The Global Village in Atlanta: A Textual Analysis of Olympic News Coverage for Children in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Article excerpt

Newspaper reporting aimed at children has proliferated yet children's news has seldom been the subject of study. This project begins to fill that void by examining the "News for Kids" (NFK) section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. It examines international news reporting for children and specifically the representations of international others as they were portrayed in reporting on the centennial Olympic games. Does news for children structure the "other" into a hierarchy of difference from "us?" Our findings suggest that powerful dominant discourses emerge which form a systematic strategy of representation. Since representation is one of the ways in which social meanings (e.g., preconditions far the functioning of social practices) are produced and circulated in society, this textual analysis helps break into over-determined discourses by identifying ideological constructions within the news reporting.

Newspaper coverage of major events, especially those deemed of significant historical importance, continues to be a major area of research despite the encroachment of television and the Internet as sources for news. As newspapers fight to maintain their position, both as viable businesses and as prestigious news sources, management has had to take initiatives to keep and develop readership. One way to accomplish the latter is to court young people, introducing them early to the pleasures of newspaper readership and cultivating both a relationship with the medium generally and brand loyalty to the specific paper. During the last fifteen years or so, "kids pages" have grown in sophistication as local newspapers refuse to rely on generic weekly readers to introduce children to newspaper readership.

Despite the increase in reporting (as well as other press functions such as arts reviews, announcements, and entertainment) aimed at children, children's news has seldom been the subject of study. This project attempts to fill that void by examining the "News for Kids" (NFIC) section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. As part of a larger project (conducted by the co-authors) on the challenges of attracting a younger audience for newspapers, this study examines international news reporting and specifically the representation of international others. We were curious to find out if news for children, like news for adults, structured the "other" into a hierarchy of difference from "us." Representation, as one of the ways in which social meanings (e.g., preconditions for the functioning of social practices) are generated, can be one way in which these hierarchies of difference are circulated in society. Although representation can be examined from many points of view (such as analyzing production, consumption, regulation, or identity), this study explores the issues textually.l We conduct a textual analysis following the methods of Stuart Ha112 in which a subject or theme is identified, a text is defined, and that text is then analyzed with little reference to issues of production, author intention, or audience readings. One benefit of a radical focus on the text is that discursive structures, which serve to include and exclude types of information and knowledge, can be isolated from other processes and investigated in their own right. Another benefit is that the critical cultural paradigm, within which this method is based, is premised on the notion of a circuit of culture; thus the text is the object of analysis, but the findings must be resituated into the social formation.3

The Atlanta Olympics, and its coverage in the "News for Kids" section of the Atlanta newspaper, presented a unique opportunity for study since athletes from all over the world lived and competed in that city for a brief period of time. Reporters covered all aspects of the story, the "hard" news, sports, business news, and human interest stories that emerged when people came together from other countries, as well as the American athletes. …