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The Social Construction of News


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The Social Construction of News

  1. 1. WK9 – The Social Construction ofNewsDr. Carolina MatosGovernment DepartmentUniversity of Essex
  2. 2. Key points• Walter Lippman and public opinion• “The picture in our heads” and stereotypes• Chomsky’s propaganda model• Chomksy’s Manufacture of Consent and critique of Lippmann• The objectivity debate and the ideal of objectivity• Essay feedback• Tips for essay writing and future work• Seminar questions and activities• Group presentation• Readings for week 10
  3. 3. Readingsfor week9Required texts:Herman, E. S. and Chomsky, N. (1988, 2002) ManufacturingConsent – The Political Economy of the Mass Media, 1-37Lippmann, W. (1922). Public Opinion. New York: FreePressAdditional:Bennett, L. (2002). News: The Politics of Illusion. New York:Langman.Matos, C. (2008) Journalism and political democracy in Brazil,Lexington Books, chapter on partisanship and professionalismGroup presentation:• Schudson, M. (2000) “The news media as political institutions”in Annual Review of Political Science, 5, pp 249-269
  4. 4. WalterLippmann-Publicopinionandpublishedopinion• * Pioneer of the agenda-setting process (“TheWorld Outside and the Pictures in Our Heads”)•• * Conducted one of the first content• analyses, the New York Times coverageof the 1917 Russian Revolution• “The pictures inside the head of these human beings…are theirpublic opinion. These pictures which are acted upon by groups ofpeople…..are Public Opinion with capital letters” (Lippmann, 1965,18, in N. Neumann, 143).• People with different attitudes see the same events differently“...the pattern of stereotypes at the centre of our codes largelydetermines what group of facts we shall see....”
  5. 5. Lippmann:onpublicopinion• Walter Lippman examined the coverage of newspapers andsaw many inaccuracies• In 1920, he stated that the New York Times’ coverage of theBolshevik revolution was biased and inaccurate• Lippman was one of the first to state how journalists tendedto generalise about people based on the “ideas” or “images”in their heads about them• Lippmann was worried about civic participation in democraticlife and that voters were largely ignorant about policies• Lippman thought that citizens needed to be governed by a“specialized class” (elites or experts) who had enoughknowledge to make more rational and less biased decisions
  6. 6. WalterLippman’sPublicOpinion• News versus truth• Lippmann (1922, 126) also pointed out how one tends tobelief in the absolutism of ones own views. “For while menare willing to admit that there are two sides to a“question’’, they do not believe that there are two sides towhat they regard as a “fact’’’’.• “The function of news is to signalise an event, the functionof truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them inrelation to each other, and make a picture of reality onwhich men can act.”• Lippmann (1922) has been, according to critics likeSchudson (1978), one of the most forceful spokesmen forthe ideal of objectivity.• Criticised for his elitism (i.e. Chomky’s Manufacture ofConsent is a reference to his use of the phrase)
  7. 7. Lippmanon stereotypes• Walter Lippmann(1922) argued that people spent little timeinforming themselves. Most people had confused ideas in relation topolitics and interests beyond their small circle of friends.• “We are told about the world before we see it. And thosepreconceptions, unless education has made us aware, govern deeplythe whole process of perception”.• “Each of us lives and works on a small part of the earth’s surface,moves in a small circle, and of these…..knows only a few intimately.Of any public event that has wide effect we see …only a phase andan aspect. This is true of the eminent insiders who draft treaties,make laws and issue orders….Inevitably our opinions cover a biggerspace, a longer reach of time, a greater number of things, than wecan directly observe.”• “We have seen that our access to information is obstructed anduncertain, and that our apprehension is deeply controlled by ourstereotypes…”
  8. 8. Theproblemwith democracyandlackofcivicparticipation• Stereotypes provide us with only a partial truth and they can alsoserve as a mechanism for self-defense• For Lippman, the basic problem with democracy was the accuracyof news.• “The world that we have to deal with politically is out of reach, outof sight...It has to be...imagined.”• People make up their minds before they define the fact• “The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does notexperience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event.”• Public opinion is volatile, and shifts in response to the most recentdevelopments.• I.e. Contemporary example – even today studies on the Britishelectorate have shown how voters shifted to the left during theThachter years (Bartle’s Moving Centre: 1950-2005)
  9. 9. Theproblemwith democracyandlackofcivicparticipationPeople are not capable of acquiring a competent opinion aboutall public affairsThe real environment is too big, complex and fleeting fordirect acquaintance• “I argue that representative government, either in what isordinarily called politics, or in industry, cannot be workedsuccessfully, no matter what the basis of the election, unlessthere is an independent, expert organization for making theunseen facts intelligible to those who have to make thedecisions. I attempt to argue that the serious acceptance ofthe principle that personal representation must besupplemented by representation of the unseen facts wouldalone permit a satisfactory decentralization, and allow us toescape from the intolerable and unworkable fiction that eachof us must acquire a competent opinion about all publicaffairs.”
