Gatekeeping is a process (or an act) that can take place in any industry. In this paper, the author discusses it as it takes place within the context of just the journalism industry. Gatekeeping, in this case, refers to the process in which one person or group decides who can publish, broadcast, disseminate, and even access information. Gatekeeping has been a part of many journalistic organizations and professionals' practice for so long that it has already evolved into an academic theory, as in the academic theory of gatekeeping. It also has its versions and is therefore applicable in other fields that include but may not be limited to sociology, political science, and communication studies.
The core idea behind gatekeeping is its push for a few-to-many relationship between the participants and actors in an industry. This academic theory paints a picture where journalists and other professionals in the mass communications industry act as the gatekeepers of information before they get released to the public. The journalists and other professionals in the mass communications industry can be collectively referred to as a single entity, and that would be the media.
The media, in a typical interpretation of the gatekeeping theory, is an entity that acts as the gatekeeper of all the information that will ever be released to the public. Shoemaker & Vos (2009) put it best when they described gatekeeping simply for what it is, and that is "the process of culling and crafting countless bits of information into the limited number of messages that reach people every day, and it is the center of the media's role in modern public life; this process determines not only which information is selected, but also what the content and the nature of the messages, such as the news, will be."
Now, before going into the advantages, disadvantages, challenges, and risks that may be associated with this widespread industry practice, it would be important to first cover why the media and the professionals working in it have been doing it in the first place, i.e., the rationale behind gatekeeping.
Journalistic outlets such as news organizations play a surveillance function in society. Lasswell & Wright developed a model where they outlined the different core functions of mass communication. One of the core functions that they identified and described was surveillance (of the environment). "An important function of the media is to keep up a surveillance of all the happenings in the world and provide information to the human society; the media has the responsibility of providing news and cover a wide variety of issues that is of some service to the society" (Communication Theory, 2022, p. 1).
When fulfilling this surveillance function, it is not uncommon for journalistic outlets such as news organizations to deal with many stories and information. For example, a large mainstream international news organization may have well over a hundred reporters and field researchers deployed across different countries. Now, they could not expect the people to be able to digest all of those raw field research and information because of the sheer volume and the fact that they have not yet been curated for comprehension. This is where gatekeeping plays a key role. Through gatekeeping, journalists and other mass communication professionals can perform two important processes. First, they can filter out the stories that, based on their research, meet their internally set threshold of social significance. This is the part where the journalistic outlets determine which bits are newsworthy and which ones are not. Additionally, social significance is just one of the many factors they look at when determining whether a bit can be considered newsworthy or otherwise.
The vast majority of journalistic outlets, and more specifically, news organizations, are for-profit entities. They are structured as a corporation, and in some cases, as private enterprises, whose core function is to generate income and profit for the owners and shareholders (in the case of a corporation). These entities need resources to fund their journalistic operations. These resources (e.g., financial resources), in turn, are rather limited, so it only makes sense for them to filter out the bits of information they will curate and eventually release to the public.
It is important to note that while there may be similarities and parallels between two or more news organizations, no two news organizations are exactly the same (Xu & Feng, 2014). In terms of their gatekeeping practices, for example, there is almost a hundred percent guarantee that each news organization's gatekeeping framework is unique. A news organization's gatekeeping framework often exists as a function of the culture and subcultures within the said news organization. From a political standpoint, for example, news organizations have different socio-political leanings, which means that there is a real tendency for them to conduct their gatekeeping practices and news-making operations in such a way that is consistent with their socio-political leanings (Haselmayer et al., 2017). For example, a news organization with a liberal-democratic socio-political leaning can certainly be expected to gatekeep news and information in a way that is consistent with that leaning. The same would be true for a news organization with a conservative-republican socio-political leaning.
While socio-political leanings can indeed be a part of a news organization's criteria when curating a particular news story, there are a lot of other factors that make up that overall curation framework. Other factors typically used as the basis of gatekeeping practices include organizational policy, economic needs of the medium, their definition of newsworthiness, the relevance of the news bits to the news organization's target audience, and perhaps most importantly, the fourth estate obligations of journalists.
While gatekeeping can indeed be a process that can be deemed necessary, especially from a practical standpoint, it does have some drawbacks. One of the more commonly-cited of which is the way how it is now being used by many news organizations to control and shape the public's reality and, in some cases, even manipulate facts in a way that favors the narrative that they wish to further when reporting a story (Thorson & Wells, 2015).
CNN is one of the most popular journalistic outlets (for news) in the United States. CNN provides a wide range of live coverage and analysis of news bits. These include breaking news, political, entertainment, business, health, sports, science, weather coverage, in-depth interviews with popular and influential figures, and international news.
For my part, I have come to know CNN for its delivery of political news, although this may be a direct result of my interest in being updated with political news. That said, I have found CNN's socio-political leaning to be liberal-democratic. The way they curate and deliver the news clearly indicates this. CNN News, for example, has always been known for posting interviewing guests in their in-depth interview segments who are critical of republican presidents and other political figures. CNN is a perfect example of a journalistic outlet with a partisan bias. For example, in a poll at The Hill (2021), roughly half of the respondents said that CNN and Fox News have partisan media bias. I am not surprised by this finding because, as a follower, reader, and viewer of CNN and Fox News, the findings in the poll above are consistent with my observation too.
