News Content

Having examined some elements of the form of news stories, we turn now to content, specifically to the model of events news conveys to audiences. We start off with the fact that one thing news stories have in common is that they are expected to meet, or be made to seem to meet, a set of specific relevance criteria, if they are to be told. Journalists must be able to answer the question: "Why is this news?" - and they must have an answer that meets a set of standards accepted by their audience. Literature, drama and other forms of mostly "fictional" entertainment, have relevance criteria, as well, but of a different kind, that will, perhaps, be explored another time.

The most general relevance criteria for news is simply that it is something that journalist's deem their audiences would be interested in and want to know. Getting a little more specific, anything that might affect large numbers of people - whether that effect is good or ill or neutral, whether the meaning of the effect is widely agreed on or hotly debated – is considered news. Getting more specific, still, we find that much of what is defined as news is information about whether things are, or will, get better or worse for the audience, or for some group of people.

Thus, journalists are forever trying to tell audiences whether they may be helped or hurt by events. Their job is to take the temperature of events. Is the economy sick or robust? Are politicians stealing from the public? Are there more single teenagers having children? Does a nation with terrorist links have the bomb? Will the accused be convicted, thereby closing the case and partially repairing the moral order of society?

In this, the news is much like popular fiction, which also depicts people and societies immersed in problems and then shows us how they make things better or worse, usually leading us to invented happy endings that the news can only rarely offer. Put in the most expansive terms, the larger part of fiction and nonfiction (including news) is about the fallen state of society and humanity. It is about our existential predicament: we have fallen and we are trying to get up. Fiction lets us pretend we have overcome our fallen state with all its happy endings, in which the heroes find the qualities in themselves that let them restore the moral order of society and rout the villains. News is more tightly tethered to actual events and so it can’t give us fantasies like that. Instead, it is reduced to reporting humanity’s endless machinations and the incremental changes that result, as people try to make things better, according to their own vision of what is good.

In many instances, journalists play to an audiences in which there is widespread agreement on what constitutes improvement or decline in the state of things, in which case journalists may be able to be more explicit in passing judgment. American audiences agree that it is bad for the economy to be sick, for politicians to steal, and for a nation with terrorist connections to get the bomb. In other issues, there may be widespread disagreement, in which case the news media often tells the public who is up and down and what has happened; it quotes different sides explaining whether this means the state of things has gone up or down, and then lets audiences decide for themselves. There is a new abortion ruling. One side says it means that we are finally on the right track. The other, that things are going downhill.

But the media doesn’t just tell the various sides. It also reports stories in a manner it believes is correct, as if there is a consensus in the audience, when, in reality, there often isn’t. This is one source of accusations of bias in reporting.

In telling us whether things are getting better or worse, the news media almost always focuses on what is timely, covering the most recent period of time, which often means the period of time since its last report. Thus, newspapers tend to cover the last day's news; weekly news magazines feel justified covering what has happened or been learned in the last week, although, as in many other instances, there is a bias toward what is the most recent. They do so because this is what they believe is most interesting for various reasons, including the fact that what is new is precisely what the audience doesn’t know about and it is viewed as being more likely to have unexpected consequences than less recent events.

When this act of constant updating is added to the news media’s role reporting whether things are getting better or worse, we see that the news as a kind ore existential update service, describing its selective version of the human condition as it changes in tiny increments, day by day. Let the Bible and the philosophers give us a vision of the grand sweep of the human condition, describing our fallen state and where hope lies. It is the job of the news to translate that vision into tiny little reports on the human condition, and how it changed since an hour ago. It provides us with a series of freeze frames, an update service that tells us where the world is at each stop in time along the way, at least since deadline.

In reporting all this, the primary focus of the news media is the human world - society – since it is other people we find interesting and who most often affect our own fate, and since, in a larger sense, the human condition is its subject. Thus, the news media finds itself constantly giving us updates about important people, about their actions, interactions, and reactions to actions, and about chains of action and reaction that result from these. It tells us about intentions, deliberations, proposals, decisions and events, which can be hidden from view or open to public scrutiny. People, as they say, need people, and people want to know about people. And so the media finds itself inexorably drawn into reporting the minutiae of the human world.

