The Classic Theories

The following post is a reflection on reading assigned by Prof. Daryl Moen:
  • Scheufele and Tewksbury, “Framing, Agenda Setting, and Priming: The Evolution of Three Media Effects Models”
  • Singer, Jane, “Stepping back from the gate: Online newspaper editors….”
  • McCombs, Max, “The Agenda-setting function of the press”
  • Capella and Jamieson, “Framing the news”

Student’s note: While it’s been helpful to learn the terminology and application of agenda-setting, priming (which I still don’t completely understand) and framing, my most valuable lesson this week was to not wait so long to read the material and write the paper. The following essay is a lot more about turning in the assignment than reflection. 

In a somewhat ironic turn of rhetoric, the very meaning of the word “framing,” used by media scholars and critics such as Duffy to argue that journalism is an inherently subjective act, turns out to be a subjective term, itself. Its definition is infinitely broad or unrealistically narrow, part and parcel of agenda-setting or a distinct tool, empirically proven or merely a theory, depending on whom you ask.

In “The Agenda-Setting Function of the Press,” for example, after detailing agenda-setting theory and research that documents the correlation of topical press coverage with those topics’ prominence in public opinions, Maxwell McCombs summarily brushes framing under the agenda-setting umbrella. He equates framing to what he calls an “agenda of attributes” — in other words, a roster of characteristics the press assigns to the objects on which it reports. McCombs also calls out official sources as the originators of much of the press’s agenda. He connects the dots in a way that reveals how certain agenda attributes designed by the objects themselves will no doubt surface in reporting when the objects of the press are also the source of the press’s agenda. When it comes to influencing public policy, therefore, the press tends to have the greatest impact when it operates outside of the official agenda and instead creates its own.

In “Framing the News,” however, Capella and Jamieson make the case for framing as its own rhetorical device, distinct from agenda setting. They narrow the definition: “(N)ews frames are those rhetorical and stylistic choices, reliably identified in news, that alter the interpretations of the topics treated and are a consistent part of the news environment.” It is through framing, they argue, that context is lent to a news story in a way that can either be efficient or misleading for the reader. But framing, they are careful to say, is not all. Readers bring their own sets of values and their own perspectives to the news they consume, and some will be more susceptible than others to the values implied by any given frame.

Enter the Journal of Communication, which in its 2007 special issue attempted to wrangle such disparate interpretations of the words “framing, agenda-setting, and priming” in order to establish a common frame of reference in which all related scholarship could be conducted. The opening article, “Framing, Agenda-Setting and Priming,” defines the three models as distinct, but sometimes overlapping, devices with specific cognitive and impressionistic impacts. “The primary difference on the psychological level between agenda-setting and priming, on the one hand, and framing, on the other hand, is therefore the difference between whether we think about an issue and how we think about it.”

One critical consideration this article introduces to our reading this week is the distinction between how readers process information about people versus information about issues. The former tends to elicit social judgments based on traits (attributes), while the latter tends to retain facts geared more toward a paradigm of problems and solutions.

“Stepping Back from the Gate” takes a real bird’s eye view of the entire situation, framing its analysis, so to speak, around how the traditional gatekeeping role of journalism is being influenced by online technologies that trend toward reader interactivity. Singer concludes that such interactivity can complement the traditional role of journalism without requiring journalists to entirely cede their gatekeeping mission.

Whatever it’s called, the act of selecting topics to cover, choosing details to include in that coverage, and determining the perspectives from which to cover it is like any other tool. It can be useful when applied correctly and with the right intentions, and it can cause real damage when wielded inappropriately.

Covering a high-profile death

I wrote an obituary once for my dear friend Stanley Longstaff, who was also a an inspiring influence in my approach to journalism. Along with many other friends, I had helped his family take care of Stanley for several months until he succumbed to cancer. It must have been the day he died, or the day after, that I sat with his wife at their kitchen table, where we wrote an announcement of his death and a description of his life. It was sad and beautiful and an absolute honor.

