How Editors Affect News Coverage and News Content
by William Worrell
Why does one particular story make the front page or network news when hundreds of other good stories are discarded? Who determines which news events are covered and which are not? How is news content determined? Many scholars, and industry workers, suggest that journalists have their prime influence on society not so much by coverage of particular stories as by the choice of what to cover. In that respect, journalists are sometimes called ‘gatekeepers’, or “agenda setters.”
In terminology, gatekeeper is still something of a new idea in concept. Gatekeeping dates back to antiquity. In Matt. 23:13(see), Jesus rebukes the scribes and Pharisees for attempting gatekeeping. Here, the scribes and Pharisees were attempting to deny access to truth; editors, gatekeepers of today’s media, determine access to news information!
News editors determine which stories a reporter will be sent to cover and how those reports will be handled. The stories may be cut sharply, some receive praise, others criticism, while some stories may never be published. It must be stated, that on some smaller papers reporters primarily choose their assignments. Yet, typically the norm is for the editor to handle story assignment.
The actual writing of a news report is the journalist’s responsibility. Perspective and manner of coverage is normally in the correspondent’s hands. He conducts the assignment according to his style and wishes. But, the decision of sending that story to the press is the editor’s responsibility. Thus, the article Joe Citizen reads in his paper is most likely a completely rewritten story than originally submitted.
What determines the content of a journalist’s message? It’s quite simple. The ‘medium’ one chooses shapes the content of one’s message. The major difference between broadcast and print journalism is obvious: the print editor can cover stories “in depth,” while his counterpart, the producer, must use brevity or possibly a special news program geared to a specific topic.
There’s more! Besides the medium affecting news content, the framing of the article is of importance as well. Facts alone have no intrinsic meaning. Yet, the selective use of those facts—and how they are used can change the entire meaning of that article. A frame is a central organizing idea for making sense of relevant events. Media frames organize the world both for journalist as well as for the reader or viewer.
The framing of the story brings the facts to life. Yet, if framing brings meaning, what is the purpose of something called slant and spin?
Meet the media elite: the two wire services (AP and UPI), CBS, NBC ABC and Fox and CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and Newsweek. These are “generally viewed as the outlets that decide which political event deserves emphasis and how much play each story gets. These are the true gatekeepers and agenda setting of the media.
The editors of these firms determine news slant or theme. The stories that the editors of these publications decide to place on their front pages will more than likely be the lead stories on the evening news program.
Slant and spin revolve around the same common center called control! Controlling the spin is another way of stating the effort to control the interpretation stemming from a news event. The spin a correspondent places on a news story can result in an individual’s harm or support.
Our national media wields great influence in this area because it is read by presidents and every other government as well as by business and education officials.
The editor of a large national paper, or a small local paper, deals with the orchestration of many parts of a single work: the broadcasting or publication of that edition of the news. He deals with each correspondent’s story in context with the entire paper or broadcast. Where should the story be placed? How much space or time does it deserve?
A good example of this is demonstrated in Wes Pippert’s book An Ethics of News. In the book he gives the account of George McGovern and of how the media focuses on what “it” deems important:
We stressed his opposition to the war in Vietnam, but we did not properly define him or his basic beliefs. We did not listen carefully when he quoted Moses and Isaiah, as he did regularly, sounding like his Wesleyan preacher father, in calling America back to its old values. McGovern spelled out
his moral premises in, what a key aid called, the most significant speech of his campaign, at Wheaton College. After the chapel, one editor remarked to me, “I think I’ll skip that.” That night, the network coverage focused on McGovern’s soon forgotten meeting with Chicago union leaders.
Nothing about Wheaton. (p. 82)
McGovern’s campaign was a moral plea for a nation to return to ancient values. In 1972, when people cast their ballots, they did so with incomplete knowledge about both Nixon and McGovern. And in being the Watchmen on the walls, the press must carry a huge responsibility for this (Ezek. 3:17-18, NIV).
Generally speaking, it is believed that most editors, reporters, producers, and commentators are more liberal than the voters. David Broden—yes another older writer—states that “reporters are by no means any kind of cross section. We have a higher socio-economic stratification than the people for whom we are writing” (Press & Verburg, 1988, p. 96). His colleague, Lou Cannon, added, “The gulf is growing between reporter and the working class American” (Press & Verburg, 1988, p. 96)
Yes. I know. What we’re really discussing is biasness. Yet, when seen for what it really is, biasness is actually a form of self-deception. And self deception is the most insidious of deceptions. The deceived person cannot believe “they” could be wrong.
This is not to say all journalists are biased craftsmen. I have many friends who are reporters, editors, and producers. And love the Lord with their full heart. Yet at this point in time, the question must be asked: Can you be both patriot, believer AND journalist? This publication says you can. Therefore, Let the word go forth from this moment to those who believe in the sacred and have a heart to pursue truth and believe the journalist needs to return to the walls as Watchman…Let them contact this publication…and assume your Watch.