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"The Social Production of News"

Hall, Stuart, et. al. "The Social Production of News." Media Studies: A Reader. Eds. Paul Marris and Susan Thornham. New York: New York University Press, 2000. 645-652.

In this journal Stuart Hall, et al. explain the social forces that take part in production of the news. They state that, "The Media do not simply and transparently report events which are 'naturally' newsworthy in themselves. 'News' is the end-product of a complex process which begins with a systematic sorting and selecting of events and topics acccording to a socially constructed set of categories" (645). They recognize the news as items that are hand selected from a list, based on the cultural they will be consumed by.

They use the newspaper as an example to explain how this process works. "For example, newspapers become predirected to certain types of events and topic in terms of the organisation of their own work-force and the structure of the papers themselves (e.g. home news, foreign, political, sport, etc)" (645). Newspapers must fill their topic headings with stories that will be culturally understood and accepted by its consumers. However, they select these stories from a "list" based on what kind of society will be consuming it. They say this process has a direct relationship with a set of established news values.

Hall, et al. go into further detail to explain the social production of news. "These two aspects of the social production of news - the bureaucratic organisation of th media which produces the news in specific types or categories and the structure of news values which order the selection and ranking of particular stories within these categories - are only part of the process. The third aspect - the moment of the construction of the news story itself - is equally important, if less obvious" (646). They say this is how the audience relates to the stories being presented and also the way in which the news is formatted or organized. News broadcasts "piece" stories together to make sense of it for the viewer.  However, they state that "This process - indentification and contextualisation - is one of the most important through which events are 'made to mean' by the media. An event only 'makes sense' if it can be located within a range of known social and cultural indentifications" (646). So while the news station is manufacturing these stories, they are also making sure that it is something that will be understood by the audience. The news must be formatted to fit the culture it will be exposed to; if it is not then viewers would be confused.

Hall, et al. continue the explain how news is constructed by stating that, "But such events cannot be allowed to remain in the limbo of the 'random' - they must be brought within the horizon of the 'meaningful.' This brigning of events within the realm of meanings means, in essence, referring unusual and unexpected events to the 'maps of meaning' which already form the basis of our culutural knowledge, into which the social world is already mapped" (646). Since the news stories are a product of the news station, they need to have a source where they will derive meanings from for their audiences. The 'maps of meaning' are the source where news stations are able to derive meanings for a story so that the audience will understand. The 'maps of meaning' is a cultural expectation, it is understood by the masses.

They go into more detail about the 'maps of meaning' by bringing out background assumptions of how and where they base their information on. "One such background assumption is the consensual nature of society: the process of signification - giving social meanings to events - both assumes and helps to construct society as a consensus" (646). Society gives meanings to things, events, people, places, etc. and by doing this we have constructed a society that understands these news reports on different levels, but they understand them is what is important. However, although we do all understand them they say it has given news a limited angle in which it reports. "In recent years, however, this basic cultural fact about society has been raised to an extreme ideological level. Because we occupy the same society and belong to roughly the same 'culture', it is assumed that there is basically, only one perspective on events: that provided by what is sometimes called the culture, or the 'central value system" (647). The news is constructed to fit into this 'central value system' so viewers can understand it, however, it has become limited within the process. The 'map' has become too narrow.

Since the 'central value system' has been integrated into the news they state that, "The media define for the majority of the population what significant events are taking place, but, also, they offer powerful interpretations of how to understand these events" (648). Not only is the news station manufacturing the news based on professional standards, the 'maps,' and the "central value system' they are also telling us how to understand the news events which are based on things we are supposed to understand.

Primary and Secondary Definers

"The media do not themselves autonomously create news items; rather they are 'cued in' to specific news topics by regular and reliable institutional sources" (648). The media has a database on sources and contacts that they deem to be viable, and therefore use them to also derive stories, information, and facts from. However, Hall, et al. ask who are these sources. "This is what Becker has called the 'hierarchy of credibility' - the likelihood that those in power of high-status positions in society who offer opinions about controversial topics will have their definitions accepted, because such spokemen are understood to have access to more accurate or more specialised information on particular topics than the majority of the population" (649). Although the media gathers information from other sources they deem viable, they still use individuals who are associated with power and control. They say these are the primary definers. They let us have our first experience and interpretation with the story.

The secondary definers of news they state are, " Indeed, we have suggested that, in a critical sense, the media are frequently not the 'primary definers' of news events at all; but their structured relationship to power has the effect of making them play a crucial but secondary role in reproducing the definitions of those who have privileged access, as of right, to the media as accredited sources" (650). Since the primary exposure to the news story the audience has gained experience and interpretation. In the secondary definer of news, it takes these 'accredited sources' into consideration and furthers their experience and interpretation. Hall, et al. compared these powerful accredited sources to the Marxist theory. "Marx's contention is that this dominance of 'ruling ideas' operates primarily because, in addition to its ownership and control of the means of material production, this class also owns and controls the means of mental production. Because of their control over material and mental resources, and their domination of the major institutions of society, this class's definitions of the social world provide the basic rationale for those institutions which protect and reproduce their 'way of life'" (651). News is manufacturing, and the powerful individuals in society fit into our central value system and our 'maps.' It has sculpted our lifestyle. "Hierarchical structures of command and review, informal socialization into institutional roles, the sedimenting of dominant ideas into the 'professional ideology' - all help to ensure, within the media, their continued reproduction in the dominant form" (651). The structures that have been formed by the media and its accomplices, is how we understand and experience the news. Since the media is based on a 'professional ideology' which the majority accepts, it helps ensure its "continued reproduction in the dominant form."

Natalie K. Warner

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