News readings in print and online; paper

1. Introduction

It is argued that people live in two worlds:

–       the one they experience directly and,

–       the one they know about from other sources.

In 1922, Walter Lippman argued that “news is not a mirror of social conditions, but the report of an aspect” that was put under the spotlight…

The media are the liaisons between sources of information and society. They are the carriers of interpretation of events and views that are formulated by politicians, businesses and social organisations.

To a great extent, our view of reality, or in Lippman’s words “the pictures in our heads” is formed by information channeled to us through the media.[1]

These pictures are for the most part stereotypical, they are standardized and usually they represent an oversimplified opinion, emotion, attitude or judgment of a person, group, issue or event.


Media are responsible for covering the world on a 24-7 basis. Therefore, in many cases they stereotype out of necessity. This necessity originates from a very particular task – that is every day to come up with a new product.

It is argued that this achievement can only be kept alive and further flourish through institutionalized routines, predictable and productive means for gathering news, as well as shared conventions about newsworthiness and presentation.[2]

Dealing with the unexpected (or in many cases, the expected, since a lot of events are anticipated), news media have adopted a series of techniques and practices, which are routinely applied in most newsrooms around the world.

These routines range from simple news writing techniques and layout formats, to complex editorial practices that serve the need for fast decision-making in covering conflict in politics, business or international relations.

The gathering and processing of information that later turns into news constitute stages, which are characterized by a set of professional, mostly unwritten laws, that are largely unknown to the public. From the initial interaction of journalists with sources or established centers of information, the construction of news texts and the decisions that govern their final presentation, various factors decisively influence the formation of what we commonly call “the news”.

News products in general and journalists and their work in particular, are considered as the center of a complex communication activity, which involves the interaction of various factors inside and outside the media organisations.

In brief, and according to a study by Shoemaker & Reese (1991), the evidence of influence on media content can be traced to a series of factors such as “…the personal attitudes and orientations of media workers, professionalism, corporate policies, corporate ownership patterns, the economic environment, advertisers and ideological influences”.[3]

2. News and Mediated Reality

Analyzing the construction and presentation of our world is not a straightforward process. In order to tackle the characteristics of mediated reality, the following simple questions need to be answered:

–       First of all, whose reality the media are reporting?

–       Secondly, who are these people engaged in this process?

–       Thirdly, how reality is presented? And finally…

–       Who is benefited by the media function?

Time restrictions of this presentation allow only a brief presentation of some major topics. Therefore, tackling the first question, we need to answer: whose reality is represented in the media?

2.1 Whose reality?

It is argued that the center of the generation of news is in the link between reporters and sources, in the interaction of news representatives and governments, businesses or various organisational bureaucracies.[4]

An interesting account has been expressed by Molotch and Lester (1974), who saw the media as reflecting “… the practices of those having the power to determine the experience of others.” [5]

As Ben Bagdikian (1983) has put it, “the power to control the flow of information is a major lever in the control of society. Giving citizens a choice in ideas and information is as important as giving them a choice in politics”.[6]

The concept of controlling the flow of information brings us to the discussion of the role of sources. According to Hall and others (1978), accredited and widely legitimized people, who are used as sources by journalists, act as “primary definers” of social reality.[7] Moreover, it is argued that these primary definitions are so strong that any other explanation offered later, is not capable of reversing the original interpretation.[8]

Therefore, one cannot ignore Hardt (1979) who argued that: “Control over the media […] may suggest control over the mind of society”.[9]

As a result, the way in which we define our lives and the world around us is to a great extent a product of a continuous gatekeeping process done by others. Editors and journalists are the guardians of the media gates; they are the people who have the power to affect our view of reality.

A simple example may illuminate this point. For instance, nowadays the Iraq Conflict is at the top of the global news agenda. Since the beginning of the 2nd Iraq War, the deaths of Alliance soldiers are closely monitored by Western media. Newspapers and broadcast media around the globe keep publishing casualties updates, whereas websites have introduced continuous counting in special war coverage online sections. In the same context, human-interest news stories are reflecting the grief of soldiers’ families and friends.

At the same time, according to the World Health Organisation, around 35,000 children under the age of 5 die every day somewhere in the world. All these deaths constitute tragic stories for families living in villages, cities or on the streets. As Ginneken (1998) has argued, “every single one of these deaths could also be taken as an indicator of a larger medical and social or economic problem, which might well be considered newsworthy…”[10] Moreover, some of these stories include political and economic dimensions of local or global character. Are these stories newsworthy?