Reporting about the death of Ed Robb was very different, but really no less of an honor. As Presiding County Commissioner, Ed Robb was a person whose work influenced the lives of every person in Boone County to some degree or another and whether they knew it or not. It was essential to treat his death, and the people we contacted about it, with the utmost respect. It was also urgent that we get the story, get it quickly, and get it right in the most thorough way possible that day. Thank goodness our government editor Scott Swafford came in to guide us. And thank goodness I got to work with Alexandria Baca on the reporting.

We sat side-by-side at our computers and worked with Scott to get up to speed about Robb’s political history and personal reputation. We brainstormed who to call and what to ask them. Alex and I shared what we learned with one another and have continued to stay in sync about our subsequent reporting and contacts with sources.

I have noticed bylines on big stories in newspapers that say things like, “This story was reported by X, Y and Z and written by W.” Now I get it. At the same time I was feeling sympathy for the friend, rival or family member we reached out to, I also got a rush from the fast-paced and integrated way the three of us worked in the newsroom to cover this unfortunate, breaking news.

As reporters (heck, as human beings) there is no way we can prevent most of the bad things we cover from happening. What we can do is report on them quickly, accurately, thoroughly and respectfully so that the public isn’t left wondering about what happened or what will happen next. Ed Robb’s death was the first breaking news story I have contributed to. I learned a lot about the process, and I feel proud of the work we did together to achieve those goals.

What Makes a Ward?

Writing this story was all about framing it. And this was before we got to the framing conversations in Mass Media Seminar or the News Reporting lecture.

When I walked back to the newsroom after my first Ward Reapportionment Committee meeting back in early September, my mind brimmed with ideas, thoughts and questions. It was clear that the people in the room had been talking about something very specific, but not at all clear to me what that thing was. The conversation seemed coded or veiled. As with any redistricting, I knew a lot would be riding on ward reapportionment — more than what could be explained (to me, anyway) by X neighborhood going into Y ward or the other one getting moved here or there. I wanted to know what was at stake, and for whom. And at the most basic level, I wanted to know which quality makes a ward: diversity or shared interests?

What I found is that it depends on whom you ask, and even then people’s answers may depend on the issue at hand. And whether you call it identity or representation or anything else, it all comes down to access, and that boils down to power.

It took a while to figure all this out. It took, first of all, framing my questions for people very deliberately. Most people were accustomed to talking about wards in terms of numbers and neighborhoods. I had to continually reframe my questions for many people to remind them my story wasn’t about ward maps or the specifics of this reapportionment, but more about the process that informs reapportionment in general.

At first my question of diversity vs. shared interests felt naive. But I trusted it — or at least trusted that I had to understand the answer to that question in order to have real command of the topic, which I would need to write a good article about it. So I kept asking, and in the end felt validated. Nearly all of the people I interviewed brought up the topic themselves, or answered my question with highly formed opinions about the difference.

This article was about something very conceptual, and I tried to ground it as much as possible so that it could be read and understood by people who don’t necessarily spend their free time thinking about these things. I think it is a pretty solid first try.

Next time, though, I will allow more time and plan on more background research and interviews. I wish I could have used more info graphics to illustrate the disbursement of various constituencies throughout the wards. And I will not be as shy about asking the obvious questions, because I continually find that by listening to different people’s answers, I see new perspectives that deepen my own understanding and learn new reasons that these topics are important to them.

Objectivity and Persuasion

The following post is a reflection on reading assigned by Prof. Daryl Moen:
  • Duffy, Page and Young, “Obama as Anti-American”
  • Duffy, Thorson and Vultee: “The Pursuit of Objectivity”

In “The Pursuit of Objectivity,” Duffy and Vultee frame journalism as an enterprise whose inherently persuasive nature should be embraced and acknowledged, rather than vainly denied.

