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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: June 2012

17 - Toward a Political Sociology of the News Media


Sociologists have offered three different, if sometimes overlapping, responses to the question “how does journalism work?” Those who take a macroinstitutional approach argue that the structure of the state and the economic foundation of news organizations account for the process of news making and the content of news. Little can be understood about news, this position asserts, without addressing the political and economic conditions that underlie the workings of news organizations. A second approach stresses that microinstitutional practices and cultures shape how news is gathered, produced, and distributed. Understanding journalism requires an examination of occupational routines in the relations between reporters and their sources as well as a study of professional rules and values in the newsroom. Depending on the specific political and economic context, organizational and occupational demands may constrain journalists' daily job more than advertisers, securities analysts, corporate managers, or general political conditions. A third approach emphasizes the constraining force of broad cultural traditions and symbolic systems. In this view, news is storytelling, a form of cultural expression more than a market commodity or the product of an occupational practice. It is a structured set of genres of public meaning making that comes from and reaches out to enduring myths, narratives, values, and symbols. Journalism selectively taps into the cultural repertoire of societies as shown in journalists' penchant for drama, conflict, rituals of communion, and human interest events.

Macroinstitutional approaches typically, but not inevitably, minimize the role of human agency and imply that structural conditions alone account for most of the features of news content.