Home » General » Exit Gatekeepers, Enter Gatewatchers

The transformation of the linear, news communication model into masses of interlinked and complicated information avenues with no real leaders or authority has completely destroyed the established gatekeeping paradigm.

Historically, media such as print, radio and TV, given their inherent strictures of available column space, airtime or transmission frequencies, have always found it necessary to have established mechanisms which police these “gates” and select events to be reported according to specific criteria of newsworthiness.

The policing process, commonly referred to as gatekeeping, is each media house’s handbook or manual on what is, and what is not news.

Gatekeeping is defined as the process by which selections are made in media work, especially decisions whether or not to admit a particular news story to pass through the “gates” of a news medium into the news channels.

Gatekeeping has been effective for many years, but lately, the entire process, particularly for print newspapers, has been subject to much scrutiny.

Since the aent of online news, the reporting speed required of news services has also increased steadily, making gatekeepers even more likely to rely on prepared material from this “fifth estate”, the techno-savvy citizen journalists rather than spending time and money on their own, independent research.

Relating to the above-mentioned limitations, one media expert accurately observed that, “the gatekeeping concept, despite its usefulness and its potential for dealing with many different situations, has a built-in limitation in its implication that news arrives in ready-made and unproblematic event-story form at the ‘gates’ of the media, where it is either admitted or excluded. The gatekeeping framework is largely based on the assumption … that there is a given, finite, knowable reality of events in the ‘real world’, from which it is the task of the media to select according to appropriate criteria of representativeness or relevance”.

The internet is also providing so much information that readers are now less reliant on what passes through the gates of the mainstream news organisations.

Readers now have the choice to completely bypass print content and turn directly to first-hand information providers including social media.

The “gates” are no longer the responsibility of just the news organisations – information providers, including bloggers, Facebook users and tweeters are among billions of new gatekeepers.

The end user too, by virtue of having the choice to choose what to consume, constantly acts as hisher own gatekeeper.

The transformation of the linear, news communication model into masses of interlinked and complicated information avenues with no real leaders or authority has completely destroyed the established gatekeeping paradigm.

In the traditional print and broadcast media, all the news that is appropriate to print and that can be made to fit into the available channel space will be considered.

News coverage in traditional news media is always limited by the technical and commercial limitations of broadcast and print news channels.

The need for journalists and editors to combine the reports of various news sources into a single news story because of limited space is enough proof that gatekeeping has its limitations.

In direct contrast, space is easily and widely available on the internet therefore, space considerations provide no immediate reason to stringently police the gates of online news publish- ing.

Online newspapers’ coverage of an issue may consist simply of an introductory report with further links to more detailed information and to various contrasting views on the issue.

The availability of this multitude of alternative viewpoints as expressed in other websites also means that there exists “external diversity”.

Under “external diversity”, online newspapers have to present facts but are not obliged to maintain impartiality in their reporting since the assumption is that there will be alternative media to tell the story from another point of view.

Online news operations are therefore not primarily charged with an obligation to report objectively and impartially, or to work to a set amount of column inches or airtime like traditional media, but rather are entrusted with evaluating what is “reliable” information in all the topical fields they cover.

Online newspapers therefore hardly have the capacity or interest in being gatekeepers.

Rather, as part publishers and part navigators, the online newspapers’ personnel can become gatewatchers.

The job of gatewatchers is to publicise news by pointing to sources using hyperlinks and other tools, rather than publish it by attempting to compile reports based on information from available sources.

While maintaining the benefits of gatekeeping, specifically the ability to provide readers with an overview of current key news, gatewatching addresses several problems inherent in the gatekeeper approach.

Stories have the potential to be more deeply informative, since readers are able to explore the source materials directly, and in full.

Additionally, gatewatching ensures that the newsgathering process becomes more transparent, and readers are not prevented from checking a report’s sources for themselves, but are instead encouraged to do so.

Gatewatchers do not require significant journalistic skills, but instead need to have more general online research skills, therefore pointing users towards the direction of where the news is, instead of “repackaging” benefits both the reader and the online news organisations.

Source : The Herald