed the concept of Symbolic Annihilation to refer to the under-representation of women in a narrow range of social roles, while men were represented in a full range of social and occupational roles.

Tuchman also argued that women’s achievements were often not reported or trivialised and often seen as less important than things like their looks

According to Tuchman, women were often represented in roles linked to gender stereotypes, particularly those related to housework and motherhood – a good example of this being washing powder advertisements in which mothers and small daughters are working together, while men and boys are the ones covered in mud. This post has some excellent examples of such stereotypes.

Ferguson (1980) conducted a content analysis of women’s magazines from the end of WWII to 1980 and found that representations were organised around what she called the cult of femininity, based on traditional, stereotypical female roles and values: caring for others, family, marriage, and concern for appearance.

Ferguson noted that teenage magazines aimed at girls did offer a broader range of female representations, but there was still a focus on him, home and looking good for him.

The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in 2006 found that there was little coverage of women’s sport, but what little coverage there was had a tendency to trivialise, sexualise and devalue women’s sporting achievements. HOWEVER, this later example may be something that has changed considerably over the last decade (see below).

Misrepresentations (myths and stereotypes)

In ‘The Mouse that Roared’ Henry Giroux argued that women were represented in a narrow, restricted and distorted range of roles.

Supporting evidence for Giroux lies in the historical representation of female characters in Disney Films – where the typical female character is a sexualised yet delicate princess who needs to be rescued by a stronger male character.

Examples of where Disney reinforces female stereotypes include:

  • Snow White – who cleans the house of the male dwarves and is eventually rescued by a male prince because she is pretty.
  • Beauty and the Beast – In which Belle endures an abusive and violent beast in order to redeem him.
  • Ariel – who gives up her voice to win the prince with her body.
  • Mulan – who wins the war almost single handed only to return home to be romanced.

This blog post from Society Pages is well worth a read on this topic.

Laura Mulvey ‘The Male Gaze’

Laura Mulvey studied cinema films and developed the concept of the Male Gaze to describe how the camera lens eyed up the female characters for the sexual viewing pleasure of men.

The Male Gaze occurs when the camera focuses on women’s bodies, especially breasts, bums and things, and spends too long lingering on these areas when it isn’t necessary.

The male gaze of the camera puts the audience in the perspective of the heterosexual men – woman are displayed as a sexual object for both the characters in the film and the spectator – thus the man emerges as the dominant force and the woman is passive under the active (sexual) gaze of the man.

The overall effect of this is that women become objectified as sex objects, rather than being represented as whole people.

Mulvey argued that the Male Gaze occurred in film because heterosexual men were in control of the camera.

Video summarizing all of the above:

This is a very useful vodcast outlining the classic theories of the poor representation of women in the media historically: 

Changes to the representations of women?

The roles of women in society have changed considerably since these historical analyses of women’s representations: since the 1970s women now occupy a much wider range of roles and equality with men.

David Gauntlett in ‘Media Gender and Identity’ argues that there has been an increase in the diversity of representations and roles of women in the media since the 1970s, and a corresponding decrease in stereotypical representations, which broadly reflects wider social changes.

The representation of women in films

There have been several films in recent decades with ‘strong’ lead female characters who are fierce, tough and resourceful, and thus arguably subvert hegemonic concepts of masculinity. Arguably a watershed moment in this was the 1979 film ‘Alien’ in which the female lead character Ripley outlives her male colleagues and ultimately kills the Alien threat.

Since then a number of female heroines have featured as the lead characters in various action movies such Terminator 2, the Tomb Raider films, Kill Bill, and The Hunger Games.

However, rather than subverting hegemonic concepts of masculinity, it could be argued that such films still perpetuate the ‘beauty myth’ as all the above lead female characters are slim and attractive.

Katniss Everdeen – a positive representation of women?

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel Test is a simple test which presents a quantitative analysis of the representation of women in relation to men in film. To pass the test a film has to pass three tests…

  1. It has to have at least two (named) women in it
  2. Who talk to each other
  3. Above something other than a man

The website above allows you to search for films which passed the test by year, and there is clear evidence that female characters are more visible and independent year on year, but there are still many films which do not pass this simple basic test.

