There is little argument that mass media news projects a particular point of view. The question is how that bias is formed. Most media critics look to the attitudes of reporters and editors, the covert news policy of a publisher, or the outside pressures of politicians and advertisers. Manufacturing the News takes a different tack. Mark Fishman’s research shows how the routine methods of gathering news, rather than any hidden manipulators, determine the ideological character of the product.
News organizations cover the world mainly through “beats,” which tend to route reporters exclusively through governmental agencies and corporate bureaucracies in their search for news. Crime, for instance, is covered through the police and court bureaucracies; local politics through the meetings of the city council, county commissioners, and other official agencies. Reporters under daily deadlines come to depend upon these organizations for the predictable, steady flow of raw news material they provide.
It is part of the function of such bureaucracies to transform complex happenings into procedurally defined “cases.” Thus the information they produce for newsworkers represents their own bureaucratic reality. Occurrences which are not part of some bureaucratic phase are simply ignored. Journalists participate in this system by publicizing bureaucratic reality as hard fact, while accounts from other sources are treated as unconfirmed reports which cannot be published without time-consuming investigation.
Were journalists to employ different methods of news gathering, Fishman concludes, a different reality would emerge in the news—one that might challenge the legitimacy of prevailing political structures. But, under the traditional system, news reports will continue to support the interests of the status quo independently of the attitudes and intentions of reporters, editors, and news sources.