Creare la realtà. I telegiornali in America: selezione e trattamento delle notizie

David L. Altheide

Creating Reality: How TV News Distorts Events,  Sage, Beverly Hills, Ca. 

Creare la realtà. I telegiornali in America: selezione e trattamento delle notizie - David L. Altheide

pagine 188

12,39 euro

1976, ed. italiana 1985

Rai Eri, Roma



Stephen Kleine, Environmental Science, York University

Creating Reality i s one of a group of recent books motivated by the perception that the increasing power of television news in defining the reality for the American public i s a crucial social issue. The well-documented dependency of the pub1 i c on TV news f o r information about events i n the world, and the credibility with which the audience regard t h i s coverage, have drawn a number o f authors' attention to that group o f people who act in their various journalistic capacities as the information gatekeepers of the nation and to the process of news production. The approach adopted in this book very much belongs to that tradition of media research which has developed through the 70's concerned with the ' institutional process' -- the structure and dynamics of programne production and selection --
i n opposition to the more classical studies of media 'effects on audiences'. Of these studies, Altheide deserves considerable attention. Basing his research on several years of participant observation with TV news stations, Altheide comes to the serious conclusion that a considerable bias i n the news exists, and documents
his case with many examples. He uses these examples to develop the thesis that it i s through an understanding of the news process that we can most clearly w i t - ness the nature o f t h i s bias.

Twisted way of t e l l i n g it "straight"

The central concept of the book i s the notion of 'news perspective'. News perspective, Altheide claims, i s the r e s u l t of the varfous practical and organizational demands at work i n the production of news which typically resultin a "convoluted way o f simplifying events". The manifestations o f t h i s convolution are symptomatic o f the bias i n news which occurs as facts and/or events are transformed i n t o 'news stories'. The underlying logic o f production i s imposed upon events as
they are taken out of the real world i n which they occur, i n order to be subsequently re-contextualized i n the news story. Thus, Altheide i s concerned not only with which stories are selected f o r coverage, but even more so with 'how' these stories are presented i n the news.

News Perspective

Of the various factors that give shape to news perspective, Altheide emphasizes four i n particular:

1. The relationship between audience demand and the changes i n the presentation and s t y l e o f the news: Here, he s p e c i f i c a l l y emphasizes the importance o f the 'interpretations' o f what the audience prefers, made by the media executives and journalistic staff; f o r the governing assumptions o f media personnel are, i n his view, not always accurate.

2. The nature o f and problems with the technology i n news gathering and present a t i o n : Operating the equipment e f f i c i e n t l y w i t h i n the temporal constraints and d i f f i c u l t situations o f news production are limits on the programes presentation.

3. Scheduling: One o f the most immediate constraints on production which sets the temporal framework i n which decision-making takes place, and events get selected.

4. Organizational: The pragmatics of operating w i t h i n a complex organizational setting, i n which s k i l l s , personalities, attitudes and l e v e l s o f professionalism which vary across the members o f the news team, f r u s t r a t e the producti on process.

Taken together, he argues, "these organizational and p r a c t i c a l factors i n newswork promote a way o f looking a t events", which are i m p l i c i t l y i n t e r n a l i z e d by a l l members o f the news team, and are taken f o r granted by newsmen. This 'way of looking' a t events generates expectations about what the important kinds of events are (news values, news i n s t i n c t s ) , and how stories should be presented (news slant, angle) which underly the approach taken by the newsman t o the event. Systematized by the shared experience o f news-work, these expectations confine the newscast to a number o f 'angles' and l i m i t the degree t o which the facts are allowed t o speak f o r themselves.