It focuses on nature, too, of course, but usually nature as it fits in the human world. It depicts nature as destroyer – hurricanes, volcanoes, earthquakes; and nature as something we destroy that can also destroy us -- global warming, mass die outs of frogs. And it depicts nature as something we are conquering and making transparent – rocks analyzed on Mars, diseases conquered.

But much of its attention of the news media is focused on that aspect of the human world that involves power and politics. This focus is, in many ways, considered the essence of the news media. It is the Fourth estate, the great watchdog of those in power, focusing many of its efforts on a limited number of actors and institutions, most of which make policy and management decisions, or are seeking the right to do so. It similarly focuses of a limited set of issues they fight over.

Fulfilling its role as nonstop update service, the news media is forever describing the permutations of power in this realm: who’s got it, who’s fighting over it, who the winner is, and what the consequences will be. Journalists are forever trying to find out how power is being exercised; who has it and who doesn't. How are those with power using it? And they describe a great many issues as contests over the right to make policy and control government. Political parties, elected officials, pressure groups and everyone else in the game is portrayed as involved in a never-ending tug of war, as the news media records every movement of the rope.

These narratives about power exert various fascinations in and of themselves: they tell people what is going on, and likely to go on, in society and they provide enormous entertainment value, since, for audiences, watching and reading these stories is a lot like watching and reading stories about heroes and battles: it induces a sense of excitement over vicariously participating in great events. And, as with fiction, it provides us with characters we can identify with and see as the enemy - characters we can admire and hate - as they deal with the great issues of the day.

But behind these reports, there usually can be found that first presumption: that these descriptions of the permutations of power are important because they tell us the state of the world and allow us to judge whether things are getting better to worse, since the power brokers and politicians can, presumably, control the fate of much of what happens in one's society and the larger world. These stories tell us who is in charge of making things better; who is to blame for things getting worse; who may exercise control over our fate, and who will likely take over tomorrow, even if audiences don’t necessarily agree on whether these changes will be good or bad.

In line with this idea, politicians and leaders are often portrayed as failed or successful, real or phony, problem solvers, whose job it is to make things better, and who are enmeshed in debates and struggles about how to do it. Thus, they are portrayed as both would-be problem solvers and power seekers. They seek power to solve problems and they solve problems so they will be allowed to get and hold on to power. And when they fail, as they virtually always seem to, that too is big news. It is true, of course, that the media portrays all this because it is reality. It is also true that they provoke a good deal of this reality, through their single-minded focus, and ignore other situations and events that don’t fit into their model of what is news.

Actually, rather than saying the media is fascinated with power, it would be more accurate to say that it is interested in the play of power. Everything is viewed as a conflict, a win-lose game in which two or more parties fight over some prize, be it political power, land, money, or an Academy Award. Combatants can include any number of people, nations, political parties, businesses and media organizations, government officials, pressure groups, court contestants, celebrities, spouses and teams.

The world, as the news media describes it, is not unlike the simple world portrayed in video games. The antagonists are usually organized into two teams, with each side representing the opposite extreme of a position. Usually, each side is fighting for the same prize, be it a policy, territory or position. They do battle with each other in election campaigns, wars, confirmation hearings, and so on, fighting directly for these prizes and also trying to do secondary damage to each other, while protecting themselves, because hurting the other side advances their own quest to win the contested prize. By virtue of the news media’s effort to give us a constant update on events, we are perennially given the latest game report on who's up, who's down, who's advancing, who's retreating and who's sinking fast in the battles at hand.

Stories about conflicts are like video games in another sense: journalists typically will exercise their overview function, and give us a view of the contest as if from above - who are the players, what is the field of play, what is the prize, what are their strengths and weaknesses and strategy. In editorials and columns, journalists will also provide an overview, while telling us, from their omnipotent vantage, why one side is morally better than the other. What they are really doing, of course, is also jumping down into the field of play themselves, and taking one side. News stories do this, as well, favoring one side over another, but almost always under various disguises, which will be examined later.

