News Production: Its Nature and Biases
In the book News Production: Theory and Practice written by David Machin and Sarah Niblock (2006), the authors proposed that selecting and presenting news is being influenced not by the certain principles and standards inherent to the story but by other factors such as target audience, social class, and cost. With this, the news being transmitted to the people is subjective and only for those who belong to a specific gender, race, or class. In other words, the process of cost-effective journalism leads to text with certain biases. Simply by doing their jobs, journalism tend to serve the political and economic elite definition of reality.
To further expound the above idea, the concept of the primary definer will be used. In journalism, the primary definer is a person or entity that provides information shaping the text. In news narratives, he is the one who witnessed an event and soon will be subjected under further interrogations by the journalists. Here, however, the primary definer is only giving his interpretation of what has happened and not necessarily the actual things that have happened. Thus, it is possible for the journalists to deliver news that are unknowingly biased or different from the actual occurrences.
Usually, primary definers are those who possess the any of the following: speaking the mainstream language, knowing the language the media needs, representing wealth, and being perceived as credible. If analyze, all of these characteristics can be narrowed down to one single identity—the White people. Clearly, the White has the greater chances of possessing the aforementioned characteristics.
Take for example the Zoot suit riots that occurred during the 1940s in Los Angeles. In the news articles released, particularly from the Los Angeles Times, the people interviewed were mostly White like the police chief, the judge, and the lifeguards, and the sailors. The Zoot suits, or the Chicanos involved in the issue were excluded and not given opportunity to clear their side.
One reason for this is the journalist’s lack of access to the Chicanos primarily because he does not understand their language. For example, in the Los Angeles Times’ article, the Chicanos were described as Zoot suits wearers. Aside from this, there were no other traits which one could identify them. How could they be identified if in the first place, they could not be understood due to language differences? If they are not given proper chance to introduce themselves?
In addition, the journalists were trained to write the language of the intellectual—those who are in the business world, media, and politics. The articles in Los Angeles Times written in English are but pieces of evidence that news are for those who can read and understand the English language. All the interviewees know that English is the language needed by the media.
The interviewees also possess wealth and credibility, making their statements sound valid and accurate. Captain Harry Seager, who witnessed one of the riots, for instance, represents wealth and appears as a credible person to talk about the topic. Being the night Chief of the Police, he is capable to project his being a well-off and credible person. In return, his interpretation of events would be valuable to the journalists.
Clearly, race, class, and target market are some of the factors that greatly affect journalists in the selection and production of their news. While they are busy promoting their news, it is ironic that journalists are slowly forgetting the value of objectivity.
Zoot Suiters Learn Lesson in Fights with Servicemen. Los Angeles Times. 7 June 1943.