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The OCR Glossary


Tham T. Nguyen & Katerina Tsetsura

The term journalism refers to the process of gathering, assessing, creating, and disseminating news and information for public consumption. Journalism can be seen as an authored text in any form (i.e., written, audio, and visual) to record truthful features of the actual social world. Central to the news-making process, journalism involves crafts, routines, skills, and conventions that individuals and groups employ. In modern societies, journalistic products can be disseminated through at least three channels: (1) print media (e.g., newspapers, magazines), (2) broadcasting (television and radio), and (3) digital media (news websites and applications). By nature, humans are interested in news. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution states that humans face potential threats from the environment. Thus, a major purpose of journalism is to fulfill humans’ desire to keep informed about the world and their surrounding environment in order to make the best possible decisions to deal with possible or real threats.

Traditionally, the more democratic a country is, the higher the level of freedom of expression there is in that society. Freedom of expression has been associated with freedom of speech and the press. Today, with the advent of digital technology and the dissemination of news on the Internet, some claim that journalistic content can be produced by any individual alone. However, creating a news blog or capturing an accident at the scene does not automatically produce a journalistic product. The foundation of journalism is a discipline of fact checking and verification, and gathering and assessing information in which the public good is placed above all. The process of creating news requires examining the forces that shape journalism. This entry discusses five levels of influence on journalism using the hierarchy of influences model and then discusses the role journalism plays in corporate reputation.

Influences on Journalism

The hierarchy of influences model was developed to examine the multiple forces and the interactions between different levels of influence that impinge on media creation simultaneously, including journalism. This model is closely related to the classic gatekeeping theory, instituted by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1943. The theory emphasizes the role of the media in determining which news is covered and which is left out. Content selection is in the hands of the gatekeepers—a classic metaphor that refers to journalists and their editors.

The following section highlights the different influences on journalism. The hierarchy of influences model portrays the product of journalism as a dependent variable influenced by multiple factors. Media messages, in turn, can influence audiences’ knowledge, attitudes, or behaviors. The five levels of influences on media content were identified by Pamela Shoemaker and Stephen Reese as (1) the personal bias of individual media workers; (2) influences from media routines; (3) influences at the organizational level of preexisting routines, policies, history, and culture; (4) factors outside the media organizations; and (5) the ideology of society.

One of the most frequent criticisms from organizations about their news coverage is that they are misunderstood by some journalists who do not have sufficient knowledge of business or finance. The characteristics of journalists themselves have an influence on mass media content. Different parts of the world have different definitions of who is a journalist. The typical characteristics of journalists include gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, personal and educational backgrounds, and experiences. All these shape the journalist’s background and experience. The professional experiences, in turn, affect professional roles and ethics, which may influence the media content. Meanwhile, the personal attitudes, values, and beliefs of powerful media communicators (e.g., their political attitudes or religious orientations) indirectly affect their professional values and/or organizational routines and constraints.

The term routines refers to patterned, routinized, repeated practices and the norms of content selection in journalism. Media routines are important because they affect social reality and the production of symbolic content. Media organizations develop routines, giving journalists clearly defined and specialized roles and expectations in gathering and assessing information sources. News routines provide perspectives to explain what gets defined as news.

Routines are developed based on three criteria: (1) the fulfillment of audiences’ demands for news and information, (2) the capacity of media organizations to process news, and (3) the sources of raw media products. Each criterion has its own constraints: (1) audiences have limited time and attention, (2) media organizations have limited resources, and (3) the sources may limit the structure and the quality of the material they provide. Media practitioners can choose routine channels to gather news. Routine channels include (a) formal channels, such as official proceedings (trials, legislative hearings, etc.), news releases, news conferences, and nonspontaneous events (speeches, ceremonies, etc.); (b) informal channels, such as background briefings, leaks, nongovernmental proceedings, and reports from other news organizations; and (c) enterprise channels, such as interviews, spontaneous events, independent research, and reporters’ own conclusions and analysis. The more powerful the sources are, the more likely that the media organization has to adapt its own bureaucratic structure and rhythms to attract attention from these sources. In contrast, less powerful sources have to conform to media routines to have a chance to get media coverage.

