News content and audience belief : a case study of the 1984/5 miners strike
This study examines the reception of news messages by audiences, with special reference to coverage of the 1984/5 miner's strike. A new methodology is employed, which used groups of people selected to highlight possible differences in the reception of messages. Some groups had a special knowledge of the events of the strike, while a more general sample included people from different occupations and regional areas. The groups were invited to write and texts of their own television news programmes using actual photographs from news reports on the strike. This approach showed what the groups understood the content of the news to be on specific issues. It was then possible to compare this with what they believed to be `true', and to examine the sources of their beliefs, as well as why they either accepted or rejected media accounts. Earlier research with the Glasgow University Media Group had focussed on the content of television news. This showed how the presentation of certain views and explanations together with the embracing and underlining of them by journalists was part of a general process by which the news was structured. The conclusion was that some key themes were highlighted in the news text. The current study indicated which news themes had been retained in the memories of audience members. One notable result was the clarity with which such themes were recalled and the close correspondence between news programmes written by the groups and some actual news bulletins. Some groups were able to reproduce not only the thematic content of news bulletins on issues such as violence, but also the structure and language of actual news headlines. Television news (and to a lesser extent the press) was found to be a major source of information for many people in the groups and had a clear influence on some elements of belief. However, it was also found that direct experience could have a crucial influence on how new information from the media was understood. Such direct contacts, together with political culture, class experience and processes of logic were the most important factors in the relation between the reception of a news message and what was finally believed by the audience.