Citing numerous sources in a broad field of communications scholarship, primarily journalism and rhetoric, they argue that journalism employs specific rhetorical techniques in pursuit of persuasion based on cultural values. Although these values are articulated in many professional codes of journalism, those codes urge “objectivity” that the authors find mutually exclusive with the values the same codes espouse. With a brief content analysis, they discuss the use of frames and content selection as persuasive techniques that journalists — and journalism institutions — apply in an oftentimes unwitting act of persuasion. By pointing out the inherently value-laden aspects of journalism, the authors seek to undermine arguments opposing public journalism. Finally, they urge what they call “radical curriculum reform” of journalism education.

The urgency of Duffy and Vultee’s message is heard most strongly in their observation that the current imperative for rebuilding the business of journalism presents a perfect occasion for fixing its problems — not just regarding financial structures but also, they argue, in terms of mission and craft. They acknowledge the “silo” trend in readership: “(C)itizens are able to contruct their own interpretations of reality including those recommended by their in-person or virtual networks. When those versions of reality conflict with the so-called authoritative sources, dissonance occurs.”

Duffy, Page and Young’s article “Obama as Anti-American” exemplifies this apparent inevitability. Not trusting many major media news sources about the validity of President Obama’s U.S. citizenship, for example, the underground “birther” movement was forged in no small part from the viral exchange of humorous and critical emails that often contained altered visual images that undermined the president’s identity.

Using detailed content analysis of such emails that contained visual images based on cultural allusions, Duffy, Page and Young explore the patterns of characterization of Obama that emerge and how specific cultural references communicate the ideology of the sender. They also make the case for viewing emails as modern folklore, and from a bird’s eye view ask “What worldviews emerge when the totality of the images are examined” and how social identity can be defined by the exchange of such images.

Read in concert, the two articles seem to be answering their own question: What will happen if we do not radically transform the way journalism presents itself to its public? We need only do nothing to find out, because the public is already using the media available to it through new technology to construct its own version of reality.

I’m certainly not going to argue that point, overall. And since I found myself frustrated with many points Duffy and Vultee made in their article, I was surprised at the end to find myself in complete and energetic agreement with their conclusions. The fact that I disagreed with many of their rhetorical stops along the way, I think, comes down to the fundamental definition of what we all mean by the word “objectivity.” That term itself has become so loaded that I wonder if, in this radical restructuring of journalism that Duffy and Vultee call for (and that I echo), we shouldn’t come up with a whole new word.

It would describe a baseline of shared cultural values from which most (no hedge deletion here) journalists operate, on top of which many layers of objectivity can be applied.

I reject the definition of “objectivity” as an absence of values.

I believe there is a least common denominator of social values that even our extremely heterogeneous society shares to a great extent. There are always exceptions and outliers and deviants. And yes, it is a judgment call as to when a fringe of society gains enough critical mass or embodies a valid enough point to be seen as holding a “legitimate” concern. This baseline of social norms is shifting ground. And yes, journalism can play a role in advocating for that shift.

The U.S. civil rights movement of mid-20th century is an example I think of often. Journalists, as members of society, reflected and reinforced a growing movement that changed our baseline values. Our ground is shifting under us even now, regarding climate change science, as Duffy and Vurtee mention, for example. And I wonder at what point our cultural values baseline will encompass gay rights as standard civil rights.

I have no doubt that journalism, even “objectively” practiced, will play a role.

Bias and Objectivity

The following post is a reflection on reading assigned by Prof. Daryl Moen:
  • Schudson, “The objectivity norm in American journalism”
  • Alterman, Eric, “What liberal media?” Chapter 4
  • Lichter, S. Robert, “Consistently liberal: But does it matter?”
  • Duffy, Page and Young, “Obama as Anti-American”

It took more than telegrams, wire services, and a booming newspaper market to establish American journalists as the pioneers of objectivity, Schudson argues in “The objectivity norm in American journalism.” He identifies four specific social patterns at work that made journalism ripe for professionalization through explicit normative values and behaviors.

Going beyond the commonly accepted technological and economic factors behind journalism’s objectivity norm, Schudson also places it in the context of broader social and political movements leading up to the 1920s — the period in which an explicit objectivity norm first developed. It follows, I was fascinated to learn, the emergence of politics as “an administrative science.”