The representation of women in Game of Thrones

At first glance, there seem to be a number of positive female characters in Game of Thrones – the assassin and ultimate killer of the Ice King Arya Stark being the most stand-out example, with other positive female characters including Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Sansa Stark (once she gets through her abusive relationship).

However, various feminist commentators have argued that all of these positive representations are let down by the end of series eight with Brienne falling apart emotionally because of her love for Jamie Lannister, Daenerys literally going mad, Sansa apparently being strong because of her previous abusive relationship (rather than in spite of it), and with all the anonymous women cowering in the crypt during the battle with the Ice King, while all the anonymous men are outside fighting.

A further Feminist argument is that all of these women are portrayed as strong individuals who are strong because they adopt male characteristics, and ultimately it is male violence which wins the day rather than more diverse forms of feminine power.

Positive representations of women in 2019?

 

The representations of women in the news

 In 2015 the Global Media Monitoring group conducted quantitative content analysis of 1960 sources covering 431 announcers and reporters.

They found that:

  • The overall presence of women as sources was 28%.
  • Compared to 2010 data, the number of women sources as a proportion of all sources, had decreased by 3 per cent.
  • Women continued to remain largely confined to the sphere of the private, emotional and subjective, while men still dominate the sphere of the public, rational and objective.
  • Women were significantly under-represented in hard news stories and in all the authoritative, professional and elite source occupational categories and are, instead, significantly over-represented as voices of the general, public (homemaker, parent, student, child) and in the occupational groups most associated with ‘women’s work’, such as health and social and childcare worker, office or service industry worker.

Looking  at the function women performed in stories, their contribution as experts (20%) and spokespeople (25%) were low,  instead, they were mostly called upon to voice popular opinion (54%) or speak from their personal experience including as eye-witnesses or speak from their own subject position.

The persistence of the Beauty Myth?

Tebbel (2000) argues that women are under more pressure than ever before to conform to the Beauty Myth. She argues that the body and faces of real women have been symbolically annihilated, replaced by computer manipulated, airbrushed, artificially images.

Killborn argues that media representations present women as ‘mannequins’ – size zero, tall and thin, and with perfect blemish-free skin.

Orbach further argues that the media continues to associate slimness with health, happiness, success and popularity

The representations of women in advertising

 Some recent evidence seems to challenge the persistence of the Beauty Myth….

There seems to have been progress in this area in recent years. In 2015, Protein World launched its ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign, and while this clearly reinforced the Beauty Myth stereotype, it prompted a significant backlash with several of the advertisements being vandalised, and many women posting images of their ordinary bodies on social media as a criticism of the overt body shaming involved with Protein World’s advert.

Since 2015, there has been an increase in the diversity of representations of women in advertising, for example:

  • Dove‘s Real Beauty‘ campaign72 featured a diverse range of body shapes and ethnicities.
  • Sport England has been running its successful ‘This Girl Can‘ campaign since 2015, which has since evolved into the ‘fit got real’ campaign:

In 2017, The Advertising Standards Authority launched new guidelines on avoiding gender stereotyping in advertising and in 2019 banned two ads from airing in the UK because they reinforced gender stereotypes.

Finally, UN women has recently launched its ‘Unstereotype Alliance‘, which challenges gender stereotypes in advertising on a global scale. Supporters of this initiative include advertising industry companies such as Unilever, P&G, WPP, Diageo, Google and Facebook.

A Level Sociology of Media Bundle

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my A Level Sociology of the Media Revision Bundle which contains the following:

  1. 57 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within the sociology of the media
  2. 19 mind maps in pdf and png format – covering most sub-topics within the sociology of the media.
  3. Short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – three examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ questions and three of the 10 mark ‘analyse’ with item questions, all take from the specimen paper and the 2017/2018 exam papers.
  4. Three essays and essay plans, taken from the specimen paper and 2017 and 2018 exam papers.

