Friday, 3 July 2009

Back with the sociologists

Back with the sociologists and more reading about theories of production and consumption of news. Sociologists seem to like nothing better than to create a neat theory and try to fit the facts to the theory (I thought scientists preferred to work from the facts but still...) So you argue that media coverage is totally shaped by economic forces and proprietors bent on making profits. Or you analyse the workings of the newsroom as a series of routines and meetings with sources as journalists working hand in glove with officials, bureaucrats and big corporations. News is a "social construct", dominated by the opinions of "elites".

Or, breaking away from the dead hand of Marxism and elitism, you argue that the way journalists cover stories is underpinned by "cultural givens" which journalists themselves don't realise they're drawing on when they write a story. Media stereotypes of ethnic minorities and gays are "cultural givens", as is journalists' "news sense", which journalists seem unable to define to the satisfaction of the sociologists.

Much of what academics write about news and news values has an element of truth but many of the theories are just too neat. Maybe academics need to spend more time in newsrooms and they'd realise how chaotic and random it often is when news is breaking. And more than ever when online sources of information are proliferating and you don't just have to worry about what the midday Evening Standard is saying (those were the days) but also who's saying what on Twitter, blogs, other news sites. As one journalist told sociologist Graham Murdock: "News and news programmes could almost be called random reactions to random events. " In other words, news is event-driven. Which even the sociologists are admitting is an interesting research area.

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