What news is does not answer the question of “What is news?” The question mark might present the possibility for multiple answers, some of which may begin with “Well, it depends.”
During my first semester in doctoral school at Iowa we were asked in a Social Meanings of News class that question – “What is news?” We all knew it was a trick – that as first-years we would surely be missing the deeper answer to what appeared to be a simple question. By the end of the semester we were right about at least one thing: we had all defined “news” in terms of what reporters do, what we read, hear, see, or click on.
Several students left that class still not believing that news represents deeper, social and cultural meanings. But I was hooked. After more than 15 years as a reporter, I knew that there were routines, practices, and values that I followed, and I could articulate the sociological underpinnings of why and how we accepted such traditions. Yet, understanding the cultural meanings of news – concepts of interpretive community, collective memory, and the ideological work of the mass media – has been more of a challenging act.
Yet, it is in these cultural explanations that we can see the true work of news – to delineate what we “know to be true” from what we are “told as being true” in the news media’s presentation of our existence and the meanings of everyday life. There’s a long list of names already associated with the social and cultural meanings of news.
Indeed, the terms “social” and “cultural meanings of news” have been turned into book titles on the topic. Still, the cultural (and critical) studies of media are ripe with opportunities to explore the meanings of news and its purpose in society and culture.
I hope in addition to my research that this blog can connect current topics with a critical/cultural understanding of what news media mean. Instead of answering the question of “What is news” – which often is answered in the perspective of what qualifies as “good journalism” – I hope to explore “What news is” – a cultural institution.
I further hope that through reflecting upon my own journalistic experience I cannot only relate to media scholars, but also to other journalists to create change.