 

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The U.K. now bans ads which reinforces gender stereotypes

In 2017 the Advertising Standards Authority published a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, prompted (among other things) by the hundreds of complaints it had received from the public about Protein World’s 2015 ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign.

beach body ready.PNG

That particular advert led a public backlash, with several people posting images of themselves and their ‘ordinary’ bodies in bikinis, vandalism of some the posters, as well as making the advertising industry reflect on how it should be representing women.

The ASA’s 2017 report identified six categories of gender stereotypes in adverts:

  1. Roles Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender
  2. Characteristics Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender
  3. Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype or making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way
  4. Sexualisation Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner
  5. Objectification Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts
  6. Body image – Depicting an unhealthy body image

Two years on from the report and ads are now being banned from UK television for representing men and women in stereotypical ways.

One example is Volkswagon’s recent electric Golf ad which shows men actively doing a range of dynamic activities (such as exploring space) and closes with a woman passively sitting on a bench with a pram, watching the car go by:

A second example is this Philadelphia ad, which was banned for depicting men as poor child carers, with one of them accidentally putting his child on a food conveyor belt in a restaurant:

An effective mechanism for combating gender stereotypes in advertising?

The very fact that the ASA is now censoring ads for representing men and women in narrow stereotypical ways suggests that we should see less gender stereotyping in adverts in the future: now that ads have actively been banned from UK screens for failing to conform to these new standards, it should make ad makers more sensitive to how they represent men and women: it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to avoid stereotyping, after all, and surely most ad makers would rather make ads that can be broadcast as widely as possible, especially in countries with large consumer economies like the U.K.

The limitation of this is that the ASA only has the power the censor in the United Kingdom, not globally, and the U.K. only makes up 1% of the global population!

 

The postmodern perspective on globalisation and popular culture

Postmodernists see the media as central to globalisation and emphasise the positive effects media globalisation has on society.

Before reading this post you might like to review the concepts of postmodernity and postmodernism and globalisation.

More individual choice

The globalisation of the media means that people are now more aware of hundreds of diverse cultures all over the world, and this gives them more inspiration to break with their own local traditions and live the lives they choose to.

There are also many more consumption opportunities: more choice of films, music, travel opportunities and of course global products.

The boundary between high and popular culture has also blurred: some classical music artists have sought out popular audiences for example, making high culture more accessible to the masses.

Finally, there are more opportunities for individuals to express themselves via social media.

The rejection of metanarratives

Postmodernists argue that media saturation means there are now an incredibly diverse array of voices and opinions online.

This challenges traditional ‘metanarratives’ – or any viewpoint which holds that there is one truth – as is found with traditional religions, political ideologies such as Marxism and science.

As a result of media saturation, people are now more sceptical of the ‘truth claims’ of experts, which means it is harder for those with power to manipulate people because ‘they know better’.

Participatory culture

Audiences are now more involved with the creation of media content, so the global media space is now more participatory than old style one-way media.

Many people create and upload their own content to platforms such as YouTube, or write blogs, or spend time maintaining their social media profiles.

Audiences also contribute by sharing and critiquing other people’s content on social media.

The globalisation of protest

New media has been used effectively to fight oppression.

Spencer-Thomas (2008) conducted an analysis of protests against military violence in Burma – he found that in 1998 very little media attention was received, but that by 2007, once Smart Phones had penetrated the country, widespread global media coverage of the protests was achieved.

Some political campaigners have also used Twitter and Facebook to fight oppression – during the Arab Spring for example. Another example is the use of Facebook by Saudi women campaigning for the right to drive.

Cultural hybridity

Thompson (1995) argues that global media products are modified by local cultures which results in various new hydbrid forms. Bollywood is a good example of this.

The cultural pessimist view of the new media

Cultural pessimists point to the possible downsides of the New Media such as the rise of Fake News, domination of a few media companies, the rise of echo-chambers, the reinforcing of elite power and increasing commercialisation.

Cultural pessimists criticise the cultural optimist view of new media.

cultural pessimist new media

More information is not necessarily a good thing

There may be more information, more news channels and blogs, but a lot this is just copied and modified slightly, or recycled from other places.

