Creating News and Culture

Much of the sociological perspective about how news is created comes from researchers with the culturalist theory perspective. Journalists themselves also remain keenly aware of these issues and carefully study them. The central problem comes from the fact that many more events occur than the media can ever report on. Journalists must look at all the information and events before them and make decisions about what they report and what they do not. Because newspapers go to press on strict deadlines to be delivered on time, and because news shows must air live at regular times, deadlines in the news business are absolute. This situation forces reporters and news editors to make difficult decisions under pressure and with limited time.

Journalists also face competition to sell their news product. Newspapers run stories with the widest appeal to sell more papers and to draw more advertising. Television, and increasingly Internet news sites, compete to draw advertisers as well, and again, must frame their news to address the needs, interests, tastes, and appeal of the audience. As journalists make decisions about what to include and exclude, they are making choices about what is newsworthy, and, in fact, what is news. If reporters and editors do not deem information or an event as “newsworthy,” then they do not report it, and it does not “become” news. In other words, journalists and media critics alike recognize that news reporters do as much to create the news as they do to report it, which means they also create reality as they report it. Even though reporters may report “only the facts,” the facts that they select to report create a reality that audiences then interpret based on their own perceptions.

A principle espoused by many media experts adds to these issues. These experts argue that the form of communication (the medium used) plays a role in what kind of information journalists select. For example, a newspaper journalist's medium differs significantly from a television journalist's medium. Whereas newspapers emphasize the written word, television relies upon visual images, which means that events or information that can be conveyed through visual images are routinely presented while more verbal information or events receive little or no airtime.

Critics refer to this as a tyranny of the image. They point to the shift in television news reporting that has taken place from the 1950s and 1960s to the 1990s. During the earlier decades, 15‐minute news broadcasts focused almost exclusively upon business and politics. Today, local newscasts can range anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes, and although the evening news includes some business and political reporting, crime and disasters overwhelm the airwaves. News has shifted from reporting information to telling stories: The news covers information and events that have clear plot lines or riveting drama because these stories play well with visual images. Static analyses of economic or business trends do not have the same dramatic appeal and rarely appear on network or local TV news, even though such information may impact the audience to a greater degree.

Experts worry that too much reliance on visual images and television will distort reality and prevent the adequate reporting of vital information. They look in particular at economic news, which affects all people. The news generally confines such information to the stock market results and a few other key statistics, which it fails to fully explain or put into context.

Political and economic events are frequently reported through the eyes of one person, whose touching and sometimes uncommon experience then becomes the image of the results of a real or proposed policy regardless of that policy's other effects, which may be more positive or negative. People relate to people, and almost all television news stories including politics and governmental actions seek out a “people angle,” whether the people interviewed understand the issues involved or have any decision‐making power.

Defenders of televised news respond that the visual images in many cases recount events more accurately and more objectively than verbal communication. In addition, defenders note that unless people choose to read or watch news stories, the news will not get out, no matter how well it's covered. If the news is not relevant, interesting, and visual, people won't turn to it and newscasters may soon have no influence at all. Newspeople say that their process is now more democratic, giving people what market research shows that people want rather than making “elitist” decisions about what people “should” or “need to” know.