Most of the time, mainstream media say that they are not…

2.2 Who are these people?

What about the people who are responsible for gathering, selecting, organizing and presented news to the public? In short, what is the profile of editors and journalists?

Various research projects around the world have approached journalism human resources through cases studies and analytical fieldwork. Here I can speak of Greek newspaper journalists based on personal evidence found during my research in the Greek press. This research, performed in 2002 investigated 126 newspaper reporters in 15 large Athens-based political and financial daily newspapers, which represent almost 90% of daily total circulation.[11]

I will not bother you with a lot of details; however, certain points need to be made, especially as regards the quality of the human factor, as well as the professional habits and practices.

– The research has found that almost 74% of newspaper professionals have entered journalism for reasons not related to the communication function of the profession itself (54% due to their personal desire for a profession with no fixed routines and working hours, and 20% have entered journalism by accident);

– 70% of newspaper professionals were found to maintain multiple jobs in other media (magazines, television, radio and internet sites); almost 1 out of 3 hold three to four jobs;

– 25% of newspaper journalists staff Public Relations or Press Office positions in the private and public sector;

– 72% of newspaper journalists hold a bachelor degree in various academic fields (from those, almost 1 out of 10 in media studies – and this is quite indicative as regards the level of media literacy in the profession);

– 22% of newspaper journalists are post-graduates (of which a third in media-related fields);

– and finally, 56% of journalists surveyed declare that they have not acquired any vocational training or have attended journalistic seminars of any kind;

These findings demonstrate the general loose conditions that characterise the journalistic profession in Greece. They also suggest a shortage of people determined to serve the profession and its social mission, as well as the absence of an organized educational and vocational path that leads educated and trained young people towards employment as journalists.

On the other hand, this evidence suggests a low level of media literacy and a high degree of dependence of journalists on newsroom culture, specialized sources and authoritative figures. [12]

2.3 How news reality is presented?

A short answer could be: routinely and according to the given newsroom’s editorial policy and production needs…

Some studies, such as Breed’s (1955) analysis of “social control in the newsroom”, have explored how a journalist is socialized to learn the editorial policies of the organisation.[13]

Journalists learn from observation and experience what is newsworthy (or acceptable to the employer) and how to avoid criticism from peers by using what Tuchman (1972) has called the “strategic rituals of objectivity”. This refers to the use of objectivity more as a technique rather than as a result of balanced newsgathering.[14]

The journalist’s socialization as a media professional gives them what Sigal (1973) has called “a context of shared values” with other journalists.[15]

Gitlin (1980) on the other hand, has referred to “patterns of cognition, interpretation, and presentation, of selection, emphasis, and exclusion”. He saw these patterns as frames that “enable journalists to process large amounts of information quickly and routinely: to recognize it as information, to assign it to cognitive categories, and to package it for efficient relay to audiences.”[16]

Journalism routines are crucial in determining which items are moved through the news channels and which are rejected. Gatekeeping and decision making on content is an on-going process that is governed by newsroom rules and guidelines.

News as a final product rarely reflects the absolute truth. On most occasions, it is the product of information provides by powerful figures to people who work based on predetermined rules and procedures.

And this brings us to our final question: Who is benefited by media production? Evidence produced by the same research mentioned earlier offer some insight of the journalism profession.

2.4 Who is benefited?

In the Greek press,

– 90% of newspaper reporters say that newspaper proprietors intervene in news production and presentation; Most of them argue that newspaper owners intervene in order to serve their own non-media entrepreneurial interests;

– Moreover, the ideology of top executives are ranked as the most important factors that influence the editorial line;

– 60% of newspaper reporters consider the promotion of political and economic interests of news organisations as a major characteristic of the Greek news media.

– Finally, only 5% of newspaper journalists maintain that news media are independent, serving the common good.

As previously argued, authoritative figures and spin-doctors set the daily news agenda, feeding journalists newsworthy information. In this game, news media participate for a variety of reasons:

–       One of the reasons could be in order to boost copy sales or viewership records.

–       Another reason could be their desire to actively participate in the political struggle between political parties.

In any case, the structure of power within news organisations ensures that certain guidelines are followed. Established journalism techniques and organisational policies shape all stages of news production and presentation and to a large extent determine the media’s “perception” of reality.

