Social Order

Journalists cover social disorder—earthquakes, hurricanes, industrial catastrophes, protest marches, the disintegrating nuclear family, transgressions of laws, and so on. This coverage, noted Gans, is concerned not with glamorizing disorder but with finding ways to restore order. Coverage of an oil spill and the recovery goes on for days, even weeks as in the case of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The media focus is far more on restoring order than on covering death and destruction.

The journalistic commitment to social order also is evident in how heavily reporters rely on people in leadership roles as primary sources of information. These leaders, largely representing the Establishment and the status quo, are the people in the best position to maintain social order and to restore it if there’s disruption. This means government representatives often shape news media reports and thus their audiences’ understanding of what is important, “true” or meaningful. No one receives more media attention than the president of the United States, who is seen, said Gans, “as the ultimate protector of order.”

Watchdog Function The idea that the news media serve a watchdog function in American life is implicit in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which bars the government from interfering with the press. Since the nation was founded, journalists have been expected to keep the people holding positions of public trust honest and responsible to the electorate by reporting on government activities, including shortcomings.

In performing their watchdog function, reporters often find themselves accused of partisan bias. Generally, the truth is that journalists are handy whipping boys when news is less than positive. The classic case was in 1968 when the White House had been beset with unfavorable news. Vice President Spiro Agnew, addicted as he was to alliteration, called the press “nattering nabobs of negativism.” Successive presidential administrations, Democratic and Republican alike, have been no less gentle in charging the media with bias whenever news isn’t what they want told.

This is not to suggest that journalists are perfect or always accurate, especially in reporting confusing situations against deadline. Nor is it to suggest that there are no partisans peppered among reporters in the press corps. However, critics, usually themselves partisans, too often are reflexive with a cheap charge of bias when reporters are, as one wag put it, doing their job to keep those in power honest. In the process of doing their work, journalists sometimes indeed become facilitators of change—but within the role of reporters, not advocates, as is the case with “advocacy

journalism.”

Writing Prompt Applying Your Media Literacy – Values That Shape News

How are journalists captives of the personal values they bring to their work?

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6.5 Variables Affecting News

Study Preview The variables that determine what is reported include things beyond a journalist’s control, such as how much space or time is available to tell stories. Also, a story that might receive top billing on a slow news day might not even appear on a day when an overwhelming number of major stories are breaking.

Learning Objectives By the end of this module you will be able to:

  1. 6.5.1 Relate news holes to news platforms
  2. 6.5.2 Outline the conditions that control the news flow
  3. 6.5.3 Explain how staffing affects news coverage
  4. 6.5.4 Explain how news coverage is influenced by audience expectations
  5. 6.5.5 Analyze how competition impacts journalist behavior
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