Below is the article of Dr. Drissia CHOUIT on News Literacy.
The Agenda-Setting Theory of the Press
News literacy is a key component of media literacy. Understanding how media professionals decide what to be part of the news agenda and what to be discarded is a very important knowledge for students to become discerning citizens, fully involved in the life of their society. This article is devoted to the Agenda-Setting Theory of the Press and News Values.
I. The Agenda-Setting Theory of the Press
The Agenda-Setting Theory of the Press contends that in its every day surveillance of events, the press selects what to be included in news reports and what to be discarded, based on news values. What is considered by media professionals as news worthy finds its way to the news agenda and is given space, time and prominence according to the importance they assign to it; and what they do not consider worthy of coverage is not included in the list of items to be covered. Thus, professional communicators set the news agenda (1) by selecting items to be part of the news; and (2) by deciding their order of importance.
The main implications of the News Agenda-Setting are as follows:
Media professionals/gatekeepers control our access to information.
They prioritize events, people, and ideas for us.
They do not decide only on what to cover but also on how to cover it.
The theorists of the Agenda-Setting Theory of the Press, Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw, have a famous statement which says that the "mass media may not be successful in telling us what to think, but they are stunningly successful in telling us what to think about". It is true that the media tell us "what to think about" by providing news to us. But it is also true that the media tell us "what to think" for the following reasons:
Media content is prepared by professional communicators with specific aims and effects intended to influence audiences on how they make sense of the world and interpret events and policies.
News media do not present reality, but they present different constructions and interpretations of reality.
The untold part of the story or unreported stories may be more important than the reported ones.
While identifying how "news can be manipulated," Larson (2001:309) maintains that "one way gatekeepers distort the news is by simply ignoring it." Other ways include "favouring the sponsor," placing "pseudo-events" on the news agenda, or presenting "biased news" (309-310). He explains that "news can be biased by simply taking things out of context or by misquoting a source." (310)
II. News Values
The criteria that impact on the selection of the news agenda should also be taken into consideration. These are called 'news values', and they include the following decisive factors: timeliness, relevance, impact, proximity, clarity, controversy, prominence, currency, oddity, negativity, entertainment (infotainment), and news organizations' own agendas. To demystify these factors used on a daily basis to inform news agenda, we should underline that there is nothing rational nor objective about this set of criteria. They are used by news professionals to frame stories in appealing ways to their audiences with the intention to persuade them.
Knowing that news undergoes such a thorough process of construction will certainly help our students to be alert to news content and format and to better appreciate the fascinating but at the same time challenging world of mass communication.
This theoretical overview gives us an idea about the importance of media and communication research in sharpening the analytical and critical skills and attitudes of students and introducing them to the craft of mass communication and information. This would enable them to use media and information to their own advantage, and to shift control from media and other information providers to themselves, by being better in-command of their own lives and decisions.
Moulay Ismail University of Meknes