However, in the last decade, the advent of the Internet as a powerful alternative news platform has altered the characteristics of this traditional, highly controlled environment…

3. The role of the Internet

In the journalism field, digital practices have led to rapid changes in the practices of traditional media, as well as to the creation of more synthetic, and to a great extent innovative, forms of news presentation in the new digital platforms, such as digital television and the Internet.[17]

The Internet news experience has the potential to alter the way people read news. The implementation of lively structured layout techniques, the combination of text, photographs, audio and video applications as well as the provision of direct access to original sources create a revolutionary news environment that challenges the traditional forms.[18]

The direct access to information offered to the public challenges the traditional role of the journalist as the ultimate gatekeeper of the news agenda. In this revolutionary environment, the public’s view of reality is altered.

In the near future, online news will serve the public through a variety of digital platforms and different news formats: from traditional print and broadcast media to Internet sites, 3rd generation mobile phones and digital television. These new digital platforms, along with the need for personalized news, create new considerations for the profession that has to come up with platform-specific news output. Moreover, public control over the kind and the type of news offered, is increasingly strengthened.[19]

On the other hand, various surveys have indicated that news consumption behavior has started to change. The energetic demand for news started to compete directly with the passive watching of television. Given the slow development of digital television and its interactive services, Internet appears dominant in the contemporary digital market.

Moreover, the proliferation of independent websites has allowed alternative views, previously kept in the periphery of public discussion, to appear in larger audiences. Arguments and research by various interest groups published online have enriched our view of the world, altering the traditional elements that constituted our established view of reality largely drawn by the mainstream media.

However, the new digital environment does not come without a series of imperfections that require particular attention. For instance, on July 29, 1997, the San Francisco Chronicle’s web site reported first – mistakenly – the name of the new chairman of Apple Computers, a news item that affected directly the company’s stock performance.[20] Based on anonymous sources, the Chronicle’s editors preferred to run the story on the Net, rather than to wait for the print edition to appear the next day.[21] Obviously, the rush to publish prevailed over news accuracy and crosschecking of information.

Since mistakes are unavoidable online, how corrections should be made clear in the eyes of readers? Posting corrections on already published material as against posting separate corrected or updated news articles defined as such is a major issue of practical as well as moral importance.

On the other hand, media owner’s intervention on content may become absolute and more direct, since on the Internet, content control is continuous, while corrections can easily been applied even after publication.

Either due to imperfect news accounts, or due to news executive post-publication censorship, rewrites of news after online publication is a routine practice in most major as well as smaller news websites.[22]

Then, a simple question arises: “is there such a thing as an online public record?” Is what we experience online a record of the world, or it is hyper-reality in its most distorting form? These considerations are slowly framing the content of a series of debates that we have to tackle in the near future…

4. Audience Perception

I would like to finish this with a case that has to do with television journalism. This case is drawn from the journalism practiced in the early days of last year’s Iraq invasion by Alliance Forces.

The Iraq War has been the first full-scale military engagement in the age of the Internet, multiple cable channels and a mixed media culture that has stretched the definition of journalism.

In March 2003, a research by the Pew Research Center For the People and the Press was published in the USA.[23] In this research it was noted that the most important characteristic of the media coverage so far has been the new system of “embedding” some 600 journalists with American and British troops.

Among the research questions explored was the following: What Americans were getting on television from this “embedded” reporting?

The embedded coverage has been both exciting and dull, combat focused, and mostly live and unedited. Much of it lacked context but it was usually rich in detail. It had all the virtues and vices of reporting only what you can see.

In particular:

– In an age when the press is often criticized for being too interpretive, the overwhelming majority of the embedded stories studied (94%), were primarily factual in nature.

– Most of the embedded reports were live and unedited accounts.

– Viewers were hearing mostly from reporters, not directly from soldiers or other sources.

– It has been mostly a battle coverage. Nearly half of the embedded reports described military action or the results.

– While dramatic, the coverage was not graphic. Not a single story examined showed pictures of people being hit by fired weapons.[24]

Therefore, what was the perception of the audience as regards the early days of the Iraq War? Was it a just a view of the battlefront broadcasted live in people’s homes? Was it a reality show expressing the reality of war, or a quite particular account of it?

Overall, the “embedding” system proved quite successful for the Military. People back home viewed the war as a televised saga that included real people fighting for a real cause. The closed and controlled frame of the television image offered everything the public was allowed to know about the military action.

Therefore, it could be argued that the “television reality culture” was effectively explored by established forces to record and transmit news messages that served a very particular target: to justify the military action through the promotion of the human factor itself; meaning soldiers and journalists taking risks, the first to protect Democracy, the second to break the news to the public.