Given today’s culture of collaboration, Schudson’s second condition of “group egoism” seems especially important now as a factor that may help keep journalistic values normalized in a shifting media landscape. “Here the prescription that ‘the way we do’ things is ‘the way one should do’ things is a … way of defining the group in relation to other groups,” he writes. Establishing shared values and practices is an essential first step in working together, as for example NPR and ProPublica have done, and as more and more media outlets are finding a financial imperative to do.

Schudon’s drive to pinpoint an exact moment in journalistic history, a specific author responsible for the birth of the objectivity norm, seemed a bit obsessive to me. But I do wish that one of the authors on liberalism in the media would have been so driven. Neither of them discuss how or why or when it came to be that the media is (rightly or wrongly) accused of being liberal.

In “Consistently Liberal,” Lichter cites decades of journalist surveys proving that a majority of journalists are liberals (or Democrats). But, Lichter maintains, that doesn’t mean their journalism is biased. He points out, “The various conventions of journalistic ‘objectivity’ — separating fact from opinion, citing sources, checking allegations — represent practical efforts to deal with this philosophical problem.”

He also points out that, more recently, journalists have become more reluctant to identify their political affiliations. If it hasn’t already been done, this seems like an area ripe for further research: What is this journalist reticence a response to, and more importantly what does it accomplish? Anecdotally, I’m familiar with a sort of backlash against objectivity — one that rejects reticence — in which journalists feel it is more honest to acknowledge their biases to their audiences up front. I hope someone is measuring this trend so we can track its impact.

The trend that Alterman measures (or at least refers to) in “What Liberal Media?” that I found most useful is the “conservative colonization of the so-called ‘center.’” Conservative pundits, he argues, have successfully moved the metaphorical 50-yard-line so far back into their own territory that formerly moderate views have become liberal. Formerly liberal views are now regarded as so extreme that they can be marginalized as the belief of a radical, fringe, and possibly dangerous few. My question of how journalists are to respond to this in a constructive way is not one he answers in this chapter.

Lichter said in his article that “the news is less a mirror than a prism.” I couldn’t help but feel that, while interesting, Alterman’s prism was rather narrow. His critique of David Broder (Washington Post) ends with the assertion that “Broder’s embrace of a host of unproven conservative assumptions under the guise of anti-ideological, sensible centrism is hardly an isolated story. It is, in fact, the norm rather than the exception…”

But then Alterman goes on to detail the editorial struggles at “even the liberal New Republic.” And he stops there. For an author so critical of certain journalists’ embrace of unproven assumptions, he doesn’t do much measuring himself. We are presented with very detailed descriptions of two trees that, we are simply told, are highly representative of the forest as a whole.

While Alterman describes the politics of very high-level “punditocracy,” Duffy, Page and Young go the opposite direction in “Obama as Anti-American.” Pulling theories and techniques from many researchers before them, the group dissects the nature and content of “right-wing forwarded emails” as a digital folklore, pointing out the special impact of visual appropriation when used in political messaging.

This digital folklore is an example of what’s new as media (online publishing, photo editing software) becomes more accessible to the general public. In these social exchanges, not only are the group’s norms not explicitly stated, as has evolved among journalists, but they are also most certainly not about objectivity. The visual emails illustrate but a sliver of what journalists are up against in maintaining our objectivity and the public’s value of it.

Journalists and Citizens

The following post is a reflection on reading assigned by Prof. Daryl Moen:

State of the Media 2011 Overview

Survey: Mobile News & Paying Online

“Bulletins from the Future,” The Economist

It’s not all bad news in the business of journalism.

It’s not all good, either — and hardly as promising as the prospects for the computer programming industry, to which the news media is increasingly beholden, as Rosenstiel and Mitchell point out in the overview of PEW’s annual report on American journalism.

But “after two dreadful years,” the report opens, “most sectors of the industry saw revenue begin to recover.” While newspapers continue to struggle and the three cable news channels saw their first audience decline in years, PEW reports that signs of traction are beginning to show in development of new journalistic business models. Patterns that indicate future growth are also emerging in the way that people access — and may be willing to pay for — “news and information” online and through mobile devices.