  10. 10. “The pictures in our heads”• Why do the pictures inside mislead men in their dealingswith the outside world?• “…this same creature is learning to see with his mind vastportions of the world that he would never see, touch, smell,hear or remember. Gradually he makes for himself atrustworthy picture inside his head of the world beyond hisreach. These features of the world outside which have to dowith the behaviour of other human beings….., we call roughlypublic affairs. The pictures inside the heads of these humanbeings, the pictures of themselves, of others, of their needs,purposes and relationships, are the public opinions. Thesepictures which are acted upon by groups of people, or byindividuals acting in the name of groups, are Public Opinionwith capital letters.”
  11. 11. The news that is fit to print• “Version” of facts which can be open to dispute?• “For the real environment is altogether too big, toocomplex…for direct acquaintance. We are not equipped todeal with too much….we have to reconstruct it on a simplermodel…All reporters in the world working all hours of theday could not witness all the happenings in the world. Butthe facts are not simple...but subject to choice and opinion, itis natural that everyone should wish to make his own choiceof facts for the newspaper to print…” (1922).• “The facts we see depend on where we are placed, and thehabit of our eyes.”
  12. 12. Lippmanas aspokesmanforthe idealofobjectivity• “As our minds become more deeply aware of their ownsubjectivism, we find zest in objective method..... We see vividly, asnormally we should not, the enormous mischief and casual crueltyof our prejudice. And the destruction of a prejudice, though painfulat first, because of its connection with self-respect, gives animmense relief and fine pride when it is successfully done…. As thecurrent categories dissolve, a hard, simple version of the worldbreaks up. Prejudices are so much easier and more interesting. Forif you teach the principles of science as if they had always beenaccepted, their chief virtue as a discipline, which is objectivity, willmake them dull. But teach them at first as victories over thesuperstition of the mind, and the exhilaration of the chase and ofthe conquest may carry the pupil over that hard transition from hisown self-bound experience to the phase where his curiosity hasmatured, and his reason has acquired passion.”
  13. 13. Theroleofexpertsandthe“manufactureofconsent”• For Lippmann, citizens must be governed by a “specializedclass whose interests reach beyond the locality” (the globalelites?)• “The established leaders of any organization have greatnatural advantages. They are believed to have better sourcesof information. …..Every official is in some degree a censor.….the official finds himself deciding more and more consciouslywhat fact, in what setting, in what guise he shall permit thepublic to know. That the manufacture of consent is capable ofgreat refinements no one I think denies. The process by whichpublic opinions arise is certainly no less intricate than it hasappeared in these pages, and the opportunities formanipulation open to anyone who understands the processare plain enough.”
  14. 14. Globalpolitics and current affairs
  15. 15. HermanandChomsky’sAPropagandaModelA propaganda system does not exist only when the media arecontrolled by the stateIt is more difficult to spot a propaganda system where the media areprivate• “The mass media serve as a system for communicating messages…Itsis their function to arouse, entertain, and inform and to inculcateindividuals with the values, beliefs and codes of behaviour that willintegrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society.In a world of concentrated wealth and major conflicts of class, tofulfill this role requires systematic propaganda. A propaganda modelfocuses on this inequality of wealth and power and its…effects onmass media interests…It traces the routes by which money andpower are able to filter out the news fit to print, marginalize dissent,and allow the government and dominant private interests to get theirmessages across to the public.” (Herman and Chomsky, 1988, 2002 ).
  16. 16. HermanandChomsky’sAPropagandaModel• Herman and Chomsky believe the news must pass throughthese successive 5 filters:• The objectivity of journalists:• “They fix the premises of discourse and interpretation, andthe definition of what is newsworthy in the first place….Theelite domination of the media and the marginalization ofdissidents that results from the operation of the filters occursso naturally that media news people, frequently operatingwith complete integrity and goodwill, are able to convincethemselves that they chose and interpret the news“objectively” and on the basis of professional news values.Within the limits of the filter constraints, they often areobjective; the constraints are so powerful, and are built intothe system in such a way, that alternative bases of newschoices are hardly imaginable.”
