The Gatekeeping Theory


Undoubtedly, globalization has significantly changed the cultural landscape of the world. Since the 20th century, scientists have been trying to comprehend multivariate and perplexing factors that altered the content of the mass media. In the 20th century, the gatekeeping theory was developed as the conceptual framework that had a collective influence on the media. Media gatekeeping has been well researched. It is widely known that media content sometimes considerably differs from the reality. Thus, a wide range of stories is selected very carefully regarding audience interests, political norms, and other organizational factors. Also, it is known that media content is skewed to find news stories that evoke some feelings in the audience, such as hatred, peace, anger, fear, love, tears, or pity. Thus, according to the gatekeeping theory, news is presented thought the mirror of sensation, conflict, or unusualness. It is worth mentioning that the efforts of Kurt Lewin as well as other prominent writers, editors, journalists and scholars to systematize a gatekeeping process are very rich and scientifically vital. However, synthesis of multivariate factors of the gatekeeping theory is still methodologically and theoretically limited. Most scientists claim the gatekeeping theory is very limited in its descriptive feature of modern media environment, since its prime role was to depict the media system of the 20th century. For instance, the influences of the Internet and other communication technologies have not been fully researched. It is very important to analyze the evolution of the gatekeeping process as a main function of participatory journalism. Thus, the results of this study can advance the evolution of the mass media and contribute to a better comprehension of the influence of the Internet on the transformation of the information and its spread to the public. In this paper, the gatekeeping theory will be researched taking into account the principles of social network in the 21st century.

Definition of the Gatekeeping Theory

Gatekeeping is the process of selecting and culling information into the limited parts that reach the audience every day. A media message is usually selected by one person or a group of people according the level of its importance. The most prominent media scientists claim that the gatekeeping theory is very relevant in modern mass media environment because of the advent of “weblogs” and the Internet that will return the gatekeeping process to the foremost positions. The role of the selector of the information, or a gatekeeper, is very important since this person decides which information is relevant to the audience and which information will go forward. In other words, the gatekeeper evaluates information according to a hierarchy of needs. It is necessary to indicate that a gatekeeper controls public consciousness and knowledge since he sorts the information: some may not be published and some may be aired in a very colorful manner. Undoubtedly, information about political topics, disasters, and other controversial issues will always be trendy and will be selected by a gatekeeper since this kind of information will definitely attract the audience (it does not matter what feelings/ emotions the news will cause). On the other hand, romantic stories may be seen as not very important, as a result they will be discarded from the news. It is clear that gatekeeper’s role is sometimes very useful, since the information is selected according to main public interests. However, sometimes a gatekeeper can be dangerous, since he can present an abuse of power; thus, it will lead to the situation when some vital news is not published. It is necessary to mention that a gatekeeper himself cannot decide what information will be presented. There are a lot of other important aspects that significantly influence selection of information.

Development of the Gatekeeping Theory

Kurt Lewin, the Gestalt psychologist, founded the gatekeeping theory. He studied how housewives made decisions about purchasing certain food and delivered it into a table. The channels or the gates are identified as barriers that allow or prevent food from being delivered to a dining table. It is evident that the first application of the gatekeeping model was not connected with mass communication and mass media; however, Lewin stresses on the vitality of application of his breakthrough in news circumstances (Lasorsa, 2002).

David White also influenced the development of the gatekeeping theory in 1950. He firstly introduced the concept of subjectivity in media. It means that not every event that happens in the world is necessary published. Gieber introduced the notion of the wire editor who selected and published information. Gieber also found out that daily routine influenced the gatekeeping process. For instance, the news will not be selected analytically and critically if the editor wants to meet the deadline. The main impact of Gieber was his study of forces that influence the editors’ choice of topics. Other vital research was conducted by McNelly who pointed out that journalists not the editor played a dominant role in news selection (Lasorsa, 2002). They are the sources of information which will be transmitted into publications later. Bass criticized McNell’s research. He said it was too simple. Bass firstly introduced the concept of double newsflow. This model can be explained by two features, such as the flow of the news from raw material to the ready for publication articles. Also, Bass accentuates attention on the vitality of people who gather and process the news (Reese & Ballinger, 2000). Thus, it is clear that he divided the gatekeepers into two groups. Bass pays attention to the vitality of news gathering, since carefully chosen topics may become sensations for the media institutions. The 20th century market is the first platform for the gatekeeping studying and analysis. In this century, the notions of gatekeepers, gates, forces, influence, and mass communication were developed.