Some of the information online may just be ‘fake news’ – deliberately misleading to serve political or corporate ends. The Vote Leave campaign is a good example of this.

More information sources make it more difficult to verify the sources of information, and this is not always possible (in which case you should not use the information!)

information overload may be a problem – having too much data too deal with.

Constant news feeds can lead to us just being ‘distracted by the new’ rather than taking the time to look at one thing in depth. We end up with a shallower understanding of the world as a result.

Domination by media conglomerates

Pessimists argue that rather than the internet being a free space which allows for the free development of individual expression, it has come to be controlled by a handful of big tech companies – namely Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.

These companies have invested hugely in New Media in the last decade and they now control not only access to social media sites but also search engines and the web servers which store our information.

There are examples of people being de-platformed without warning or reason on YouTube and Twitter – typically those who hold radical views, suggesting these companies determine who can express what on social media.

So marginalised groups might be able to blog and have a say, but you’ll only be able to find them if these companies allow you!

Echo Chambers

Social Media has led to more polarisation and conflict – Social networks are increasingly isolated from each other into ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ – people find other people with the same views as them and they all follow each other and just reinforce their own views of the world. People are now less likely to see views which challenge their own. As a result, we have a polarisation of opinion. The case of Brexit is a great example of this.

As well as allowing for ordinary people to connect with each other globally, the internet also makes it easier for organised crime to commit phishing (mass emails) and to sell drugs online, among other crimes.

Groups like 4chan are also a good example of the downside of online global communities – largely anonymous groups who organised collective trolling and hacking just for the lols.

Reinforcing Elite Power

Mainstream political parties now run sophisticated advertising campaigns using big data to manipulate the public into voting for them: Trump’s campaign and the Brexit campaign are two examples of this.

Larger political parties and corporations have more money to spend on advertising to keep their biased information at the top of internet search engines such as Google.

The most radical views are censored – while individuals may be free to express any opinion online, some of the most radical have de-platformed.

Politics is much less visible than entertainment on the internet – suggesting critical political thought is ‘drowned out’ more than ever

Surveillance – the ex-CIA analyst claimed in 2015 that the British security services had the technology to access the information stored on people’s smartphones.

Increasing consumption and commercialisation

The internet seems to have turned into a sphere of consumption, where most of what we see is aimed at selling us something. It is hard to read some news sites, such as The Independent, because of the sheer amount of space devoted to advertising.

Companies such as Amazon use the data we collect to find out our preferences and sell it to advertising companies, so they can target ads at users more effectively, thus manipulating them to buy products they wouldn’t normally buy – it’s estimated that 1/3rd of all Amazon purchase are a result of ‘recommendations’ for example.

This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!

 

The ‘murder’ of Policeman Andrew Harper: the perfect news story?

The recent death of Policeman Andrew Harper is possibly the perfect example of a story which ticks nearly every single news value imaginable. P.C. Andrew Harper was tragically killed when he was dragged along by a car while he was investigating a burglary.

Negativity

The unexpected early death of anyone in the prime of their life is a tragedy, but when they’re fresh off their honeymoon having only got married four weeks ago, this sense of tragedy is enhanced.

murdered policeman.png

Personalisation 

The wedding photos of the happy couple have been widely circulated in the media, as was Andrew’s wife Open Letter Tribute to him, all of which encourage us to read the story from the perspective of Andrew’s widow: imagining the tragedy of their life together now cut short.

Unambiguity 

Even though we we’ve no idea whether there was actually any intent behind the killing of Andrew Harper much of the media has simplified this event by labelling it a murder. And even though we can’t be sure who did it, the main suspects are from a local traveller’s site.

This adds to the ‘perfect narrative’ of ‘good cop, keeping us safe’ killed by deviant travellers who harass and steal from good local communities, of which Andrew Harper was firmly embedded, in the ‘protector role’.

NB I’m not saying that this was a simple event, but that’s how it’s been constructed in the media!