Still, there are challenges. The State of the News Media report evokes Robert Picard’s assessment of the “de-skilling” of the profession due to “lower pay, more demands for speed, less training, and more volunteer work” among journalists. It’s a trend that is certainly exacerbated by the morphing of audiences into not only consumers but also contributors and distributors of news, which Tom Standage points out audiences have become in “Bulletins from the Future.”

An attitudinal opposition among the public toward paying for online news and information is another persistent challenge in the new media landscape. Again, it’s not all bad. PEW tells us, “While currently 5% of adults report paying for local news content online, nearly a quarter (23%) say that they would be willing to pay at least a small amount…” Nonetheless, that leaves roughly 3 out of 4 people currently unwilling to do so.

And why would they pay for it? Most people, according to PEW, say that losing their local papers would matter not much (nearly 30%) or not at all (39%). Only 28% of respondents felt the loss would have a major impact on their ability to stay informed about their communities.

I am left wondering about the difference between perception and reality in the latter set of data. My experience with the sole local daily newspaper (which also posts all its articles online — recently behind a paywall) in my hometown of Portsmouth, New Hamsphire, is that it’s a favorite target of criticism among many people across most socio-economic boundaries. And with good reason. The paper blatantly panders editorial decisions to favor and even lure business advertisers, and too many front-page, top-of-the-fold headlines are about puppies or lost rings for it to be taken all that seriously. And this is from the 13th largest city in the state, not an isolated hamlet in the boondocks.

Nonetheless, the news about city government and state-level affairs that the paper also publishes makes it the only source of substantive local reporting. While criticisms of the Portsmouth Herald are well-deserved, I believe it’s also undervalued as a whole. Yet this conundrum is partly of its own making, and I can’t imagine that it’s unique to Portsmouth. If local papers like the Herald did more to earn the respect of their readers, would more people be willing to pay for them?

Another PEW data set that makes me wonder is that more than a third of “mobile local information consumers say they and others like them can have a big impact on their community.” This sounds promising for the ideal of journalism fostering a healthy democracy, but I am curious how accurate their feelings are. I also wonder how many of the people who feel so empowered actually act on their perceived potential.

The PEW study finds that news savvy is claimed less according to traditional fault lines of race and more along contemporary class divisions according to education and income. At the same time, many trends of mobile device usage do — for the time being — correlate to race, as well as age. Learning such demographic information about audiences will certainly help media catering to their demands and interests. And this, no doubt, feeds the growing plurality of news sources in America.

In some respects, as Standage points out, this plurality is a return to the past, before mass media became the dominant paradigm for the industry. But rather than assume that repetition makes this current trend benign, we would do well to study that era — in particular how it defined a national dialogue across the fault lines of income, race, education and age. Given the current tensions between classes and ideologies in our country, I believe we should attempt to learn from that history, rather than simply repeat it.

What Is This Thing Called "News"

The following post is a reflection on reading assigned by Prof. Daryl Moen:
  • Gans, Herbert, “Journalistic Practices and their Problems,” from “Democracy and the News,” Chap 3.
  • Entman, “Democracy without citizens”
  • Carey, James, “The dark continent of American journalism”

Reality check: Democracy doesn’t function according to the highest ideals for it, and neither does the journalism that seeks to inform the democratic process. That’s what all three readings this week seem to be saying — especially “Journalistic Practices and Their Problems” by Herbert Gans and “The Dark Continent of American Journalism” by James Carey.

The thesis of Robert Entman’s essay “How the Media Affect What People Think — and Think They Think” is that journalism does, indeed, influence public opinion. Perhaps if I were more familiar with the “autonomy models” he challenges, this would seem revelatory to me. Regardless, echoes of Entman’s “interdependence model” can also be found in Carey’s premise, especially in regard to the collaborative act of journalism’s more narrative forms.