The combatants who are portrayed in these depictions can occupy separate "territories," such as nations or they can be celebrities who carry on public relations campaigns to win Academy Awards. But one way or another, the combatants have to come together on a common field of battle, which is often the media, itself. These battles can also take place inside groups, as in the case of civil wars or contests for leadership inside political parties, although this distinction between a fight inside and between separate groups depends on how one defines a group.

News stories also follow the phases of the battle: the causes of the conflict; the indications that there will be a fight; the advances and retreats; calls for war and peace; negotiations; treaties; surrenders and victory celebrations. If it is a crime story, they follow the case as it goes through the justice system: the reporting of the crime; investigation; claims of guilt or innocence; the filing of charges; apprehension; trial; sentence; punishment and victory celebrations, if any. This form blends into another common news approach that will be described later, in which journalists cover the course of a life, of politicians, businesses, forms of government, and so on.

Thus, in approaching most stories, journalists almost ask the same questions: Who are the warring parties; who are their allies and who are third parties to the dispute; what are the offensive and defensive strategies; who has the advantage and why; what are the stakes?

As the news media goes about depicting these struggles over power, it also depicts the players as orienting their actions toward key groups of "power deciders" who control their destiny. In the case of trials, it is the jury. All eyes in the defense and prosecution look one way, all strategy is oriented toward affecting what jurors will do once they go into deliberations. More often than not, power deciders are part of complex networks of power and decision, in which players in one location may be affected by those in another, and in which one player may decide the power of others, even as his own power is decided by yet other players in the network. Thus, Academy Awards are decided by a select group of judges, but their judgments, in turn, will affect audiences, so actors and producers may play to the judges to affect audiences.

In the case of elections and political strategies in democracies, the most important power deciders are voters on election day. But they, in turn, will be affected by all kinds of opinion makers, by affluent groups who may or may not provide money for campaigns, by core supporters who may or may not campaign for the candidate, by other politicians who may publicize discrediting information that may anger voters, and so on. Thus, we end up with complex networks of power and decision.

And leaders must be concerned not only with gaining supporters but also preventing the mobilization of opponents. If a bill is sought in Congress, then the power deciders are the members of Congress, who the supporters of the bill must play to directly and also play to by affecting the power deciders in special interest groups and among voters in their home states and districts.

Many battles are over the right to be a decider. During elections, voters make the decision on who will hold power. Once candidates take office, they now hold the power. But they must balance their decisions against the various deciders who can affect their ability to hold their position.

In the case of dictatorships, things get a lot murkier and the press finds itself constantly trying to figure out who the power deciders are and how they decide. Is it key military officers, party leaders, the intelligence service, the upper classes? Are things decided by secret vote? Family connections? Charisma? Blackmail? Whoever it is, these are the power player’s most essential audiences. In the extreme case of a few powerful dictators, it may seem that there are no other power deciders at all who can determine their fate, certainly no visible ones. But even then, the veto of a lone assassin must be looked out for.

Another guiding idea in the content of news stories is that those who hold or seek power, try to hide the way they exercise power, and try to hide any other information that might interfere with the operation of power, if it were known. Important meetings and real motives, plans, purposes, conflicts, actions and, often, alliances, occur somewhere backstage, away from the prying eyes of the press and public. What the politicians allow the public to see, the news media says, is an image, a simulation intended to mislead, manipulate and conceal the truth, so as to enhance the power and further the strategy of the manipulators. And like much else in politics and public life, the construction and manipulation of these images also occurs in secret, or, at least, an effort is made to make it so.