Media organizations have a critical impact on journalism. Understanding the role performed by the media organization and the organization’s structure, policies, and methods used to enforce those policies reveals the context in which journalism is carried out. In most cases, the goal of media organizations is economic profit, except in the case of fully funded, state-owned, or nonprofit media organizations. Economic pressures could affect journalistic decisions. The types of ownership and the complexity of media conglomerates affect the media organizational culture and the degree of professional and journalistic independence. Being affected by economic factors creates more potential conflicts of interest, which in turn threaten the professionalism of journalistic practices. At a larger level, media organizations also have their own limits imposed by their environments, or extramedia influences.

A wide variety of influences on journalism can come from outside the media organizations. Interest groups make efforts to influence media content, such as calls for boycotting products, with mixed effects. Media organizations have their own policies dealing with whether to self-censor content to prevent the threat of economic retaliation from advertisers and whether to cover pseudo-events created by public relations practitioners. Different governments also influence media content at certain levels, with tactics ranging from strict censorship in authoritarian countries (e.g., North Korea, Burma) to control in the form of laws (e.g., the United States, which has regulations and rules designed to punish libel). Commercial mass media, the health of the economy, and the competition of media content (e.g., the size of the market or the opportunities for profits) can affect content quality. Journalism practices can also be influenced by symbolic mechanisms and by the ideology of a society.

The ideological level is a macrolevel in the model and subsumes all other influential factors. Ideology articulates a social system of meanings, values, and beliefs that represents power forces in society. Studying the ideological level reveals how power is played throughout the media and predicts when media and political elites intervene in journalistic routines, affecting integrity and professionalism. The ideology of society is not static; it is being negotiated continuously. At a macrolevel of society, ideology affects the way in which the social system operates. Ideology may not have a direct impact on journalism practices but can influence the institutional, occupational, and cultural practices of media organizations.

The digital age requires a reconceptualization of the model to incorporate multimedia and emerging media. Traditional newsrooms have changed rapidly in recent years as newspaper circulation continues to decline. Newsrooms continue to eliminate staff members and consolidate or outsource print news production work to cut expenses. Media organizations are working on the establishment of well-defined routines in digital media. The potential that interactive multimedia content holds for journalism practices and products has not yet been fulfilled. Hence, the model needs to include the influences of individual online communicators on the overall journalistic content.

Journalism and Corporate Reputation

Many contend that outside of personal experience with a company’s products and services, journalism is one of the primary ways by which people come to know about companies. One study claimed that two types of audiences can be identified by how they approach journalism: (1) one audience is interested in specific companies and will actively seek out news and information to critically learn about these companies (e.g., a journalist wants to write an article about the big companies in an industry, or a job seeker is preparing for an interview) and (2) the other audience, as part of media consumption behavior, learns about a company when news stories about the company’s actions are published by the mass media. Companies often ascribe great power to journalism, contending that media reports reveal journalists’ beliefs and feelings about organizations. In response, some have even encouraged organizations to research, track, and monitor the journalists who write about them.

Journalism practices have changed with the advent of technology and the Internet. The hierarchy of influences model provides a theoretical framework for the study of media production and content. In the digital age, reconceptualizing the model takes into account the role of multimedia practitioners and the influences that individual digital content communicators have on media production. Individual media practitioners, media routines, organizational settings, organizations outside media organizations, and ideology still play their part in terms of influences on media content, but at different levels and to varying degrees.

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Carroll, C. E. (2013). Corporate reputation and the discipline of journalism and mass communication. In C. E. Carroll (Ed.), The handbook of communication and corporate reputation (pp. 121–129). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Committee to Protect Journalists. Ten most censored countries? [Electronic version]. Retrieved January 16, 2016, from

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Shoemaker, P. J., & Reese, S. D. (2011). Mediating the message. New York: Routledge.

Shoemaker, P. J., & Vos, T. (2009). Gatekeeping theory. New York: Routledge.

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Zelizer, B. (2004). Taking journalism seriously: News and the academy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

See Also

Agenda-Setting Theory; Audiences; Media; News Media; Social Media; Stakeholder Media

See Also

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