Gans details the ways that the operating structure of modern, popular news media trip up journalists in pursuit of the profession’s democratic ideals. The convenience of top-down news, the pitfalls of reporting for mass-production, and the habit of reducing data to oversimplified terms that don’t illuminate real complexities all perpetuate widespread misunderstanding or confusion about how the business of the nation is conducted. This dysfunction is exacerbated, Gans asserts, by a disconnect between what journalists think the public should do with their reporting and how most people actually interact with democracy.

If journalism were to take off the blinders of this “democratic ideal,” he says, then perhaps they’d be able to see “the larger forces that drive politics” and how those forces can manipulate journalism itself. And if journalism broadened its definition of news to include more than politics — in particular, if it did a better job of reporting the economy as it plays out in the lives of the public — then perhaps the media would actually produce news that people could use.

Carey also shares Gans’s contention that most of the American public is woefully ill-informed, although he describes this more thoroughly by way of his analogy that journalism is like a curriculum in which most people stop at the introductory course (ie: the daily news). Carey explains, fittingly, the “how” and “why” of this truism by telling the stories that illustrate how and why the “how” and “why” are left out of the daily press — again, due to many of the operational systems detailed by Gans. Once the facts of a story are handled, he says, it’s the “how” and “why” that people need most in response to an inevitable, human urge to understand the world around us and our place in it. Yet it’s the “how” and “why” that the daily press simply doesn’t have the means to explain.

Suggestions for ways to improve this dysfunction are implicit in Carey’s essay. He details the different ways that journalists attempt to answer the “why” and the ways in which those methods are insufficient. Aside from the express admonition to not rely as much on motive as an explanation, a reader is mostly left to infer that she should do a better job of using cause and consequence as explanations. The technique of applying significance to even random events seems to get a pass from his judgmental eye, and a brief reference to a failed movement toward “precision journalism” is left surprisingly undeveloped.

To reevaluate journalism as it’s actually practiced and perceived, and to do that within a context of reevaluating how democracy actually plays out in modern society, as Gans and Carey do, is especially useful now as journalism is changing. In fact, the correlation that Carey draws between how journalistic standards and practices evolved in direct response to technological developments lends itself perfectly to today’s media landscape. He’s connected many dots in our past, and I am left with the sense that our current trajectory has departed the most recent but yet to land on the next. I wonder how our societal expectations of journalism — and how our values as practicing journalists — will take shape next. And I wonder what all that will mean for country and the world of countries we live among.

Assuming Entman’s assertion of the “interdependence model” of journalism is accurate, then Gans’s suggestions of how to report on democracy in a different way (by treating more than politics as newsworthy would be a start) would imply that the American public could actually interact with our democracy in a different way. Perhaps, then, media now more than ever has the opportunity to influence the direction of the nation.

What I’m left wondering — for myself and also on behalf of all three authors — is whether or not that’s a good thing.

First Missourian byline

I wish my first byline for the paper could have been about something less tragic. On my first General Assignment day last week, I noticed on the St. Louis Post Dispatch website that an alumna of University of Missouri had been killed in South Carolina. She was 36.

Jennifer Wilson was from St. Louis, and since she had spent time here we felt it was important to let our community know about her death, as well as its unfortunate circumstances. I tried to reach her Ph.D. advisor, but she didn’t return my phone calls. I understand from someone in the Education Department that she was pretty shaken by the news and might not want to talk, and I understand that.

In the research I did that day about Jennifer Wilson, I was struck by her accomplishments: one scholarship, award and major grant after another, and all for the sake of becoming a teacher educator. Her work reflected remarkable dedication to her field.

I don’t think the article I wrote described this adequately. My impression of this person I had never met was simply not sufficient; I needed sources, and I couldn’t reach them. (A colleague of Jennifer’s at University of South Carolina also did not return my phone call.) I couldn’t write more about Jennifer Wilson because I couldn’t reach the people in a position to express their informed opinions about her.

In this first byline of my graduate school career, I learned how to access a police incident report and arrest warrant (ah, you just ask, but you have to find the right person first and that involved being sent to about five different people in this case). I worked up the nerve to call someone at home who was reportedly and understandably grieving, and I believe I did so sensitively with clear and pure intention. Of course I learned the mechanics of the newsroom’s intranet for posting stories, and I got the experience of sitting down with an editor while she cleaned up my work.

