130 MC assignment – term 1

Discuss some of the pressures that influence the content and the style of a specific newspaper or magazine, giving clear examples from books and media.

The idea of newspapers reflecting the world in an objective and realistic manner is, apparently, long gone.  They have become nowadays rather than instruments for providing information, a clever tool for manipulation and propaganda. In the shortest period of time possible, journalists have now the difficult mission to report not only what happens, but also what the reader wants to happen. The simple process of mediation has become now complex, in which many factors are involved.

The essential element of the media process is the audience. Every journalist writes articles having a clear profile of the reader in mind. He then has to be aware of his needs and values in order to draw his interest and make him a part of the text. When there is no audience to give feedback, the intended message cannot be transmitted.

The concept of “audience” has been a key element of the work of Galtung and Ruge, who have introduced the term of “cultural connection” (Brighton and Foy 2007: 6), as an essential condition for the presented events to have a meaning to the reader. Nevertheless, in order to explore the factors which lead to creating the cultural bound with the reader, the audience itself has to be identified.

A relevant example is “The Sun” publication, the leader of the newspaper market in UK. According to the “National Readership Survey” website (2009), the newspaper has a daily readership of approximately 7,860,000 copies, being preferred mostly by people who come from a middle social class (C2DE).

Age is also important, as well as gender. For example, young people are more likely not to be interested in politics as older people do and be keener on gossip and celebrities, while men are expected to be slightly more interested in “The Sun” because of the sport section and the frequent use of incentive images (“Page three girl”). However, “it is impossible to make sweeping generalizations about newspaper readers anywhere in the world” (Brighton and Foy 2007: 46), but these figures definitely weight in choosing the content of a publication and its style.

Nevertheless, a question which can arise is how does “The Sun” manage to attract such a large number of readers daily? Conboy M. (2006: 8) believes that the publication “emerged to redefine the contemporary tabloid in Britain in the 1970s” and “began to change both the face of journalism and the face of Britain”. “Based on the language of the common man” (Whitby 1982 cited in Conboy, M. 2006: 4), the newspaper looks for the sensational and presents it in the most “courageous” way possible. It has no problem in calling a former lottery winner “a pig”: “Hey pig spender” (The Sun, 14 May 2006), bank bosses “Scumbag millionaires” (The Sun, 11 Feb 2009), or shout “Bloody Shameful” (The Sun, 16 Nov 2009), to Gordon Brown, regarding the letter sent to the family of a soldier killed in Iraq.

However, the use of sensational may lead to certain problems a journalist has to deal with, in terms of ethics and external pressures. A story doesn’t only have to be new and of interest to the readers (Galtung and Ruge), but it also has to be ethical and totally true. The publication’s priority must be informing the reader and not manipulating him, in order to gain an advantage to other competitors or profit. According to Taylor (Conboy M. 2006: 13), “tabloid journalism is the direct application of capitalism to events and ideas.” Therefore, “profit, not ethics is the prevailing motivation.”

The influence of other means of media, especially broadcast, in writing journalism has led to a change in style and language, up to a point where hidden intended meanings are suggested to the readers in stories which at a first glimpse look totally “inoffensive”, mostly due to the pressures of the advertisers, This situation is best described by Conboy M.(2006: 6) in “Tabloid Britain”:

It was a language that was first and foremost directed at building up a palatable

sense of connection with the readers, but found themselves now imported into

a commercialized idiom, accompanied by pictures and advertising, all combining

to cement the idea of the daily newspaper as a worker’s entertainment.

Another good way of advertising a certain publication lies in the stories themselves and the way they are presented to the audience. The more shocking and confusing the headlines are, the more interesting they become. “If it bleeds, it leads”, as A. Williams said. According to Randall D. (2007: 142),” on a British mass market, tabloid journalists may be regarded, paid and promoted according to how many dramatic, possibly invasive stories they produce”, even though they are totally made up or not completely true.

Moreover, journalists, who also have to face the pressure of time in meeting the deadlines and earning exclusivity, sometimes rely on sources which are honest but not fully informed, or, even worse, totally dishonest. “The Sun” has provided throughout time several suggestive examples.

On 19 of April 1989, an infamous and baseless headline following the Hillsborough disaster alleged that Liverpool F.C. fans have attacked policemen while trying to assist the victims of the crush at Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield. Entitled “The truth”, it drew the anger of the Liverpool fans, but was retracted only in 2004. The controversial article from Nov 17, 1989, headlining “Straight Sex cannot give you aids” (Randall D. 2007: 146), based on the false idea that “chances of getting AIDS from heterosexual were statistically invisible” is also an example of how media can sometimes go past the border of ethics in order to attract reader’s attention.

The ownership of a publication is another key factor in selecting its content and style. A newspaper like “The Sun”, which “proclaimed no (political) allegiance”, preferring to describe itself simply “as radical” (“Forty years of the Sun”), clearly reveals its political preferences and supports a candidate in the elections. “Vote tory this time” (The Sun, 3 May 1979), or “Labour’s lost it” (The Sun, 30 September 2009) put the publication’s objectiveness and ethical approach under question. The major influence of Rupert Murdoch, the owner of “The Sun”, in the British media is subject of controversy in relation to the content of his newspaper.

The conclusion is simple. Newspapers are always under the pressure of factors which influence their content and style. Whether we speak about political propaganda, influences from advertising or just journalistic misjudgments, publications are and will always claim to pursuit the truth and the freedom of information, but will always end up going on a new path, different from the one imposed by the journalistic ethics.

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