Bang in the middle of an elite nation 

Not only did this event took place in Britain, it took place bang in the middle of Britain – in Wallingford in the small home counties county of Oxfordshire. Ticking the ‘white middle class’ norm box perfectly.

wallingford

Frequency

This event happened very quickly, it was over in the course of one night, and it’s not a complex drawn-out thing to understand.

Extraordinariness 

The murder of a policeman is extraordinary, very unusual: only 8 U.K. policemen have been killed in the line of duty since 2010.

Threshold 

Murder is big big news, and the murder of a policeman even more so. Not only this, but the fact that we don’t know who did it led to 10 ‘travellers’ being arrested – which is an unusually high suspect count for any individual crime.

Continuity 

This murder of a policeman ties in well with another recent news story – the stabbing of another policeman only a couple weeks earlier, also while engaged in a seemingly routine operation of stopping a van.

Final thoughts 

This is an extremely tragic event, but it’s also a perfect media event. I do feel sorry for his widow and family, the media are going to be dining out on this for at least the rest of the year.

As if moving on from this wasn’t going to be hard enough already!

 

 

Who uses New Media?

What are the patterns of new-media usage in the UK by age, social class, gender. Is there still a digital divide?

In 2019, almost nine in ten (87%) UK households had internet access, and adults who use the internet spent, on average, 3 hours 15 minutes a day online (in September 2018) (1)

Around 70% of UK adults have a social media account and about one in every five minutes spent online is on social media (1)

The number of households connected to the internet and the use of New Media has increased rapidly in the last decade, but statistics from OFCOM clearly show that there are still differences in new media usage by age, social class and gender.

For an overview of what the New Media are, please see these two posts:

The generation divide

New media usage varies significantly by age.

This is especially clear if we contrast the youngest age groups (as classified by OFCOM) of 16-24 year olds with the oldest of 74+

The differences are less marked, but still clear if we look at a wider variety of age groups. I’ve deliberately selected two consecutive age groups below (45-54 and 55-64) because there appears to be quite a significant drop off in new media usage between these two age categories.

AGE 16-24s 45-54s: 55-64s:

 

AGE 75+
·         99% use a mobile phone

·         79% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         93% have a social media profile

·         1% do not use the internet (2)

·         47% play games online (4)

 

·         98% use a mobile phone

·         69% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         76% have a social media profile

·         7% do not use the internet (2)

·       10% play online games (4)

·         96% use a mobile phone

·         43% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         58% have a social media profile

·         19% do not use the internet (2)

·         5% play online games (4)

 

·         81% use a mobile phone

·         22% watch on-demand or streamed content

·         20% have a social media profile

·         48% do not use the internet (2)

·         5% play games online (4)

 

The social class digital divide

Working-age adults in DE socio-economic group1 households are more than three times as likely as those in non-DE households to be non-users of the internet (14% vs. 4%). (1)

The contrast is best shown by comparing the highest socio-economic group (AB) with the lowest socio-economic group (DE):

Socio-Economic Group AB:

  • 97% use a mobile phone
  • 73% watch on-demand or streamed content
  • 74% have a social media profile
  • 57% correctly identify advertising on Google
  • 6% do not use the internet (2)

Socioeconomic Group DE:

  • 93% use a mobile phone
  • 46% watch on-demand or streamed content
  • 56% have a social media profile
  • 37% correctly identify advertising on Google
  • 23% do not use the internet (2)

The digital gender divide

  • In 2017, women (81%) continue to be more likely to have a profile/ account, compared to men (74%). (4)
  • Women are more likely than men to say they have ever seen content that upset or offended them in social media over the past year (58% vs. 51%). (4)
  • (50%) of men say they are ‘very’ interested in the news (50%) compared to only a third (34%) of women. Twice as many women (15%) as men (8%) are not interested. (4)
  • A quarter of men (24%) play games online, compared to 9% of women. (4)

Conclusions – is there a significant new media digital divide in the UK in 2019?