This formula is used repeatedly in press coverage: What can be seen is fake; what is real, whether it is the operation of power or potentially discrediting information about the players, is what cannot be seen. The news media is the ultimate practitioner of the sociology of Erving Goffman, at least the more cynical Goffman who revealed the way people present an image of themselves in everyday life in an attempt to manipulate how others see them and thereby advance their own position. In the world according to the news media, politicians and governments are Goffmanian players who fabricate, monitor and manipulate image as part of their strategies, to maintain power, win votes, stay out of jail, continue secret activities, hide discrediting facts about their past, and keep the public from seeing their manipulations.

Of course, in everyday life people generally present image directly. In public life, with a few exceptions such as campaign ads and the televising of live events, politicians present image to the public largely through the news media or, rather, the news media constructs an image of politicians based, in part, on the image politicians present to them. Thus, politicians (and others) have to manipulate the media so it will manipulate the public, which, as voter, consumer, contributor, interest group member, et al, is the ultimate object of their machinations. This too gets portrayed in national news stories, which are forever depicting politicians performing for the press.

Power plays that take place between politicians are often portrayed as being shaped by this same dominance of the constructed image. Politicians are shown trying to convince the public both that their solutions are the right ones for problems and that they will do, or have done, a good job implementing these solutions. And they are shown doing battle by trying to knock holes in each other's image, to reveal a discrediting reality underneath. Or, more to the point, politicians are shown using whatever kernel of reality they can get their hands on to create an image of their opponent as concealing a discrediting reality. In some instances, the pinning of an unflattering image need have no relation to reality to be effective. More commonly, such as when Bush commercials portrayed a comic image of Dukakis trying to create a decisive image, rolling around in a tank, the image may reveal something essential, if in an exaggerated form.

The politician, as image manipulator, may have two basic options when it comes to stripping away an opponent's image. He can do this work in secret, leaking information to covert press allies, so it will do his work for them. Or, if he believes it will bolster his credibility, he can try to present an image of himself as assertively stripping away the hypocritical image of opponents, in which case his actions will be a public performance.

The news media is forever trying to convey all this to audiences, running videotapes of events while describing them as staged, and describing every step politicians take as attempts at image manipulation. They toggle back and forth between the images allegedly presented by public figures and other images intended to convey the underlying reality, so the public will see both in one view. They use inside sources to create portholes to hidden realities; they conduct interviews as if they are interrogations designed to strip away cover stories and phony alibis; and they use a myriad of other techniques to suggest that appearance is deception.

Here we come to another guiding idea of news coverage: players are often judged by the power deciders according to the image they present, especially the image of power, morality, competence and desirability. Thus, players are forever being shown trying to project an image of themselves as having these desired traits. In addition, many players are portrayed as seeking to project an image of power, knowing that power is a currency that can be used to get many things, particularly more power.

The description of players in public life as image manipulators is, itself, part of a more basic depiction in which these people (and groups and institutions) are depicted as actors who engage in rational calculations and strategies in an effort to advance their own self-interest – a model that is originally derived from economics. Actors on the stage of public life are portrayed are trying to advance their own interests, and the interests of allies and their own groups, usually in competition with other actors who have opposing interests. Someone must lose and so, everyone calculates cost and benefit, strategizing and maneuvering to achieve various ends. This is economic "man," serving his own self-interest, using his ability to plan, think ahead, foresee the outcomes of various actions, take the role of opponents and predict their actions, and implement plans accordingly, except that, once again, the actors in question can also be groups, institutions and even nations.

The crafting of image to convey (or invent) the positive and conceal the negative is the most important strategy these actors are depicted as using, because public life is a stage in which the actors are judged by power deciders according to their performance, and because some things must be kept off stage if the actors are to succeed in their performances and make them believable.

But the image of human motivation offered by the news media is often more complex than this, in part because actors are depicted as being driven by complicated motives. They engage in rational calculations and create, and hide behind, masks, but it is to protect and attain all kinds of goods that involve values, beliefs and desires, including desires to improve one's state in life, desires for wealth, power, prestige, safety, psychological health, control over one's children, the advance of one's ethnic group or belief system, the gaining of political power and so on. Similarly, the focus on problems and solutions leads to portrayals of people trying to rationally solve problems, to get control of what is out of control. Such ideas about motivation may be stated or implied in stories; they may be a focus of attention or referred to in passing, or they may merely inform the presentation and give it its sense.

