Construction of a News Story

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In this essay I will discuss how news values, ideology and culture can affect the construction of a news story. Firstly, what is news? News is a constructed product. It is saleable, superficial, simple, objective, action-central, interesting (as distinct from significant), stylized and prudent (Breed, 1956). According to Greg Philio, "˜"�News"� on television and in the Press is not self-defining. News is not "found"� or even "gathered"� so much as made. It is a creation of a journalistic process, an artifact, a commodity even' (Fowler, R. 1991, p10). However, news is not a piece of history (although it may record history), gossip, of human interest, free of subjectivity, free of socio-cultural influences. Television news for example is highly selective. Countless events of huge magnitude can occur on any one day but only a very small, selected portion ever reaches our living rooms via the television news programs. There are certain identifiable characteristics which determine what is selected. Television news is personalized; it ignores institutions and structures and concentrates on personalities. This is because things like communism are subjects that are hard to get across to the audience. The medium and the timeslot demand that stories be short and visually interesting. A recipe approach is used- there is a blend of international, nation and local stories; political, industrial, economic and human interest stories. Minor stories with dramatic impact therefore get equal or greater coverage than more significant, global items. The news presents itself as actuality when in fact it is a coded construction of manipulated signs and symbols.

Every event that is reported in the news will always have to undergo a process called "˜gatekeeping'. Journalists and editors do not decide for themselves about whether the reported event is newsworthy or not. They have to refer to a set so called "˜news values'. It is through this set where they determine whether the "˜story' is to be followed up, and whether it makes it into the news, facing competition against other possible news items. One of the best known lists of news values is supplied by Johann Galtung and Mari Ruge. The values they identified are frequency, threshold, unambiguity, meaningfulness, consonance, unexpectedness, continuity, composition, reference to elite nations, reference to elite people, reference to persons and reference to something negative (Fowler, R. 1991, p.13-14). Frequency- the time span of an event and the extent to which it 'fits' the frequency of the newspaper's or news broadcast's schedule. Accidents or disasters such as plane crashes, earthquakes will qualify as they are all of short duration and therefore nearly always fit into the schedule. Such events are also unambiguous, their meaning is quickly arrived at and they don't need any explanation. Background to the news, though for example economic, social or political trends is less likely to make it into the news as such trends take a long time to unfold (Cohen, S. & Young, J. 1973, p.63). When they do make it into the news, it is normally through a clearly defined event such as the publication of employment or trade figures on a particular day. Threshold- this regards the size of an event. Questions like "˜is it big enough to make it into the news?' is raised. For example, the story of a drunk driver who wrote off a parked car may be reported in the local paper, but he would have needed to write off half a dozen to make it into the national dailies. The size of an event tends also to be mitigated somewhat by its degree of 'meaningfulness'. Unambiguity- is the meaning of an event clear? The mass media generally tend to go for closure, unlike literature, where the polysemy of events is exploited and explored (Cohen, S. & Young, J. 1973, p.64). An event such as a murder or a car crash will have no problems as its meaning is immediately grasped, so it is likely to make it into the news....
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