  • While there does seem to be a very significant generation divide between the very youngest and oldest, the differences between young adults and those in their early 50s is relatively small.
  • There does appear to be some evidence that those in class DE are less well connected than those in class DE with nearly a quarter of adults in class DE not being connected to the internet.
  • There also appear to be quite significant differences by gender: women are more likely to have social media profiles while men are much more likely to take an interest in the news.

Sources

  1. OFCOM – Online Nation 2019 – https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0024/149253/online-nation-summary.pdf
  2. OFCOM – Media Use and Attitudes Report 2019 – https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/149124/adults-media-use-and-attitudes-report.pdf
  3. OFCOM’s Interactive data link.
  4. https://www.ofcom.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0011/113222/Adults-Media-Use-and-Attitudes-Report-2018.pdf

 

 

Churnalism and the News

Churnalism refers to a process where journalists produce news based on pre-packaged press-releases from government spin doctors, public relations consultants or news agencies without doing independent research or even checking their facts.

The journalist Waseem Zakir has been credited with first using the term in 2008 while working for the BBC when he noted that more and more journalists were resorting to Churnalism and that there was a corresponding decline in journalists actually going out and doing their own reporting and checking facts for themselves.

churnalism example.PNG

The rise of Churnalism

It seems that in the last two decades there has been a further increase in Churnalism…

Davis (2008) found that 80% of stories in the Times, the Guardian, Independent, Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail were wholly or partially constructed from second-hand material provided by news agencies or public relations firms such as the Press Association. He further found that many of the companies providing material for these newspapers were actively promoting particular political or economic interests.

Philips (2010) pointed out that reporters have increasingly been asked to rewrite stories that have appeared in other newspapers or websites, such as the BBC News Site, and to lift quotes without attributing them.

The rise of the blogosphere also raises the possibility that professional journalists might lift quotes from bloggers who aren’t as constrained by media industry standards and may derive their information from unverified sources, even from rumours circulating on social media.

The causes and consequences of the rise of churnalism

The causes of the rise of churnalism seem to be cost-cutting – it is simply cheaper for news companies to get their journalists to use pre-packaged material rather than do critical, investigative journalism. Political parities and public relations companies are more than happy to provide material for free because they are effectively promoting the views of the party or of the company who paid for the press-releases to be written.

Time pressure also plays a role – in the world of rapid 24 hour news journalists may not have time to go and do their own reporting or even check facts before their deadlines.

The first consequence of increasing churnalism are that there is a narrowing of the news agenda, with fewer original sources providing news to a wider range of newspapers.

There is also likely to be an increase in bias towards those companies with the time and money available to provide press-releases – which supports the Instrumentalist Marxist view of the media.

There could also be a decrease in the accuracy of news reporting, if journalists aren’t checking their facts.

Sources/ find out more…

Davis (2008) Flat Earth News

Philips (2010) Old Sources: New Bottles in Fenton (2010) New Media, Old News

Wiki – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churnalism

Image source… https://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.com/2017/10/how-mainstream-media-churnalism-works.html

 

The Social Construction of News

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 

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
  • Deadlines
  • 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.

 

 

The Marxist Perspective on the News

Marxists suggest the news agenda is heavily interests by those with power in capitalist societies and that the content of the news reflects the worldview and interests of the elite and middle classes.

Those working for mainstream news media may claim that the news they construct is objective and unbiased, but this is a myth according to Marxists, and the news primarily serves to legitimate capitalism and maintain the status quo.

This post is really an application of a combination of Instrumentalist Marxist Theory and Neo-Marxist (‘hegemonic’) theory.

Owners influence content

Owners may not be able to shape the day to day content of the news, especially live 24 hour news, but they can shape the broader context by setting the policies of their companies and influencing the general approach to selecting and editing news.

Owners the power to hire and fire Chief Executive Officers and other high-ranking officials, and they can exercise direct control over such decisions because they do not have to be made that often.

According to Marxist theory, owners will generally appoint senior officials who share their ideology and then lower ranking media professionals will avoid publishing content that might annoy them for fear of their jobs.

The news agenda legitimates a capitalist, neoliberal view of the world

News companies rely on advertisers for their income and so it should be no surprise that the news does not generally critique the capitalist system, in fact it does quite the opposite.