I also took a somewhat painful lesson in the limitations of journalism. It’s right that they’re there — the standards are what define the craft. But it sure is disappointing when you just can’t meet them the way you know they deserve to be met.

History and Structure of American Journalism

The following post is a reflection on reading assigned by Prof. Daryl Moen:
  • Hallin and Giles, “Presses and Democracies”
  • Entman, “The Nature and Sources of News”
  • Commission on Freedom of the Press, “The Requirements”

The independent nature of the press — particularly the American press — defies a system of classification so tidy as biology’s mechanism for placing each specimen in a fully describable and quantifiable category. But that won’t stop scholars from trying.

And with good reason. There is much to be learned from the exercise of correlating media systems with the geo-political characteristics of the societies where they emerged, as Hallin and Giles to do in their chapter “Presses and Democracies.” Likewise, “The Requirements” put forward by the Commission on Freedom of the Press were an important normalizing benchmark in the changing professional standards of American journalism in the mid-20th century. And although the system for distinguishing among media, as laid out by Entman in “The Nature and Sources of News,” is admittedly far from precise, it is nonetheless a useful measuring stick to compare how the ever-increasing number and types of news forms stack up.

The analyses within all three of these articles are geared toward a dual measurement: how different forms of journalism compare with one another as they strive for (or ignore) the ideal of service to democracy.

That ideal can look very different in different places, as we learn in “Presses and Democracies.” By placing global media systems in the context of their political and cultural environments, Hallin and Giles find that they emerge along a parallel with comparative politics (a field of study from which the authors borrow heavily in their analyses and descriptions of the press, primarily in Europe and North America).

The authors propose that journalism’s “liberal,” “polarized pluralist” and “democratic corporatist” models (gauged according to their characteristics of mass circulation, state involvement, “political parallelism” or the alignment of mass media with political agendas, and professionalization) are very much reflections of the political realities and cultural values of the societies they serve.

Being such true reflections of societies, whose history and governance is a complex matrix of trends, there is an exception to every rule and more than a little overlap and oversimplification in the resulting classification system, but the authors nonetheless describe the general characteristics of these different media models and explain where, approximately, different countries fall along the spectrum.

“Presses and Democracies” is an international and largely historical study, but shares a basic premise with Entman’s “The Nature and Sources of News,” which is implicitly U.S.-focused. Rather than continue to analyze what journalism “should be,” both articles are framed to describe journalism as it actually is. With this understanding, both authors assert, one can better assess the true condition of the profession today. Only then can journalists hope to direct the field’s functional reality going forward.

Entman’s example provides an important lesson on perspective regarding the function of news. He gauges whether or not something is “news” based on how it’s received by audiences — not how it’s branded or intended by its producers. Therefore not only traditional, mainstream news sources, but also advocacy journalism, tabloid journalism, and even outright entertainment media all have a place along his news spectrum. And that place tends to be fluid for every news source described.

Regardless the source, he finds news recognizable based on its effect of “illuminating four areas of knowledge vital to effective democratic citizenship”: policy, power, ideology and an audience’s own self-interest in the topic being covered.

In contrast, “The Requirements” is a document that sets forth a definition of journalism for media to strive for — not a description of media in its contemporary form. Framing the discussion from the audience’s point of view, and assuming that it’s the press’s responsibility to provide “the current intelligence needed by a free society,” the Commission on Freedom of the Press delineates what audiences require of the press.

The impossibility of any single media to provide all of these requirements is fully recognized. All serving as parts of the collective whole, each media provides a unique set of functions in service to the ideal. The fallibility of the classification systems described by Entman and by Hallin and Giles are also duly acknowledged.

Despite the imperfections of each of these measuring sticks — or maybe precisely because they include so much grey area — these analyses are helpful in understanding the nuances and implications of how and why various media deliver their content they way they do. The rubrics are also helpful descriptions of the landscape for teasing out where you want your own contributions to journalism to live.