CNN covered the biggest stories of the Trump Impeachment Trial in 2021 (Wagner et al., 2021). During that period, CNN interviewed a rather large number of resource people who favored the impeachment. There are also certain people interviewed who held moderate to anti-impeachment views. There were parts of those on-air interviews where CNN's anchors would argue with the interviewee about certain things. My opinion of this is that it is not the job of a real journalist to argue with the interviewee, especially if that interviewee holds an opinion slightly different from that of the interviewer or newscaster. The job of a real journalist is to simply report the news. This is also a perfect demonstration of the idea that maybe the media (including the professionals working in it) has been too drunk with their gatekeeping powers, that their actions are now starting to have negative effects on the country's democratic processes, as well as on the citizens' freedom of expression. To be fair, CNN is not the only journalistic outlet guilty of this, and this is where the second journalistic outlet that I have chosen, Fox News, for this assignment's significance comes in.
Fox News, just like CNN, is also one of the biggest journalistic outlets in the United States. Fox News is also known for its coverage of breaking news, political, entertainment, business, health, sports, science, weather coverage, in-depth interviews with popular and influential figures, and international news.
I got to know Fox News for its political news coverage. That is how I was able to compare it with CNN. Effectively, Fox News is the polar opposite of CNN in the socio-political spectrum. Fox News is known for its conservative-republic socio-political leaning. This is why the narratives created as a result of Fox News gatekeeping and curation practices often clash with the narratives peddled by other journalistic outlets such as CNN News.
Fox News also covered the Trump Impeachment Trial in 2021 (Olson, 2021). I focused on a single headline to clearly show these two journalistic outlets' differences in how they gatekeep and curate their respective news bits. If CNN was peddling the narrative that Trump should be impeached, Fox News was doing the opposite—peddling the narrative that Trump should not be impeached.
In my case, I tune in to both CNN and Fox News. I do this despite the well-known partisan bias that these two news outlets have because I want to listen to both sides of the aisle and, from there, make up my mind about who probably is telling the real story.
Bloomberg Media (from now on referred to as Bloomberg, for brevity) is one of the subsidiaries of Bloomberg Inc. Based on its structure and the nature of its operations. It can be inferred that Bloomberg Media is the news and journalistic arm of Bloomberg Inc. Under Bloomberg Media's vast framework of news and articles, I often find myself tuning in to the Bloomberg Markets segment.
I am the type of person who loves to follow social, political, and economic news. For that purpose, Bloomberg Media's contents would arguably be the best option. In fact, according to one of their press releases in 2014, "Bloomberg Media's original target audience was the global financial industry; this strategy successfully established Bloomberg as the premium content, data, and analytics provider for financial institutions worldwide" (Bloomberg, 2014). This remains the case even today, although the media group has become more diversified. Other news and journalistic outlets targeting the same audience are Financial Times, Google Finance, and maybe Yahoo Finance.
One of the recent news that made it to Bloomberg's headlines is the United States Federal Reserve's move to increase its benchmark interest rates by half-a-percentage point to around 75 basis points, in light of the accelerating inflation rate in the United States, following a sharp recovery of the local economy from the distresses brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic (Boesler & Matthews, 2022). This news bit made it both as an article and an actual television segment. This is headline news because this interest rate hike represents the biggest hike that the Federal Reserve has done since 2000. Normally, the Federal Reserve only gradually hikes interest rates, i.e., by 25 basis points, as opposed to 50 basis points, in order to maintain stability in the economy and to prevent uncertainty in the financial markets. Uncertainty and unpredictability are some of the perfect recipes for market volatility and, in some cases, a market downturn.
It would be interesting to review how the inclusion of this news bit in Bloomberg's headlines is consistent with their curation policies and gatekeeping practices in general. As mentioned in the first part of this paper, every journalistic outlet has its own set of policies and guidelines that determine which news bits make it to their publication, let alone to the headlines of their various circulations. In Bloomberg's case, they intend to cater to a very specific niche among news consumers, with that niche being financial and economic news. This is something Bloomberg has been extremely good at, which is why it is one of the leading journalistic outlets for someone who consumes this type of news, like me.
Going into the news article that I cited that has the title "Fed Hikes Rates Half-Point as Powell Signals Similar Moves Ahead" (Boesler & Matthews, 2022), one thing that can be observed in the article's body is that it is not written in an overly simplistic manner. One can argue that it was written with a high degree of emphasis on the technical aspects of finance and economics, as opposed to how a journalist from CNN or Fox News would write it. This was an intended outcome for the part of Bloomberg, and it is a positive thing because it shows that they are true and consistent with their gatekeeping policies, in that they curate their news bits in such a way that is in line with the expectations of their target audience.