Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Gatekeeping International News: An Attitudinal Profile of U.S. Television Journalists

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Gatekeeping International News: An Attitudinal Profile of U.S. Television Journalists

Article excerpt

In the twenty-first century, peoples and cultures are being drawn closer together in a world of sophisticated communication networks. Yet, television news continues to emphasize local and national events, often at the expense of international news coverage. As noted by Gans (1979) and Chang and Lee (1992), most international news on U.S. television networks comes from areas characterized by American involvement, or where American political or economic interests are at stake. Tuchman (1978) maintains news is constructed social reality, and audience perception of news is dependent on how journalists frame it. It follows that Americans' understanding of other cultures and countries is significantly influenced by the way international news is framed.

Although television news is the product of multi-layered decisions, journalists and their news organizations are responsible for the final news product. Despite the public service rhetoric, television news organizations are business environments composed of hierarchical systems within which news managers and journalists function (Tuggle & Huffman, 2000). Journalists select certain news stories while rejecting others based on many different levels of considerations--personal judgment, newsroom routines, restraints laid out by their news organizations, and socio-cultural influences. In this context, journalists are gatekeepers who cover and select news that flows along the communication channel, shaping what is finally presented as news to the audience. In television stations, gatekeepers are reporters, producers, anchors, and editors, depending on their specific roles and responsibilities. Often, news selection is made by senior editors and senior news producers, and sometimes by executives of news organizations.

The purpose of this study, in the narrow sense, is to explore attitudinal patterns held by television journalists in the United States in selecting international news. It explores the individual subjectivity of gatekeepers' judgments. In the broader sense, the study examines the salience of gatekeeping factors such as individual differences, newsroom routines, organizational constraints, extra-organizational influences, and social-cultural differences as described by Shoemaker (1991, 1999) in the selection process of international news, and consequently, its content on U.S. television.

Literature Review

Gatekeeping Theory

The concept of "gatekeeper" was first introduced by Lewin (1947), who conceived of news as flowing in a channel containing several gates controlled by gatekeepers, each of whom decides whether a news item would proceed along the channel to eventually reach news audiences. White (1950) pioneered the first gatekeeping study in journalism and mass communication in his analysis of a newspaper wire editor's news selection patterns.

Over the past 50 years, the main focus of the gatekeeping research has been the degree of subjective news judgment (Harmon, 1989; Snider, 1967; White, 1950). For example, White focused on the decisions of the lone journalist, emphasizing the personal and subjective aspects of that decision-making. However, subsequent studies by Gieber (1964), Epstein (1973), and Dimmick (1974) found gatekeepers are not single individuals making decisions independently. They are influenced heavily by other factors, such as the media owner's ideology, media routines, and official sources including government and corporate officials.

Different Dimensions of Gatekeeping

Shoemaker (1991) asserted that gatekeeping in a communication context can be studied on at least five levels--individual; routines of work; organizational; social and institutional (extra-media); and the social system. At the individual level, news selection is personal, influenced by the likes and dislikes of a journalist. At the routines of work level, gatekeeping decisions are based on a pre-established and generalized set of practices in judging newsworthiness, including accuracy, the right length, good visuals, human interest, novelty, negativity, conflict and violence, loss of lives, and the story's timeliness. …

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