5. Epilogue

Most authors agree that all information products embody major characteristics of its creators, characteristics that in the case of news may be not obvious. Journalists, editors, sources, press proprietors, online journalists, web producers and content managers, each plays a particular and vital role in the news making procedure, while sharing at the same time all the characteristics of a common profession.

Thus, for those who assume what appears in the news to be the absolute truth, they must bear in mind that this “truth” inevitably carries the characteristics of its making.

[1] Lippman, W. (1922) Public Opinion. New York: Harcout Brace. Also Lippman, W. (1925) ‘The Phantom Public’, reprinted in Robert Jackall (1995) Propaganda. Hampshire: Macmillan Press.

[2] Rodney Tiffen (1989) “News and Power”.

[3] Ibid. p. 1.

[4] Schudson, M. (1991) “The Sociology of News Revisited” in J. Curran and M. Gurevitch: Mass Media and Society. London: Edward Arnold.

[5] Molotch, H. and Lester, M. (1974) ‘News as Purposive Behaviour: on the Strategic Use of Routine Events, Accidents and Scandals’ in S. Cohen and J. Young (eds.) The Manufacture of News (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1981, revised edition – Originally published in the American Sociological Review, vol. 39, February 1974.

[6] Bagdikian, B. (1992) Media Monopoly, Boston: Beacon Press (4th edition).

[7] Hall, S. et al. (1978) ‘The Social Production of News: Mugging in the Media’ in S. Cohen and J. Young (eds.) The Manufacture of News (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1981, revised edition) – Extracts from Hall. S. et al. Policing the Crisis (London: Macmillan, 1978).

[8] Hall, S. et al. (1978), op. cit.

[9] Hardt, H. (1979) Social theories of the press: Early German and American perspectives. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

[10] Jaap van Ginneken (1998) Understanding Global News, London: Sage.

[11] Kamaras, D. (2004) News Production in Greece: Newspapers, Journalists and the Internet. Unpublished Doctoral Thesis. Journalism Department, City University (London).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Breed, W. (1955) ‘Social Control in the Newsroom: a Functional Analysis’, in O. Boyd-Barrett and C. Newbold (eds.) Approaches to Media: A Reader (London: Arnold, 1995). Originally published in Blackwell, G. and Jocher, K. (eds.) (1955) Social Forces. The Williams and Wilkins Co. (for the University of North Carolina Press, vol. 33, nos.1-4 , pp. 329-32, 335).

[14] Tuchman, G. (1972) ‘Objectivity as Strategic Ritual: An Examination of Newsmen’s Notions of Objectivity’, American Sociological Review, vol. 77 (4), pp. 660-679, particularly p. 678.

[15] Sigal, L. (1973) Reporters and Officials: The Organisation and Politics of Newsmaking. Lexington, MA: D.C. Heath and Company.

[16] Gitlin, T. (1980) The Whole World is Watching. NY: Pantheon Books.

[17] Kamaras, D. (2003) Web-Journalism, Digital Content and the Audience. Paper delivered at the 2nd International Sociology Conference, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, November 8-10, 2002.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Saila, C. (1997) “Online Newspapers grow up”, The Bytewriter (August 15),

[21] Ibid.

[22] A characteristic example of a CNN/Money story on one of the Microsoft trials that suffered a series of ‘writethroughs’ is presented in (Accessed 10/5/2002). Also,

[23] See “TV Combat Fatigue on the Rise; But ‘Embeds’ Viewed Favorably,” Pew Research Center For the People and the Press, March 28, 2003 ( Accessed 24/11/04. See also Accessed 24/11/04.

[24] Ibid.

Based on a paper delivered 3rd Annual Conference “Reality Revisited: Literature, Communication, Aesthetics at the Crossroads”.Organized by the English Department in cooperation with the Communication Department, November 27, 2004 – Cyprus Cultural Center, Athens

Demetris Kamaras

Journalism Professor and journalist, primarily online. Political analyst and communications specialist. Previous studies in economics (BA), communications policy (MA) and journalism (PhD), mostly in London. Born in Hove, Brighton. Lives in Athens, Greece. Blogs when necessary. Founded and running Private Information Network and [The Greek]. Occasional articles of friends are published on Interested in political communication, next-gen web apps, digital R&D, internet ethics and social networks. He taught journalism and communication at University of Indianapolis Athens (1999-2013). Published numerous analyses and op-eds, online and in print and his first book was titled: Digital Communication (Zenon Publications, London, 2000 – co-authorship). Recent publications: Crisis Talk; Greece (2012) – iBook/Avaialble on iTunes. Elections and the Internet, Digerati Publications (Athens, 2014) (in Greek).

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