Academic Research Writings

Making News, Reporting Truths: Response to Stuart Allan

Quarter: Fall 2015
BISMCS 333: Media and Communication Studies
Professor: Susan Harewood

Making News: Truth, Ideology, and Newswork

Stuart Allan uses this chapter to explain the influence of journalists and news media in constructing ideology of modern society. He argues that the process by which journalists select an event and interview storytellers also play a role in constructing public opinion. Rather than acting as a space for many contributors and diverse opinions, news media is a tool monopolized only by members of the higher class. Allen draws upon the work of Karl Marx, H.R. Becker and other scholars to support his reasoning.

Allan introduces two competing positions, the liberal pluralist and political economy position.  Each offer a different framework through which one can analyze the role of news media in structuring public awareness. The liberal pluralist position states that a market based media system protects citizen’s rights to freedom of speech (p. 47) and maintaining this protection is a large part of the journalist’s role in modern society. The belief that news media has democratic control over governing relations by contributing to the system of ‘checks and balances’ is a large part of this position. In addition, liberal pluralists see the media as a melting pot of different views and ideas, highly representative of the public opinion. Many journalists identify with this view which, “places the journalist at the center of public life, (p.48)”. News media not only acts as a ‘fourth estate’ with, “the crucial mission of ensuring that members of the public are able to draw upon a diverse ‘market place of ideas’ ” but it also has the job of acting as an arena for conflicting groups where those conflicts can be, “ultimately reconciled in such a way as to ensure that neither cumulative nor continuous influence is accorded to a single set of interests (p.48)”. This position views the news as an objective, safe space for all members of the public to not only place their own unique ideas but also identify and compete with others.

Allan draws upon the words of Karl Marx to describe the views of the political economy position, “The class that is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force,” (p.48). In this position the news media, and its journalists, simply circulate the views of the ruling class. Rather than the media being a representative of the public opinion, it is actually constructing it after that of the higher class. The views of the higher class become the ‘dominant ideology’ through the work of journalists, “The capitalist ruling class must work to advance its particular class-specific interests by depicting its ideas, norms and values in universal terms (p.48).” Members of the higher class use the news media as a tool for not only spreading their ideas and ways of thinking, but also as a form of control, “the media help to ensure that the danger of radical protests emerging to disrupt the status quo is sharply reduced (p. 48).” In the political economic position the media is not the public’s playground but a tool for the elite to use for the purpose of maintenance and control.

After introducing the contrasting views of both positions, the chapter examines how societal values are developed as a result of journalists’ news gathering processes. News workers use different methods such as questionnaires, interviews, observation, and ethnography along with a series of news values to determine newsworthy events (p.56). Some key codes of newsworthiness include: conflict, relevance, unexpectedness, cultural specify, and negativity.  These codes, along with others, are measured when journalists select events for media coverage. Allan mentions another even more influential player when selecting a story, and that is the credibility of the storyteller. Stories told from the top are instinctively more credible. Allan draws upon the words of H.R. Becker to solidify this argument, “any tale told by those at the top intrinsically deserves to be regarded as the most credible account obtainable (p.63)”.  He also defines a hierarchy of credibility in which, “the members of the highest group are best placed to define ‘the way things really are’ due to their ‘knowledge of truth’.” It’s a general belief that elite members of society are privileged in more than just wealth and social position but also in intelligence and intellectual position.

As a result of these codes and class bias towards the higher class, a large portion of events and storytellers do not get coverage in the media. “Individuals or groups who lack regular access to the news frame have the option of resorting to ‘disruptive access’.” Several groups have used disruptive access to their advantage. Allan lists examples within the chapter but more recently movements such as Black Lives Matter and Bernie Sanders supports have used social media and other less conventional methods outside of news coverage to make their voices heard. The existence of disruptive access proves that the news media is told from a specific perspective that is not always reflective of the public opinion. Early in the Black Lives Matter movement, activists were upset with news coverages’ portrayal of Trayvon Martin and Sander’s supporters were agitated by the more frequent news coverage of Donald Trump. In both cases, the news coverage was unsatisfactory and not aligned with the public opinion on specific topics which led the public to engage in disruptive access.

In conclusion, it is important to recognize that in this research Allen is not trying to portray journalists as ill-intended or ‘propagandists’. Rather, he is trying to show that news workers often unintentionally develop societal ideologies in the process of media production. Filters, codes, and news values applied alongside the hierarchy of credibility make coverage in news media distant for some, those in lower classes, and more frequent for others, those in higher classes. This crafts the news from the perspective of elite members of society while isolating the masses. We must notice how when only a select few members of society ‘deserve’ to be included in media this can be destructive so we must recognize what barriers are being used to exclude people and tear them down in order to have more well-rounded media coverage.

Source:

Allan, S. (2010). Making news, reporting truths. In S. Allan, News culture. OUP.70-93

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About Amani Sawari

I am a University of Washington alum, Class of 2016. I graduated with my Bachelors Degree in two majors: Media and Communications AND Law, Economics and Public Policy. It’s a mouthful but it illustrates how I have a hard time doing only one ‘thing’. I am a writer, poet, singer, songwriter and much more. I enjoy sharing my experiences and perspectives with those who are interested and I am a proud member of the black diaspora!

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