The common perception of news production is that news reports events as or after they happen; a newsworthy event takes place and teams of journalists go out and report the case. This is of course true in some cases such as accidents and other unexpected events. However if a news team had to simply ‘wait’ for news to happen they might find that reality may not fit deadlines in a neat manner. Rather the reality is that news is often as not constructed by the news production team and then published or broadcast. A common version of this can be heard every morning on ‘Morning Ireland’ and most other radio stations. Minister X is interviewed at 8.45 on issue Y and the Nine O’Clock news follows with ‘Mister X stated Y’, this will then be followed up throughout the day with reactions to what Minister X said by opposition politician Z and so on. Minister X may have gone on the radio specifically to state Y, therefore being very much part of the news construction process. Teams of PR agencies and state communication departments spend their days constructing pre-prepared news items for the mainstream media (which are never marked as such); which leads to the direct subsidisation of news by powerful interests. This leads to the very obvious advantages of elites over the rest of society with an ability to shape news agendas and interpretations to suit their own interests.
The 1970s saw an upsurge in institutional studies of media companies often drawing from the sociology of work. These studies have shown how the ‘reality’ constructed by journalists may be what is more easily available or accessible to journalists (or important to journalists) rather than a reflection or mirror of reality (for example see Tuchman 1974, 1978). The construction of news is not a neutral event, work practices, access to sources and overarching ideologies influence how this news is constructed. The ‘news values’ or what is deemed newsworthy is intrinsically ideological as is the interpretation and framing of those events. As Roger Fowler (1991 p.2) succinctly puts it
What events are reported is not a reflection of the intrinsic importance of those events, but reveals the operation of a complex and artificial set of criteria for selection. Then the news that is thus selected is subject to processes of transformation as it is encoded for publication; the technical properties of the medium – television or newsprint, for example and the ways in which they are used, are strongly effective in transformation. Both ‘selection’ and ‘transformation’ are guided by reference, generally unconscious to ideas and beliefs.
The ideological nature of news construction has been clearly on show over the course of the water protests, the literally hundreds of water protests happening on a daily basis seem not to be deemed newsworthy; this clearly fits the mainstream frame of politics being something that happens in the corridors of power rather than on the streets. Moreover when protests are covered there are common attempts to play them down or describe them as violent as witnessed by the so called ‘sinister fringe’ framing of the water protests. Violence by Irish Water staff, their security firms or police is not being reported in the Irish press. The protests and assorted violence is of course being watched via social media and has now been picked up by the UK based Vice.
The examiner on Wednesday the 28th of January gave us a clear example of both news construction and framing. A protest the previous Friday (a full five days before) against President Michael D. Higgins had been held in a working class part of Dublin; during the protest some frankly childish insults had been thrown at the President and there had been evidence of pushing and shoving by the Police. The protest in itself however was not the story covered by the Examiner rather the newspaper interviewed Paul Murphy TD and asked him to denounce the protests. Murphy in a nuanced enough fashion said that he thought it was legitimate to protest the President as he had signed the Water Charges Bill and defended the right to protest but that he did not think it was tactically wise to do so, moreover he did not support personalised remarks against the President. The headline however was ‘TD defends Higgins Abusers’ which was misleading as it seems to imply Murphy had come out to defend all aspects of the protest rather than answer a question asked by the newspaper. Murphy was most likely targeted by the newspaper because of his role in a previous peaceful protest, which he had also refused to denounce.
The Examiner continued its construction of the story on Thursday the 28th with the front page headline; ‘Murphy Protest Remarks Spark Outrage’, this headline was even more insidious as one reading of it could imply that Murphy had a closer connection to the protest. The newspaper rather than Writing ‘Protest Remarks by Murphy Spark Outrage’ place the words Murphy and Protest together which means ‘Murphy’ could be read as an adjective or possessive implying a far closer connection, while this may be put down to simply poor style on the part of subeditors linguistically ‘Murphy Protest Remarks’ is a far stronger and more ideological statement than the ‘Protest Remarks by Murphy’ placing Murphy far closer to the protest than having simply answered a question that was put to him by the newspaper. Murphy himself has stated that he intends to officially complain to the Press Ombudsman about his treatment but the event in itself is extremely useful in reminding us about the role of the media as news factories rather than simply being objective reporters of daily life.
Fowler, R. 1991. Language in the News: Discourse and Ideology in the Press. London and New York: Routledge.
Tuchman, G. 1978. Making News: A Study in the Construction of Reality. New York: Free Press.
Tuchman, G. 1974. The TV Establishment: Programming for Power and Profit. Englewood Cliffs, N.J: Prentice Hall.