Authenticity, reasonableness and simple issue-focused messages are three of the main things that journalists take into account when choosing whether to cover or not a voluntary organization movement. According to Sarah Sobieraj in her article “Reporting Conventions: Journalists, Activists, and the Thorny Struggle for Political Visibility”[1], the negotiation of newsworthiness is not the same between reporters and political insiders than it is with outsiders. She distinguishes two different criteria applied by journalists depending on what type of event they’re dealing with. When selecting a piece of news coming from a political insider they look for legitimacy of the source, importance and relevance. Whereas, when it comes to cover an outsider performance like a social movement demonstration, they look for authenticity, and by that I’m referring to the “perfomance’s credibility or sincerity and its ability to come off as natural and effortless to observers”[2].

With that being said, one may think that journalists don’t care if politicians aren’t authentic as long as they obtain the interview or gain access to their conventions, conferences, etc. But from my perspective, I have to disagree with that assumption. I strongly believe that journalists do care about authenticity, after all it’s a quality and an ethical value internalized by society: citizens expect each other and their representatives to be authentic, either they are in front of a camera or not. So reporters’ requirement of authenticity is not an isolate filter applied only to social movements. I think they would ask for it to everybody that gets covered somewhere somehow, but the problem is what’s at stake. When dealing with political insiders, journalists’ main concern is to get access and cover what the insiders say and do. Not because they’re authentic, but because they’re legitimate sources that have importance and relevance to society. And those two values come first than authenticity in this case. A reporter can’t stop covering the president’s speech merely because he thinks he’s not being authentic. The media has to play the role of informing the public sphere about what’s going on in the highest circles of power and authority. Besides, if they happen to not cover an important political insider, the most probable outcome would be that they won’t have access to him or her anymore. And that’s the root of this symbiotic relationship between the media and politicians that Timothy Cook talks about in Governing with the News. “Reporters constantly gravitate towards ‘persons in a position to know’ ”[3] because they have authority. “Officials are big fish”[4], they enable reporters to know when and where news happens, who are the people involved, what’s going to happen to next. To sum up, media can’t afford to ignore political insiders’ events, even if they’re not authentic. In that case, the politician would pay the price of it by not conveying the meaning of his message successfully due to a “lack of fusion with the audience”, like cultural sociologist Jeffrey Alexander would say.

Is it true then what Sobieraj says about a different set of rules being applied to voluntary organizations newsworthiness? My answer in this case would be no. And to explain myself better we should start by taking into consideration the seven factors, better known as news values, to determine an event’s newsworthiness. Impact, timeliness, prominence, proximity, the bizarre, conflict, currency and human interest[5]. As we may notice, a political insider’s event complies with most of the news values I’ve just mentioned. Politicians have prominence because they’re widely known figures that have authority, their decisions and statements have usually great impact, they have proximity since their decisions affect us all as citizens, their events have timeliness since there’s always something new that just happened, they have conflict since they usually involve “public anger or bitter disagreement over fundamental issues”[6] and so on. Whereas when we face toward a political outsider event like social movements, most probably they would have to appeal to the bizarre, conflict or human interest to raise their newsworthiness. They lack most of political insiders’ inherent aspects like prominence, impact, and importance, which is not one of the seven values but according to Cook is also vital to newsworthiness. That’s why Sobieraj quotes reporters who are asking voluntary organizations to be disruptive, to be conflictive, to be emotional and have individual stories to share. Those are the values they can comply with, not the others. So my interpretation of Sobieraj’s article and ideas is that there aren’t two separate standards that reporters deploy to determine newsworthiness. It’s the very same standard and the different insiders or outsiders comply with different criteria in the very same set of rules.

Obviously, some sources are harder to find than others, especially those who comply with the requirements for prominence and impact like political insiders do. Thus, reporters can’t ignore these sources, because they’re legitimate, they have authority, they’re important. And what one congressman may say or do it’s important in itself because of the position he occupies. Whereas, journalists can easily ignore a voluntary organization if its message is not good or strong enough.  The media can be more picky or exquisite then when it comes to political outsiders because they don’t need to cover them to gain access to them. Voluntary organizations need reporters more than reporters need them. But regarding political insiders, they (with the media) mutually need each other. That is why journalists chose to cover them even if they are being inauthentic or unclear making broad social structural critiques and giving confusing messages. Because it’s not about what they’re saying but who is saying it. Whereas when it comes to social movements is rather quite the opposite. The “who” can be simply and rapidly replaced: there are hundreds of organizations waiting to get their message out there, so they’d better have a good simple and reasonable message if you they want to obtain media coverage.

Apart from that, it’s of vital importance to add that the validity of theses news values may and should be put into question. Besides, do all journalists agree with them? Is this whole process of newsmaking democratic? Does it enrich citizen participation and public opinion or it impoverishes it instead? These questions are also part of my great concern and eventually, if given the opportunity, I would like to address them too in further publications.

[1] Sobieraj, S. 2010. Reporting Conventions: Journalists, Activists and the Thorny Struggle for Political Visibility. Social Problems.

[2] Grazian, Grazian, David. 2003. Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Extracted from Sobieraj, S. 2010. Reporting Conventions: Journalists, Activists and the Thorny Struggle for Political Visibility. Social Problems. Page 513.

[3] Cook, T. 2005. Governing with the News. The University of Chicago Press. Page 92.

[4] Idem, page 93.

[5] http://www2.uncp.edu/home/acurtis/Courses/ResourcesForCourses/NewsValues.html

[6] Ibidem


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