Most news programmes and papers have large sections devoted to business news and economics, where Corporate leaders and business experts are generally deferred to and are favourably presented.

These sections of the news rarely challenge the concept of economic growth, it is taken for granted as a universal ‘good’, and elsewhere the news rarely focuses on issues of poverty and inequality.

The Hierarchy of credibility

Journalists rank people in elite and professional positions as being more credible sources of authority than those lower down the social class order.

Heads of companies, government officials, the police and academic experts are all more likely to be invited to comment on news items than those from pressure groups, less popular political parties, or just ordinary members of the general public.

The elite thus end up becoming the ‘primary definers’ of the news agenda.

The news often reports on what such people think of events, rather than the events themselves, so we end up with an elite/ middle class frame of the world through the news.

The social class class background of journalists

GUMG argue that media professional tend to side with the elite because they share a middle class background with them, and thus a worldview.

News items thus tend to represent the elite and middle classes more favourably than the working classes.

Fiske (1987) for example found that news reports on industrial disputes tended to report on managers as ‘asking’ whereas trades unionists tended to reported as ‘making demands’, presenting the former as more reasonable.

Sources 

Modified from…

  • Ken Browne (2016) Sociology for AQA Volume 2
  • Chapman (2016) Sociology AQQ A-Level Year 2

Organisational Routines and News Content

Organisational routines may affect what items are selected for presentation in the news. These include factors such as financial costs, time and space available, deadlines, immediacy and accuracy, the audience and journalistic ethics.

Organisational routines are sometimes known as bureaucratic routines.

This post has been written primarily for A-level sociology students studying the media option within the sociology of the media.

Financial costs

News gathering can be an expensive business, and investigative journalism and overseas reporting are two of the most expensive types of news to produce, because they former involves sustained long-term investigation and the later involves overseas expenses.

Financial pressures have led to news companies changing the type of news they produced, with two major consequences:

Firstly, investigative journalism has declined, and that which remains has become more about digging up dirt on celebrities rather than in-depth exposés on corrupt politicians or corporations.

Secondly, the news has become more about infotainment – that is entertainment has become increasingly important as a factor in the selection of news items. Entertaining items achieve larger audiences which means more advertising revenue and more income.

Even the BBC isn’t immune from these pressures. OFCOM recently said of BBC News that it is ‘More Madonna than Mugabe’.

Time and space available

News has to be tailored to fit the time and space available in the newspaper or on the television show.

For example, A typical 6 O clock BBC news show consist of around 15 items in 25 minutes, usually with each item taking up 5 minutes or less. If an item can’t be covered in less than 5 minutes, it is more likely that it will not be included in the news agenda.

These small time slots also limit the number of perspectives which can be given on a news item – often restraining commentary to 2 people, and contributing to biased Agenda Setting (according to Neo-Marxists)

Longer news programmes allow for more in-depth coverage of news items.

Deadlines

This only really affects newspapers: the deadline for something to reach tomorrow’s newspaper is around 10PM the previous evening.

Immediacy and Accuracy

An item is more likely to be included in the news if it can be accompanied by live footage and if relevant people can be found to comment on the issue or offer soundbites.

The audience

The content of the news may change because of the perceived characteristics of the audience.

For example The Sun is aimed at less well educated people while The Guardian is aimed at people with a higher level of education.

The content of day time news may change to reflect the interests of stay at home parents.

Journalistic ethics

Ethics should constrain the type of news which is reported, and the way in which news is reported.

All UK newspapers sign up to the Press Complaints Commission’s voluntary code of conduct which stipulates that journalists should avoid publishing inaccurate information and misrepresenting people and should respect people’s privacy and dignity.

However, there is some evidence that journalists do not always act ethically. For example, the News of the World phone hacking scandal in the early 2000s – the paper hacked various celebrities and royals’ phones as well as those of victims of the July 2005 London bombings.

The Leveson report (2012) found that news stories frequently relied on misrepresentation and embellishment, and it seems that press watchdogs have little power to enforce journalistic ethics today.