Pamela J. Shoemaker Syracuse University
One of the most enduring areas of research in mass communication is media gatekeeping--the process by which countless messages are reduced to the few we are offered in our daily newspapers and television news programs. Gatekeeping is such an essential part of the news gathering and dissemination process--because every potential news item cannot be gathered, and, from among those items gathered, they all cannot be disseminated--that it is often taken as a primitive or base part of news production, in the same way that writing is an assumed prerequisite for news production. Definition as a primitive process, however, can lead scholars to dismiss the gatekeeping process as uninteresting and something to be taken for granted.
Gatekeeping is not a primitive process and is not analogous to writing. Gatekeeping occurs as an antecedent to writing, and it feeds the many decisions involved in writing. What will we write about? What will we include or leave out? How will the topic be shaped? Gatekeeping also touches more of the news production and dissemination process than writing. It begins when potential news items are first conceived, discovered, and analyzed for news potential. From the news organization's standpoint, gatekeeping ends with the final selection and shaping of news items and their dissemination. Gatekeeping, therefore, is pervasive throughout the news production and dissemination process. It can be studied on many levels of analysis, with many different research methods.