Gatekeeping in the Wake of New Media.

Gatekeeping is the process of selecting, and then filtering, items of media that can be consumed by a particular audience within a specific time and space.

Image credits: Pixabay

The gatekeeper decides what information should move past them to the group and what information should not. Examples of gatekeepers in the media are editors, producer, reporters, directors etc. Gate-keeping as a word was coined by Kurt Lewin in 1943, who was a social psychologist.

The Gatekeeper decides what information should be disseminated and what information should not. Here, the gatekeeper is the decision maker who lets the whole social system. They establish something like a hierarchy that will be used to determine what is relevant for the audience or not. These decisions depend on the underlying social, cultural, ethical and political happenings at the moment.

For instance, in Kenya, gatekeeping should set a specific standard for information value. In a world where “fake news” often competes with “real news,” gate-keeping needs to be programmed to tell the differences between the two types of content so that only the preferred information is consumed.

An example can be in the news or press area. The news editor plays the role of the gatekeeper. S/he has to decide which kind of news stories will be aired and in which manner and which ones won’t. Some, if not all media outlets have their own set of house rules, ethics or policies to be followed. These are some of the aspects that will guide the editor towards making an informed decision. In some cases some news items are rejected by the editor due to the organization's house policy or the news items which are not suitable for publishing, this is also considered part of the gate-keeping function.

Just like other theories, the gate-keeping theory does receive backlash and criticism too. The most basic one being that the theory suggests there is only one gate, but in reality, there might be many. Only because other avenues have not been explored or identified, it doesn't mean there is only one gatekeeper.

Another critic is that editors and other gatekeepers change the priority of news causing influence in societies like racism, sexism, and classism. This is because they might want to achieve or to shape society in a particular way.

Gate-keeping has become less in today’s news broadcast due to internet media and people posting anything and everything. In an era where we can get access to real news before the mainstream media breaks it, we don’t rely on gate-keeping hence they seem irrelevant.

What should the journalist keep?

There is this famous claim that the journalist’s first loyalty is to the truth. This is one of the most confusing of the principles. I think truthful reporting is critical to the quality of information. One of its key attributes is that it is reliable because that is what allows individuals to use it to interpret and make decisions appropriate to each social context.

New era

Has the emergence of social media raised gate-keeping concerns?

Social media platforms have become important sources of information for many people. The major criticism that is always levelled at digital media has been the uneven quality of the news (or information) available on the Internet. This is because there does exist an effective way to separate fact from prejudice and rumour and to detect something with a value within multiple sources with unreliable or inaccurate contents because everyone on these platforms is a potential publisher.

This accusation might not be valid. Let us, for instance, take a look some 500 years ago during the days of Gutenberg. The only method that information way relayed was on a written piece. Something that made the then generation believe in a specific truth as peddled by the author because there was no one or no other way to validate. At the moment, we have moved to a different age. A period that redefines the concepts and values of journalism. We need to realize that when we moved from the industrial age to the information and new media age: fragmentation of audiences, a lot of dependence on new media, control of users through interactivity(something the tech companies are investing into) we the things to shape either the orientation or instrumental journalism.

The instrumental journalism provides specialized and functional information to an interested audience; This is journalism that stresses the what and the how. The focus is on the mechanism of producing content and the type of, often unique, content they produce. The instrumental journalism, on the other hand, provides the public with a general orientation. This stresses on the who and the why.

In both cases, the authors acknowledge that journalism is an activity no longer occurring in the isolation of media organizations: on the other hand they admit that this activity has to be undertaken in plain sight of the information consumers and even to some extent with their unlimited cooperation.

Though there are many changes, the search for truth (the journalist’s first loyalty) remains the goal — but the conditions under which this will be achieved have changed. When there is greater ease of access to the production of information, it means that a lot of parties both at an individual or as a collective responsibility are able to produce and make it available on digital media for consumption depending with the audience demographics. In return, these scenarios lead to a type of journalism that tends to take into account as many points of view as possible, even the most marginalized and extreme no matter the circumstances.

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