Advancement in the Gatekeeping Theory

Undoubtedly, the advent of the Internet has influenced the gatekeeping theory considerably. The digital era and technological advancement highly challenge the gatekeeping process since the role of a gatekeeper as a controller of the situation is not clear. Moreover, in the new means of media, such as the Internet, it is difficult to follow transparency and authenticity of the information. Anyone can publish the news. As a result, the role of newspapers and other traditional mass media types are altered. The advent of the weblogs precipitates the rapid flow of information to the potential users. However, no one can understand how to control and influence this flow because there is clearly no gatekeeper. Journalists have got absolute freedom: they can deliver their messages to different segments of population. The news is published not according to the needs of society but regarding the opinions of ordinary people who can publish what they want and how they want. In this case, it is clear that the news found in the news blogs sometimes is not checked by media authorities. As a result, people can trust what they read (this information may not be true at all). In this case, it is highly recommended to analyze how gatekeeping model can control weblogs. On the other hand, it will be very useful to apply the gatekeeping theory to the analysis of information. In most cases, journalists do not publish the real picture of the event because they are afraid of politicians or other authorities. However, the advent of the Internet and weblogs has given them freedom in their publishing. Thus, weblogs are on the way to become a credible source of the news. Weblogs can become serious contender to traditional media. In this case, it is a great idea to research the types of gatekeepers in weblogs and in the Internet. Moreover, it will be interesting to analyze how the information is selected and spread to the potential audience. Finally, it will also be important to investigate the gates of information published in the Internet.

The Future of the Gatekeeping Theory

The gatekeeping theory studies the flow of information from mass media to the audience. Journalists as well as other media workers are identified as “mediators” or gatekeepers of the information, since they select and deliver the news. In this case, it is clear that the gatekeepers can control and create social reality, since people get to know about world news from the media. Based on the news presented, people make their minds about the surrounding world. The Internet is defined as a new means of mass media that provides people (audience) with interactive conversation and two-way communication. It is evident that the Internet enables its users to be active participants in the news share. The users can easily talk with their friends, bosses, and even organizations by using the Internet. The interactive feature of the Internet has significantly precipitated the flow of information. Some scientists claim that the gatekeeping theory cannot be applied to Internet, since the flow of news in the Internet is totally uncontrollable. On the other hand, the Internet has marked a new field of studying to the gatekeeping theory, because it introduces a new stage of researching the users of the Internet as examples of secondary gatekeepers. Looking at the above mentioned information, it becomes clear that the Internet gives a birth to a new type of gatekeepers, secondary gatekeepers. Any user of the Internet is already included in the list of gatekeepers because they find, select, post, and share their news.

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Early results of the studying of the gatekeeping theory within the framework of the digital era have shown that the traditional role of gatekeepers was totally altered because of new technologies and the Internet. The prime role of gatekeepers to select information to the audience was changed due to the vitality of rapid transfer of information. Nowadays, the news presented in the Internet is not often checked and does not correspond to the reality. However, this news was delivered to a big audience within short period of time. Moreover, now one can see the tendency that the Internet has precipitated the process of interactivity between people. As a result, the role of gatekeepers may be diminished since people get rapid access to information. Traditional gatekeepers must rethink how to make decisions more properly and publish information in a new way.

Despite the fact that the Internet has changed the way people get information, the role of gatekeepers as credible publishers of relevant news is still vital. For instance, people will not trust unreliable bloggers and new websites, because they do not know if the published information corresponds to the reality. People trust only those media means that they know. The credibility of the prime role of gatekeepers is still relevant nowadays. It is necessary to notice that in spite of Internet unlimited power, the gatekeepers still control the mainstream of information. For instance, publications about the Clinton-Lewinsky treatment have evoked numerous scandals in the mass media. At that time, a lot of information was published about this heated topic. However, people cast doubts if the information was true. It is clear that exposition of the Internet news does not guarantee that the audience seriously believes this information. Thus, the gatekeepers still control the news flow and agenda. Some scientists claim that the modern gatekeeping theory can use Internet communities as gatekeepers. Internet communities research what information is vital for their public and then send links and posts to the users. Thus, the gatekeeping theory helps to identify what information is popular among certain individuals. Also, nowadays there is a new type of gatekeepers known as gate watchers who will substitute the prime role of the gatekeeper. According to the definition, the gate watcher is a wire editor who controls the flow of information. 