Public is impaled on a sharp angle

A1 theide recognizes t h a t rather than emerging from the material i tsel f, the adoption o f a slant on a news story arises out o f the need t o make the news interesting and relevant t o the public, and out o f the exigencies o f a hurried and l i m i t e d capacity o f the newsman t o actually research and record the story f o r the newscast. He uses a considerable v a r i e t y o f examples and circumstances to illustrate his point and takes pains to show the various ways a slant w i l l evolve out of the pragmatics o f covering an event. Moreover, he i d e n t i f i e s several ways i n which the j o u r n a l i s t i c practices predispose the reporter t o a p a r t i c u l a r range o f angles on the story. This i s the most unique feature o f t h i s analysis.
The slant, or angle, as it develops for any given story, provides a kind o f selective f i l t e r through which the event i s viewed by the reporter. It may, because of the mutual interdependency o f news organizations (networks, papers, radio), become the framework f o r other media coverage as well. Once generated, it shapes both the questions asked i n the interviews, and the f i l m i n g o f the action visuals; ultimately the way the story i s finally edited supports the interpretation of the event by the newsmen, leaving the rest on the cutting room floor . I n t h i s way, facts are incorporated i n t o s t o r i e s rather than stories being based on facts. Yet the news angle remains hidden behind the guise of o b j e c t i v i t y and f a c t i c i t y of the newscasts conveyed by seeing the event for oneself or hearing about it f i r s t hand in interviews. An example of news angle that he develops to ill ustrate his point, i s the coverage of Sen. Eagleton's candidacy for U.S. vice-president i n 1972. Eagleton's candidacy was subverted by three weeks o f news stories which focused solely on the issue of his past psychiatric history, and the issue of whether such a mental experience
l i m i t e d h i s a b i l i t y t o perform i n pub1 i c office. Other aspects of Eagleton's qua1 i f i c a t i o n s were over1 ooked to the exclusion o f t h i s issue. Another important element i n the discussion o f news perspective i s the nature of feedback about programing from the audience and i t s relationship to programne
decision-making. Altheide argues that the use o f audience reaction i t s e l f i s part of the distorting process i n news production because it biases the producer-directors and production personnel's impression of what the public wants, giving a popular framework to news perspective. He c r i t i c i z e s t h i s framework however
because it i s based on overly general interpretations of what such data mean. In particular he argues that most production personnel depend excessively on the ratings, whereas he finds good reason to believe that they are inaccurate and say very 1 i ttl e about specific aspects of programni ng or sty1 es adopted for specific
stories. He also points out that calls to the station may be based on an atypical sample of viewers' reactions, and are carelessly used by media personnel t o reinforce personal interpretations of problems of production. Furthermore, he argues that executives and production s t a f f a1 i ke are more sensitive to the criticisms of their peers than o f the audience.
The best illustration of the force of Altheide's argument i s his interpretation o f the Watergate a f f a i r . He explains the enormous consequences that were engendered by t h i s story as arising from the angle that was developed f o r it which led to the further unfolding of i t s ramifications and i t s impact on the audience. The angle that was adopted focussed on the theme o f corruption i n high p o l i t i c a l places, which, with compelling force, underwrote most of the news exposure o f the Watergate story. He feels that other slants, that might have been adopted f o r the story would not have been o f s u f f i c i e n t momentum to sustain journalisti c and audience interest which led to the depth o f investigation.
And so, this book raises a number o f d i f f i c u l t and crucial issues for the understanding of the r o l e o f news broadcasting i n modern society; for news i s a model case f o r the discussion of the r o l e o f media i n information dissemination. Ultimately, the question which he poses i s the relationship between media broadcasting and the mechanisms o f power within modern democracy because it i s only in terns o f 'bias' i s o f any impact. A1 theide believes that the media have accumulated a level of influence through t h e i r control o f the flow of information, such that they vie with the more t r a d i t i o n a l p o l i t i c a l channels i n the process of plural i s t i c power bargaining, creating agendas not only i n terms of p r i o r i t i e s ,
but also hidden agendas based on interpretation.He raises t h i s question i n opposition to e i t h e r the 1 i b e r a l o r the conspiracycollusion models o f information i n politics . These positions view the media
respectively as being either ' apolitical ' or as 'pawns' of larger political interests. He refutes both these cases by illustrating cases where there i s a d i r e c t c o n f l i c t between media executives and politicians ; and other cases where media power proves greater than a l l political interests i n c o n t r o l l i n g the presentation o f political imagery and dialogue. He argues that the media must be
viewed as agencies with semi-autonomous influence over pol i t i c s . This is the basic reason that he feels the study o f news production i s essential, f o r he feels that the publ i c must become more aware of the news as a political process ; yet the media have only the most primitive capacity to examine themselves critically .
Some might wish to argue that Altheide's examination of the American media is inappropriate to the Canadian context. A f t e r a l l , we Canadians have never had a Watergate or Eagleton a f f a i r , and our media system mixes comnercial with publ i c networks. These, i n fact, are two serious l i m i t a t i o n s on Altheide's work because he does not locate the development of the journalistic traditions as cultural or historical processes, nor does he explore the importance o f the broader i n s t i t u -
tional arrangements on the news process. Yet, many o f the points he makes are d i r e c t l y applicable because the process o f news production i n most broadcast agencies remains the same. It i s easy to see, based on constant haggling a t the CRTC, and on the recent controversies caused by a dispute over the cover o f Macleans, and the reassignment o f Peter Kent o f the CBC National, that the very issues Altheide raises are important to the Canadian media; it may even be that i n Canada these are more important simply because the Canadian t r a d i t i o n s have not been as concerned with the p o l i t i c a l aspects o f media, as have the Americans.
The basic thrust o f Altheide's book was to promote greater public awareness of the news process and i t s d i s t o r t i o n o f events -- o f media news l i t e r a c y -- as a means o f enhancing the i n s t i t u t i o n s o f democrdcy. It i s a shame therefore that news analysis remains the concern of the media analyst and cognescent, and has made l i t t l e dent i n the public realm.