Rehashing the Gate: News Values, Non-News Spaces, and the Future of Gatekeeping

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Since the 1950s, both scholars and practitioners examining the gatekeeper function of the news media have sought to explain why some issues and events become newsworthy while others remain obscure. Since 1965, when Galtung and Ruge published a seminal paper on the subject, such discussions have turned upon their notion of ?news values??aspects of events that make them more likely to receive coverage. This thisis is an exploration of ?news values? (sometimes called ?news criteria?), their place in the academic literature, and ultimately some of their limitations as an intellectual project. I have divided my case for overhauling news values as a conceptual framework into four parts. Chapter One outlines the literature on news values and details the myriad difficulties scholars have had applying them to real-world situations. Many of these troubles stem from widespread disagreements over the nature of news values and how best to operationalize them. I argue that these squabbles result from the fact that many scholarly lists of news values, including Galtung and Ruge?s, have long been promulgated absent or divorced of any theoretical framework that would make them useful from a descriptive standpoint. Before such a theoretical framework can be proposed, however, it is important to know whether ?news values? are grappling with a phenomenon that is in fact unique to the news, or whether the tendency to treat journalism as a special case has, in fact, masked similarities between the press and other forms of communication, unnecessarily balkanizing the academic literature.

Whether news values are unique to the news is ultimately an empirical matter. So, in Chapter Two, I attempt to assemble a testable contemporary set of news values, which synthesizes over 40 years? worth of competing lists of news criteria. In doing so, I uncover and reflect on a number of coherence problems within the literature, which further underscore the need for an underlying theoretical framework.

Chapter Three is a content analysis in which I test my aggregate list of news values in a non-news environment, the self-described ?gate-crashing? liberal blog, Daily Kos, to examine whether they are in fact unique to the news, or whether at least some of them might better be attributed to more general features of human communication. For all the conceptual reasons outlined in the first two chapters, the news values in my list prove difficult to operationalize. Nonetheless, as expected, many news values do appear, and I follow this pilot study with a concluding chapter, pointing to various literatures that may eventually usurp news values as a conceptual framework, or at least provide theoretical underpinnings for them that extend beyond the relative silo of journalism studies. In pointing to these other literatures, I am by no means attempting a full explication or synthesis of them, as my data are as yet too limited to warrant the selection of any one framework over another. Instead, I close out the thesis by suggesting areas for further research.

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The thesis committee that oversaw this study and paper consisted of Tarleton Gillespie (chair), Katherine McComas, and Bruce Lewenstein.


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news values; journalism; gatekeeping; new media; blogs


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