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The failures of journalistic beats in newspapers.

MDSA01 Assignment #1
by

Terra Rodaro

on 12 October 2012

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Transcript of The failures of journalistic beats in newspapers.

The failures of journalistic beats in newspapers. by: Terra Rodaro The news causes us to think, but often we forgot to think back upon the news. Regardless of what theorists views we treasure, or what hypothesis we come across each day, critical analysis is what allows us to dive deeper into the human intellect and distinguish ourselves as thinkers, not just doers. The daily newspaper dates back to the 1400s and the invention of Gutenberg’s movable printing press. (1) Centuries later, the newspaper is still considered one of the most popular forms of media we encounter everyday. Unfortunately, although the world is changing daily, the newspaper appears to be stuck it a repetitive rut. Marxist and organizational analysis give great insight into why journalistic beats not just shape, but govern the news we read today, specifically in a daily edition of the Toronto Star from October 3rd, 2012. Torstar Corporation, under a division of Star Media Group, owns the Toronto Star Newspapers LTD. Torstar, like any other company with a high profit motive consists of horizontal integration in printed media with ownership of other newspapers across the country and publishing house Harlequin Enterprises Ltd.(2) It is this profit motive that can be used to explain the lack of diversity in the places and stories covered in a daily edition of the Toronto Star. Journalistic beats are defined by Ott and Mack as the places and institutions where “news” is “expected” to occur on any given day, such as police stations and courthouses.(3) To the untrained eye this may appear as an issue separate from money, but an analytical look proves otherwise. On a superficial level, reporting on issues from one place daily saves time, work and travel expenses. On a deeper level, reporting on what is typical, on what the audience come to expect, simply saves companies from conflict. And saving companies from disapproving audiences, or what Herman and Chomsky refers to as “flak”, saves a company money.(4) It is this thought process that created Marxist’s logic of safety, that “nothing succeeds like success”. (5) Newspapers follow a pattern because the pattern sells, and the alternative of printing something original is just not worth the risk. Ironically, journalistic beats are not hidden from audiences like other media ploys often are. The beats come in the form of newspaper leafs, physically separated from each other with titles exclaiming exactly what you’re going to get. The beats of this Toronto Star newspaper include GTA, Life & Entertainment, Sports and Business- each with its own numbering system and physical booklet. Interestingly, these “topics” are not limited to the textile newspaper, but even characterizes the related Toronto Star website, star.com, as links to separate website sections. Similar to the newspaper organization, journalists undergo strong professionalization and begin to identify themselves not as writers of the news, but instead as writers of their specific beat, such as “Sally Ann from Business”. So why doesn’t the public understand they are getting cookie cutter stories, from cookie cutter locations? Because that is simply all we are used to. The Toronto Star is not unique in its use of categories in it’s newspapers, but rather follow the newspaper mathematical formula used by small towns, big cities or even country wide papers. It is this homogeneity, the decrease in diversity, that fails us as consumers. It is our duty to collect all information, from as many view points as possible, and only then form our own opinions. When newspapers have tunnel vision for what is “news worthy”, we in turn have an even smaller hole of vision for what is important. On a smaller focus, individual articles in this edition of the Toronto Star prove the lack of variety in following journalistic beats. In the opening leaf alone, 38% of articles were about politics, 34% crime related and 17% regarding health care and science. That leaves a measly 11% to miscellaneous topics that were limited to religion and educational institutions. It is not hard to recognize where the most energy and money is used- to reporting of politics and criminal justice. It is even more unnerving that political news often comes in the form of pundits and press releases, or in other words, news reporting without the work. Real news doesn’t have a date and an RSVP, or show up in your e-mail box every morning for mere editing and printing. With such a large focus on politics and crime, a blind eye is surely given to the news more important to home. And in turn, by dictating what gets printed everyday, we are taught to think as whole rather than the individuals were born to be. Journalistic beats are out dated, as explained in the essay On Elephants. Obsessions and Wicked Problems: A New Phenomenology of News by Gideon Lichfield.(6) In an attempt to sell his way of news reporting, he touches on some important failures in the beat structure. Beats are now not guidelines for printing, but obsessions. An obsession is defined by dictionary.com as the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image, desire etc.(7) The key here is the obsession with a specific “idea” rather than a genre of information. When newspaper companies are consumed by these obsessions they are more concerned with filling paper space than with what is “significant”. Just as nightly news television shows must fill 42 minutes, newspapers will fill the pages, in between the never-ending advertisements, with reports lacking serious standards. A prime example can be found on the front page of the Business section with an article entitled “New Popcorn brands popping up all over”.(8) Aside from the horrible pun is a story found on not one, but two pages of the newspaper solely for the purpose of a new popcorn brand being sold in Ontario grocery stores At a time when resources were limited, newspapers and their generic beats were a sensation. Unfortunately, we are now in a world always on the go and the news needs to be able to keep up with the hectic lives of the everyday public. And specifically, news not limited to the political debate, or the murder that happened a week prior. News is on every street corner, on a minute-to-minute basis from a variety of walks of life. True ground breaking news takes digging, prying, and meddling to find what has never been found before. The mold has become smaller and smaller and needs to be broken before the news is ever treasured again. References:
1)Ott B.L. and Mack R.L. (2010) Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. Pg.3.
2)Toronto Star. Retrieved October 5, 2012 from Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Star
3)Ott B.L. and Mack R.L. (2010) Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. Pg.58.
4)Herman, Edward and Chomsky, Noam. (2001) A Propaganda Model in Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. Meenakshi Gigi Durham and Douglas M. Kellner, eds. Malden, MA: Blackwell.
5)Ott B.L. and Mack R.L. (2010) Critical Media Studies: An Introduction. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. Pg.37.
6)Lichfield G. (2012) On Elephants, Obsessions and Wicked Problems: A New Phenomenology of News. http://newsthing.net/2012/09/16/quartz-obsessions-phenomenology-of-news/
7)Obsessions. Retrieved October 5, 2012 from www.dictionary.com.
8)Toronto Star newspaper October 3, 2012 edition. Pages B1 and B5.
Photos:
Toronto Star Logo: http://goldenmileshopping.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/toronto_star_logo.jpg
Courthouse: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:NYC_-_New_York_County_Supreme_Courthouse.jpg
Newspaper background: http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photos-newspaper-blank-template-image17133913
Remaining photos scanned from October 3rd, 2012 edition of the Toronto Star newspaper.
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