Thus, the rational, strategic moves of actors are depicted as being put in the service of fulfilling all kinds of material and nonmaterial goods. Some may be seen as laying within commonsense ideas about normal self-interest and the kind of profits it is normal to seek in life – money, sexual pleasure, acclaim, and so on. Others, may lie outside that realm of what are viewed as understandable goals, but the effort to obtain them may still be viewed as based on calculation and strategy. Even the murderer, driven by anger and hatred, or by sadism and sociopathy, may calculate so as to ensure the successful implementation and cover-up of the crime.

Similarly, the media depict political players as strategizing to sway the public with moral arguments and appeals to emotions. The politician doesn’t merely create an image of himself as moral; he makes a moral argument for why his cause is the just one, and creates an image of optimism, power and victory with all the stagecraft of contemporary manipulation. Thus, the media depicts the interrelation between rational means and irrational beliefs, values and emotions.

The media may or may not convey judgments about whether certain beliefs, values and emotions are normal, depending on complex issues of power that will be described later. They may depict situations in which people seem to go against rational self-interest, in means and/or ends, including a vision of human beings as, at times, governed by emotions, a slave to passions and resentments, that can cause them to act against their perceived self-interest, as when people are carried by emotion into unbelievably destructive wars. Another common example are criminals who seem to want to get caught. Such situations often evoke a greater effort to explain motives than other behavior that is seen as lying within normal self-interest. When Gary Hart seems to invite being caught at an extramarital affair while running for president, even daily reporters feel the need and desire to engage in an armchair analysis that involved the idea of self-destructiveness.

The news also describes behavior as being rational in another sense, in addition to that described above. Here, players are described as following rules of law and procedure, laid out by highly rationalized institutions, including courts, bureaucracies and professional establishments, and encoded in guiding documents, such as the U.S. Constitution, local zoning regulations and rules for scientific procedure. A great many stories follow people and institutions, as they go through step-by-step procedures, in conformance with these rules.

Generally, the "straighter" the news, the more it tends to use a pared down model of human motivation involving rule following and battles over self-interest, with more detailed explanations for what appear to be exceptions. In more nuanced and featurized presentations, such as can be found in a magazine like Newsweek, we begin to see a portrayal of people as complex characters and we see more detailed analyses of motivation in which people are more commonly portrayed as divided by conflict, engaged in psychological defenses such as denial, and acting out psychological issues which they themselves don't fully appreciate. As news becomes more featurized, we also see people more explicitly made to appear to fit certain character types, such as clowns or incompetents, a subject that is also explored later.

Despite the exceptions, in most news there is little portrayal of people as complex psychological beings motivated by internal conflict, by the reenactment of childhood issues, and by relationships with internalized images of primary caretakers from childhood. More often, conflict is portrayed only as something that goes on between people, not inside them. Leaders, for example, may be portrayed as engaging in unified actions on behalf of their nations; they may also be portrayed as initiating these unified actions in a way that plays to complex battles between forces internal to their nation or group. Psychoanalysis views individuals in a similar way, as motivated by battles between opposing forces inside the mind, but this idea is rarely included in the models journalists present in their work.

Beyond this, there is a vast realm of excluded theories of motivation that get no attention, at all. The idea from some traditional religions, for example, that God controls our actions or events, or from various forms of mysticism and religions, that life is an illusion, that spirits take over people's wills and that events betray an objective pattern - these and other excluded theories of motivation and behavior get no place at all at the table of explanation, at least in mainstream news.

The news thus gives audiences and readers an explanation of events that is a slightly more sophisticated version of the "folk psychology" that most people have themselves. It assumes that audiences want to know about potential problems, solutions and benefits that may affect their lives or the human condition, and it gives them a depiction of events in which power players engage in plays of power to achieve their goals.

