Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Frame analyses are often concerned with gatekeeper functions. Media operate simultaneously as both modern agenda setters (Entman, 1989) and orthodox gatekeepers of traditional norms and values. News outlets act as gatekeepers and interpreters of political themes by selectively choosing to cover one or both sides of an issue, putting forth their own interpretation. In the end, journalists and editors draw maps or internal story patterns for their readers, and these maps or frames serve to outline public debate and influence readers’ level of information (Gamson, 1985).

The gatekeeper process illustrates the gatekeeper’s role is highly biased based on his or her own set of experiences, attitudes, and expectations. In the study, “White News: Why Local News Programs Don’t Cover People of Color,” Heider (2000) observed two newsrooms, one in Honolulu, Hawaii, and one in Albuquerque, N. M.  He found that even in areas where people of color account for the majority of the population, those persons in charge of the news programming did not reflect the makeup of the population covered.

The researcher’s subsequent findings clarified that although people of color sat in news meetings in both newsrooms, their positions did not include leadership authority. The result is the presentation of a world dominated by men and male concerns where the voices of minorities and women are treated as marginal and peripheral (Ross, 2002).

One can assess an event’s importance by how much material is available and its prominence. Graber (1988) noted that readers of traditional newspapers use importance cues such as location, visual size, and story length provided by editors to guide their decisions in selecting news articles.

The gatekeeper effect becomes problematic when minority issues are ignored because readers look to texts for ideas about issues that are most important. People recognize issues frames on the understanding they have of words and symbols within their own cultural sphere.

This idea led to the developmental concept of the ‘‘news net,’’ which Graber defines as a figurative mesh that is cast over a coverage area to capture news items. However, it is an image of an old, worn-out net in which the holes are uneven; some are larger than others. She asserts that if the holes in the mesh are too large, a lot of non-mainstream or alternative information slips through, or, large quantities of news about blacks is simply not captured by the traditional news net.

The gatekeeper affect is especially relevant today when, via blogs, journalists may publish their own information without a gatekeeper to modulate the finished product. Because of the gatekeeper effect, one of the more important areas of framing is sizing, or perceived importance of the issue. When considering sizing or emphasis, framing essentially involves selection and salience. Whether consciously or subconsciously, a communicator, or journalist, provides salience to some ideas over others.

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