News: Ideology

The first step is to recognise that news institutions have to first establish a NEWS AGENDA. That is, they have to decide what does and does not qualify as news, and which stories deserve most prominence.


Discuss: you are the editor of a national British newspaper. Three stories land on your desk.

  • George Bush has signed the Kyoto treaty after years of resistance. The US are now committed to reducing harmful emissions and protecting the environment.
  • The Queen has been chased by an alsation whilst visiting a hospital and had to take refuge up a tree. You have managed to buy high-quality photographs of her scrambling through the branches.
  • The Bank of England has announced a massive cut in interest rates. This will particularly affect homeowners.

Which goes on the front page?

Secondly, why does it matter what institutions choose to emphasise? Because of AGENDA SETTING; that is, what they TELL us is important BECOMES important. Which war is more 'important'? The war in Iraq or all the other wars currently being fought? Why?

Thirdly, how is the news agenda constructed? What defines 'news'? There are 'rules' to help decide which stories are worthy of selection and emphasis - these rules are called news values, most famously defined by Galtung and Ruge (1965).

Conditions for News

  • Frequency: Events which occur suddenly and fit well with the news organization's schedule are more likely to be reported than those which occur gradually or at inconvenient times of day or night. Long-term trends are not likely to receive much coverage.
  • Negativity: Bad news is more newsworthy than good news.
  • Unexpectedness: If an event is out of the ordinary it will have a greater effect than something which is an everyday occurrence.
  • Unambiguity: Events whose implications are clear make for better copy than those which are open to more than one interpretation, or where any understanding of the implications depends on first understanding the complex background in which the events take place.
  • Personalization: Events which can be portrayed as the actions of individuals will be more attractive than one in which there is no such "human interest."
  • Meaningfulness: This relates to the sense of identification the audience has with the topic. "Cultural proximity" is a factor here -- stories concerned with people who speak the same language, look the same, and share the preoccupations as the audience receive more coverage than those concerned with people who speak different languages, look different and have different preoccupations.
  • Reference to elite nations: Stories concerned with global powers receive more attention than those concerned with less influential nations.
  • Reference to elite persons: Stories concerned with the rich, powerful, famous and infamous get more coverage.
  • Consonance: Stories which fit with the media's expectations receive more coverage than those which defy them (and for which they are thus unprepared). Note this appears to conflict with unexpectedness above. However, consonance really refers to the media's readiness to report an item.
  • Continuity: A story which is already in the news gathers a kind of inertia. This is partly because the media organizations are already in place to report the story, and partly because previous reportage may have made the story more accessible to the public (making it less ambiguous).
  • Composition: Stories must compete with one another for space in the media. For instance, editors may seek to provide a balance of different types of coverage, so that if there is an excess of foreign news for instance, the least important foreign story may have to make way for an item concerned with the domestic news. In this way the prominence given to a story depends not only on its own news values but also on those of competing stories. (Galtung and Ruge, 1965)

  • Competition: Commercial or professional competition between media may lead journalists to endorse the news value given to a story by a rival.
  • Co-optation: A story that is only marginally newsworthy in its own right may be covered if it is related to a major running story.
  • Prefabrication: A story which is marginal in news terms but written and available may be selected ahead of a much more newsworthy story which has to be researched and written from the ground up.
  • Predictability: An event is more likely to be covered if it has been pre-scheduled. (Bell, 1991)

  • Time constraints: Traditional news media such as radio, television and daily newspapers have strict deadlines and a short production cycle which select for items that can be researched and covered quickly.
  • Logistics: Although eased by the availability of global communications even from remote regions, the ability to deploy and control production and reporting staff, and functionality of technical resources can determine whether a story is covered. (Schlesinger, 1987)


News institutions may often be influenced - quite openly, by and large - by a political leaning to the left or the right, often dictated by their owners. The most famous example is probably Rupert Murdoch, whose conservative beliefs seem to have a fairly obvious influence on the output of the various papers, stations etc that he owns as part of his News Corporation conglomerate.This can affect which stories are picked and how they are reported.

A famous example is The Sun's reporting of the sinking of an Argentinian ship, with serious loss of life, during the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict. What IDEOLOGIES are encoded in this report?

News: Ideology - Media@SIS


Fox News in action? The infamous 'terrorist fist jab':

Watch 'Outfoxed', the documentary about Murdoch and Fox, HERE.