But if news focused mostly on conflict, social problems and power, it would be even more lifeless than it is now. In addition, it also offers audiences something nonrational that binds them to stories far more than they would be otherwise: it focuses on individuals and players, as they deal with situations. Here, news takes the form of biography, sometimes explicitly, in personality profiles and, sometimes, merely in scattered references in stories. The basic plot of these stories and story elements isn't of two sides fighting, but of a lifeline, in which we see the course of someone's existence, at a particular moment and/or through time. The news story focuses either on the person in particular situations - his or her viewpoint, desires, plans, motives and so on - or it examines the life course of individuals or other entities, such as institutions. Even when the focus is on the person in a particular situation, there is often a sense that this is one of many moments in a life course.

Common subjects whose life course is examined are individuals, especially public persons such as politicians and celebrities, as well as victims; nations, companies, and institutions. Even philosophies, trends and efforts to solve problems can be viewed from this perspective, giving us stories, for example, on the waning of socialism as a viable political philosophy or the economic ascent of China.

Given that we are looking at lifelines, here, there may be stages involved: beginnings and endings, victories and defeats, births and deaths and death watches of lives, careers, political efforts and so on. The focus on lifelines often adds a sense of empathy, identification and poignancy to the story: it can invite us to identify with whoever or whatever is the focus of attention, and to care how things turn out for them.

The plot thickens considerably when the focus on lifelines is added to a depiction of power and conflict, as well as of image manipulation and problem-solving. This combination allows the news to show us leaders and other political players enmeshed in all kinds of tests, so we are able to observe the conflicts, with all their excitement and inherent drama, and also follow the vicissitudes of one or more of the primary players, as they overcome the obstacles inherent in the conflict to get what they seek. This allows us to insert ourselves, so to speak, into the situation, even as we observe its excitement from the outside, not unlike those sporting events in which television sports reporters tell us some of the biography of the contestants - their personal tragedies and victories - to personalize the competition, and combine the excitement of the contest with empathy. Once again, fiction also does this: it is an essential element of good story telling, as well as a way to give us a view of the human world.

To the extent the news focuses more on the lifeline of a player, the conflicts we are shown may play a role mostly as obstacles and shaping influences. in the life course. And when all of this is combined with the update function, we are given bulletins of the state of someone's life or battles. We watch as newsmakers suffer personal tragedy and professional setbacks, and give speeches at victory celebrations.

But either way, it is the combination of power, conflict and the empathy of examining lifelines, that gives us the essential story line in which the focus is on the political leader and public person as he or she tries to get and hold on to various kinds of power, facing obstacles along the way.

News also invites to experience the reality of human suffering. In these portrayals, the news media often evokes sympathy and pity in audiences for those who are covered. To some degree, this is inevitable. After all, the news covers crime victims, wars, losing candidates, people caught in natural disasters, and so on. With so much of news stories focused on suffering, it is inevitable the news would become effective at portraying the reality of a suffering humanity, as it finds itself enmeshed in the actions and problems portrayed and displayed in the news.

But the reverse is also the case: the news media covers crime victims, wars, losing candidates, people caught in natural disasters, and so on, in part because they involve people who suffer. To some degree, what we are seeing here, is a result of the demands of narrative: stories about suffering have pathos; they involve audiences in the story, because they allow audiences to suffer along, vicariously, from a safe distance. News stories evoke empathy by allowing us to see successes, as well, once again evoking primal emotions, and vicarious enjoyment

But this observation isn't as cynical as it may seem. Fiction, drama and news all portray suffering and evoke empathy because of humanity's overwhelming interest is humanity. These portrayals evoke primal emotions and involve us in fates which have something in common with our own..