Moreover, the future of the gatekeeping theory is seen in open publishing system. The main aim of this system is to post stories without the need of an editor to check it. However, community gatekeepers still control such publishing in order to decrease tension between the users who will not understand this information or will comprehend it as discrimination. Furthermore, some scientists claim that the gatekeeping power can be used in new Internet engines. There are websites that post information according to the needs of the seekers. The information is meticulously selected and posted under different titles. The companies that post this information use search engines in order to advertize their products, recruit new employees, and share the news about the events etc. Thus, it is evident that these organizations earn money by advertizing like other gatekeeping mass media. The role of gates in this case is very vital since some companies will pay more to be placed on the first webpage.

What is more, nowadays scientists are trying to present the Network gatekeeping theory as a new model of the gatekeeping in the 21st century. This panel controls what information is transferred trough virtual channels. For example, at schools entertainment websites are blocked by gatekeepers. This new framework regulates the flow of information within institutions. Also, application of the Network gatekeeping theory can stop posts about wars, race tension, discrimination and other heated topic in some countries since they evoke bad emotions and hatred among public. Finally, it is worth mentioning that well-known newspapers such as the New York Times utilize really simple syndication (RSS) technology in order to make the process of information search easier. The readers of the New York Times can subscribe to RSS feed that will post information that is important or interesting to them. It is clear that RSS feeds will substitute classical gatekeeping navigators. The RSS feed model is successfully utilized by Google, YouTube, and Yahoo. Thus, new advanced technologies have not only changed the gates, but also human habits of seeking information.

Personal Opinion about the Future of the Gatekeeping Theory

I strongly believe that the gatekeeping theory can be widely applied to the studies of different media platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It can be explained by the following facts:

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  1. Facebook is one of the biggest websites that allows millions of people to reach information very quickly by logging in. On personal account, the news is published and changed within a couple of seconds. Moreover, Facebook allows its users to share information very rapidly. Taking into account the gatekeeping theory, it becomes clear that the users of Facebook are gatekeepers, since they select, post, and share information. Undoubtedly, this media platform is the biggest network system in the world that allows its users to operate in real time and makes sure that each voice is counted.
  2. Twitter provides its users with the rapid transfer of information. The users have a possibility to chat with their families, relatives, friends and other people by sending direct messages. However, there are gates. It is allowed to post only 140 characters per message. Thus, a message size is controlled. Also, Twitter is identified as immediate media platform, since it operates in real time. The users can post or follow updates. They are always informed about what is going on in the world. It is important to mention that the gatekeepers on Twitter influence the speed of information transmission. The influence of a gatekeeper on Twitter depends on the number of people. If a large amount of people can read the posted information, it means that users have lower authenticity, since they are not closely related to a gatekeeper on Twitter platform.
  3.  LinkedIn is identified as a business media platform that connects business people around the world. This digital platform primarily focuses on information exchange between colleagues, professionals, job hunters, job seekers, and others. LinkedIn has three main functions: to keep people in touch; to share business experience and knowledge through communication; and to conduct career management. The gates of LinkedIn may be seen in its subheadings, such as “Profile Headline”, “Company” etc. Thus, people post their information according to these gates.

Modern Studies of the Gatekeeping Theory

In the 21st century, Shoemaker, Eichholz, Kim, and Wrigley have been studying the gatekeeping theory. They represent the gatekeeping model in the institutions where internal and external power plays a pivotal role. Thus, it is clear that the scientists research the forces that influence the way the gatekeepers present information. They have been studying how the individual influences the institution and the institution influences the society withing the scope of the gatekeeping theory. Shoemaker et al. (2001) identify three main channels in modern journalism: source channel (organizations, individuals), media channel (journalists, editors, analysts), and audience channel (public that gets the information selected by the gatekeeper). Shoemaker et al. (2001) define gatekeepers as mass media authorities who select the information, determine which news must be published, and divide information into sections. The scholars opine that the gatekeeping theory is very important nowadays since globalization has significantly changed the speed of information transmission. Nowadays, there are billions of events; however, not all of them are published. It happens because a gatekeeper chooses the manageable size and number of stories that a reader/ viewer can understand and remember. Also, Shoemaker et al. (2001) point out that the gatekeeping model depicts the nature of the message that the audience gets. They think that in the near future, the gatekeepers will control the process of legacy media. Shoemaker et al. (2001) say that the gatekeeping theory of mass media helps to understand what ideologies, worldviews, and interpretations the media organization has.

It is known that Shoemaker et al. (2001) have researched the gatekeeping forces of the news analyzing the coverage of Congressional bills. They made two hypotheses, such as:

  1. Ordinary gatekeeping force will depend on the originality and clearness of bill’s cover.
  2. Individual media force will be related to bill’s cover.

These scientists have studied journalists’ and editors’ characteristics. According to the results of this work, it is clear that news about a bill is more important than the journalists’ individual characteristics. 

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