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Barnhurst and Mutz-Decline of Event Centered Reporting

Barnhurst and Mutz-Decline of Event Centered Reporting -...

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27 American Journalism and the Decline in Event-Centered Reporting by Kevin G. Barnhurst and Diana Mutz The definition of news has changed in the 20th century. Content analysis of the traditional five Ws in three American newspapers found that stories grew longer, included more analysis, expanded from specific locations to broader regions, placed more emphasis on time frames other than the present, and named fewer individuals and more groups, officials, and outside sources. These trends affected each newspaper’s coverage of three topics: crimes, accidents, and employ- ment. Thus the basic recipe for news—the report of events new to the hearer—has acquired a third ingredient: For a story to qualify as news, journalists now supply a context of social problems, interpretations, and themes. This trend springs from the workings of the news market and the culture of journalism. Shit happens, but that is not necessarily news. Events become news when someone tells you. Even then, whatever happened is not news to you unless it is new to you. These two elements, the report of events and their novelty to the hearer, have consti- tuted the core meaning or denotation of news in the 20th century (Burke, 1973; Schudson, 1982). In Western capitalism, news workers labor to find or manufacture events, and news industries compete to deliver those events first to the largest audi- ences. Despite general agreement about what makes news, there is a growing consensus that contemporary reporting has altered that definition to deemphasize events in favor of news analysis. These claims apply to television as well as newspapers. Some studies identify the change as fairly recent. Others see a longer historical trend. Almost all locate the changes in examinations of election coverage. Across differences in study context, time frame, and medium, closely related terms describe the shift from descrip- Kevin G. Barnhurst (PhD, University of Amsterdam, 1997) is an associate professor of public communications at Syracuse University. His research interests include the social consequences of the form of news. Diana Mutz (PhD, Stanford, 1988) is an associate professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. Her research interests include political communication and public opinion. Earlier versions of this research were presented at the International Communication Association, Albuquerque, NM, May 1995, and at the American Association for Public Opinion Research, Salt Lake City, UT, May 1996. This project originated when the authors shared an office as research fellows at the Media Studies Center, Columbia University. The authors wish to thank Stephen Whitlock, Amy Hansen, and Mira Sotirovic for research assistance. Copyright © 1997 Journal of Communication 47(4), Autumn. 0021-9916/97/$5.00
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Journal of Communication, Autumn 1997 28 tive to analytic journalism, from event-centered to interpretive reporting, or from episodic to thematic coverage.
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