  17. 17. HermanandChomsky’sAPropagandaModelWhat are the consequences of this for news?• “The five filters narrow the range of news that pass through thegates, and even more sharply limit what can become “bignews”….”Media will allow stories that are hurtful to powerful intereststo disappear from public debate, suspending criticaljudgement• “A propaganda approach to media coverage suggests asystematic and highly political dichotomization in newscoverage based on service-ability to important domestic powerinterests seen in the choice of stories and….quality ofcoverage.”
  18. 18. 1–Size,ownershipandprofitorientationofthemassmedia• Concentration of the media is found amongst the top tier thatsupplies much of the national and international news to thelower tiers of the media, and this goes to the general public• Television is the main source of news for the public• The pressures of stockholders to focus on the bottom line arepowerful, especially at a time when media stocks havebecome market favourites• Rules limiting media concentration, cross-ownership andcontrol by non-media companies have been abandoned in anincreasing de-regulated media environment• The media giants also maintain close relationships with themainstream of the corporate community through boards ofdirectors and social links. Many boards are dominated bybankers.
  19. 19. Media giants• 1) Television networks – ABC, CBS and NBC;• 2) The leading newspaper empires: New York Times,Washington Post, Los Angeles Times (Times-Mirror), WallStreet Journal (Dow Jones), Knight-Ridder, Gannett, Hearst,Scripps-Howard, Newhouse (Advance Publications) and theTribune Company;• 3) The major news and general-interest magazines: Times,Newsweek, Reader’s Digest, TV Guide (Triangle) and US Newsand World Report;• 4) Major book publisher (McGraw-Hill)• 5) Other cable-TV systems of large and growing importance:those of Murdoch, Turner, Cox, General Corp…..and Group W(Westinghouse).• I.e. The Tribune Company has become a large force intelevision as well as newspapers
  20. 20. 2 –TheAdvertisingLicenseto do BusinessAdvertising has played an important role in increasingconcentration:• Advertising as the primary source of the mass media• From the time of the introduction of press advertising,working-class and radical papers have been at a seriousadvantage• According to the authors, advertising also served as apowerful mechanism weakening the working-class press• An advertising system will tend to drive out of existence themedia companies that depend on revenue from sales alone• Thus, the advertiser’s choices influence media prosperity andsurvival. They gain a quality edge which allows them toweaken their ad-free rivals• It is affluent advertisers that spark advertiser’s interest today.
  21. 21. 3- Sourcingmass medianews• Refers to the reliance of the media on the informationprovided by government, business and “experts”, funded andapproved by the primary sources and the agents of power• Due to economic pressures, resources are concentrated onsignificant areas where news often occurs, such as the maingovernmental institutions• Government and corporate sources have the merit of statesand prestige• Reliance on official and primary sources supports their claimsof being “objective”, and reduces expenses with investigativejournalism• Critical sources may be avoided by the mass media so as notto offend the primary sources and the powerful groups
  22. 22. 4 – Flak and the Enforcers• Understood as a means of disciplining and controlling themedia• Flak refers to a negative response to a media statement orpronouncement• Flak has grown with business’ growing resentment of mediacriticism and the corporate offensive of the 1970s/1980s• The ability to produce flak, especially flak that is costly andthreatening, is related to power• The government is a major producer of flak, ….”correcting” themedia• Powerful groups can thus complain to their ownconstituencies about the media as well as fund politicalcampaigns and help into power conservative politicians
  23. 23. 5–Anti-communismascontrolmechanism• Seen as a national religion and a mechanism of control• The ideology of anti-communism helps to mobilize thepopulace against an enemy• The concept is fuzzy and can be used against anybodyadvocating policies that threaten property interests or otherforms of reduction of inequality• This ideology also contributes to weaken and fragment thelabour and left movements, and can be seen as a politicalform of control• Liberals at home (US) are in a constant defensive, for beingeither too pro-Communist or insufficiently anti-Communist• Occasional support for social democrats can break down whenthey are not harsh enough on their own indigenous radicals• Some critics argue for a substitution of this to the “anti-terrorism” rhetoric
  24. 24. Somecriticisms1- Has invited criticism of a “conspiracy theory” of thepowerful against everyone else2- The media as platform for a “unified elite” iscontested by some. Media are a site of contestedstruggle and conflict (i.e. Hallin, 2000)2- The market and the state with the same interests?Not always. (In some new democracies the market ishaving a pushing for democracy)3- Ignores other dimensions, such as the impact ofjournalism ideologies, journalism autonomy and theimportance of resistance4- The are also various forms of internal/externalconflicts and contradictions that exist in newsrooms andin the media system (in Matos, 2008)
  25. 25. Thedebateonobjectivityandbalanceinjournalism:historicalperspectives(inMatos,2008)• According to US historians, journalists and academics(Waisbord, 2002; Tumber, 1999; Schudson, 1978), a moresophisticated reading of the ideal of objectivity gainedstrengthen amongst American journalists because oftheir..questioning of their own subjectivity.• Objectivity was also seen as vital for publishers and theirneeds to move away from highly politicized publications....• It also began to be considered a necessity by journalistswho wanted their work to be taken seriously (Tumber,1999; Merritt, 1995; Schudson, 1978; Tuchman, 1972)• Model of “information” and factual journalism...wasmainly represented by the success of the New York Timessince the 1890’s.