To these basic story lines, a few others must be added: danger and evil come to mind. When we add all of this together, we begin to see that news isn't merely a report of events. It doesn't merely give us a summary, an overview and a close range view of action; it allows us a grandstand seat as we watch the most interesting and engrossing object in our universe - humanity - make history and engage in life. What we see in overview and at close range are beings like ourselves, who experience things we might experience, and who we can identify with, as they face the obstacles, conflicts, problems, and tasks of life. We become intimately bound up with their lives, if only for a moment, as the news takes us on a roller coast ride of emotional reactions, of outrage at the injustice of it all; delight at success; hope for the future of those whose present we momentarily become a part of. And all this, through the primal responses of human emotion, has an enormous and intrinsic relevance that doesn't need any other justification.

In all this, news stories do what literature, drama and television entertainment do – it evokes reactions in audiences that audiences want to have: empathy, sympathy, anger, fascination, hope, surprise, amusement, suspense and a sense of participating in great events. It portrays heroes, victims and villains, so that audiences will identify with, or reject, the characters, and experience that basic desire that makes literature and drama interesting - a desire to know what will happen next. Like much drama and literature, it can take audiences on that roller coaster ride of emotional reactions and sensations, even as it also takes them on a ride through time and space and situations, providing an overview of the layout of a battleground or an embattled city as seen from the air; then swooping in to quote a commander and show a suffering refugee, and then rising back over events again in another way, to interpret the meaning of what is taking place. Along the way, it also presents a kaleidoscope of interesting colors, shapes and scenes, and the reading or hearing pleasure derived from words that have been pleasingly strung together.

These qualities inevitably make the news a symbolic arena for the vicarious acting out of audience fantasies, and fears and desires. Just as we do with characters in literature, film, television programs and even video games, so we identify with the people and situations in the news, and vicariously live through them, experiencing defeat, loss, and victory, and we interact with them in fantasy, developing "parasocial" relationships with figures in the news, so that the characters we observe become ourselves, and allies and enemies. Bill Clinton becomes friend or foe. We route for him in his fight with some Republican or route for the Republican, as we become a part of the battle. As with fiction, we identify with them as ourselves; we relate to them as other people we can interact with, and we observe them from a location outside the action.

In addition, our ability see events in overview and from above, without being affected, creates a sense of invulnerability in audiences, which the news plays to. We watch others starving to death, but we, ourselves, are enjoying a sandwich in the living room. We vicariously participate in the conflict, but suffer none of its ravages. At the same time, the media's focus on problems and dangers to public welfare, which is revved up all the more by inflators*, designed to exaggerate and generate excitement, creates a sense of vulnerability and paranoia, about all kinds of realistic and unrealistic dangers, from crime to AIDS to toxic waste to nuclear war.

Finally, news also allows us to experience a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves, of being united with other fellow citizens, because we all participate in the same news rituals and we are all looking at the world through the same window on events.

This is a part of the basic model of the world, in form and content, that news audiences are exposed to on a daily basis. In many ways, what audiences end up with are amalgam-like experiences that are partly about what they are watching, partly about the stories these have been turned into, and partly about themselves. Nevertheless, the view of the world the news gives us does conform to a significant degree to the way the world is, and thus, what is described is both the media's image and the world it covers. But there are important things that are left out, including the role of the media in encouraging the events it depicts, and there are a great many acts of contrivance and selective attention, as well as simplifications and exaggerations, that distort the nature of events. In order to more fully appreciate what is left out, lets take a step back and look how where the models of events presented in news stories come from, and how they conform to more basic models the journalists carry with them.

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* Inflators exaggerate a story’s qualities, when it comes to such things as importance or excitement or relevance. One form of inflate are exaggerated justifications, in which journalists tell audiences why the story is important. They are forever telling audiences both in stories themselves, and in advertisements or teases about stories, that this is the most important story, the strangest coincidence, the most dramatic footage, that it is vital information and could save our life. They introduce the news program (and often come back from commercial) with dramatic music and stern faces that suggest something momentous is at hand. In teases before and during the program, they announce a story but leave out some essential detail, to create a sense of mystery and motivate viewers to stay tuned. They choose and emphasize stories that have dramatic content or exciting video.


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