An investigation into the influences on journalists in television news story construction
Television news is a key provider of information within British society, investing those who produce it with power to determine what is 'important' and 'interesting'. In this context I set out, through observation and interview in the newsrooms of Channel Four, HTV West and BBC I Midlands Today, to gain insight into how journalists think and behave when selecting and constructing news stories. I sought to examine the effects of routine practices and the extent to which reporters and editors reflect on their decision making. In addition, I conducted a close reading of the headline item from the bulletin produced in each newsroom on the same day as my visit, in order to draw comparison between what editors and reporters articulate as important in a newsroom setting, and what appears to be the case in manifest content. While considering a wide range of influential factors, an overriding objective was to assess the specific role of 'news value'. Do journalists consciously apply individual criteria? Are newsrooms organised so that editors and reporters routinely privilege certain subjects as 'news' and not others? Is there a journalistic tendency to 'notice', perceive and 'frame' events as a set of familiar types? In examining these questions, special attention was given to the conceptual model developed by Galtung & Ruge (1965), in order to assess its relevance in the 'real' newsroom environment. My findings suggested that journalists do not openly reflect on newsworthiness in a systematic way. The complex task of preparing a story ready for broadcast was achieved in a manner that was almost automatic. Attitudes and behaviour appeared to be driven by routines, with decisions made quickly and with minimal outward reflection. In conversation, the importance of visual impact and drama, and an emphasis on negativity, emerged as being significant, although subsequent analysis of output suggested that other criteria may also be influential, for example a concentration on 'elite' subject matter. Overall, however, there seemed to be a lack of ability or willingness to discuss selection in a conceptual manner and newsworthiness was explained and 'justified' by reference to actual examples of stories or subject matter.