  26. 26. Ontheimportanceoftheidealofobjectivity(inMatos,2008)• “We cannot coherently abandon the ideal of objectivityand, whatever they may think, objectivity critics do notabandon it either. To claim that a piece of journalismpiece is not objective is to say that it fails to provide thetruth.. How do we know that American news accounts onthe Gulf War are partial, except by comparison withsome other…possible accounts? We know how todistinguish between better and worse, more or lessaccurate accounts..” (Lichtenberg, 2000; 241-242 inMatos, 2008).• As Hackett and Zhao (1998, 88) state, the objectivityregime persists precisely because “it does offer openings,however unequal, to different social and cultural groups”.
  27. 27. Essaydiscussions and generalfeedbackHow can I improve my essay for next time?• You were required to engage with the theories that we havebeen exploring. You are tested on this. This does not meanthat you can disregard the theories. Even if it is a largelyempirical essay, it needs to be sustained by a theoreticalframework and some minimum theory.• You are tested on your understanding of the theories and thecore debates in your field, or the ones that your questionasks you to address or make a selection of. You are alsotested on the engagement with them, critical judgement ofthe subject and critical acumen, as well as the examinationof your own examples and evidence of independentresearch.
  28. 28. Essayfeedback:what now?• Do more reading of the core texts as well as additional• Do not be afraid of engaging with the theory, and highlightmore in seminars more points of the theories in your answers• Write a draft plan and do not leave everything for the lastminute• Re-write it a few times, read it out loud to yourself to see ifyou understood (pretend you are a neutral reader)• See us during office hours, e-mail drafts and do not be afraidto ask if you do not understand!• There will be a lecture on WK17: Writing Better: Essay andResearch Question.• Tuesday 24th of January, 3-4pm, 5 N.7.21 and• Friday 25th, 2-3pm, 4.311.• Dr. Theresa Crowley also conducts one to one sessions.
  29. 29. Seminarquestions• 1) Examine Lippmann’s understanding of the relationshipbetween the public opinion and stereotypes. How doesthis affect what is reported and printed in newspapers?• 2) Discuss the ideal of objectivity. Can journalists be everobjective? Use the handout to help you as well andassess also the contribution that Lippmann made to theshaping of journalistic standards of objectivity.• 3) Look at the five filters provided by Herman andChomsky in their propaganda model. Focus on one filterto discuss in detail, bringing in your own examples.
  30. 30. Readingsforweek10Required texts:• Archetti, C. (2008). “Unamerican Views”: Why USdeveloped models of press-state relations do not apply tothe rest of the world”, Westminister Papers inCommunication and Culture 53 (3), 4-26.• Bennett, L. (1990) “Towards a theory of press-staterelations in the United States” in Journal ofCommunication 40 (2), 103-125.• McCombs, M., and Shaw, D. L. (1972) “The agendasetting function of mass media” in Public OpinionQuarterly, 36, pp 176-187.• Group presentation:• Manheim, J. B., and Arbitron, R. B. (1984). “Changingnational images: International public relations and mediaagenda setting” in The American Political ScienceReview, 78 (3), 641-657