The Analysis Of Media Personnel Media
Media organisations and occupations lie right at the heart of any study of mass communications, for they embody the processes through which the output of media comes into being (Gallagher, 1982). The assumption that media messages and images constitute a powerful social, cultural and political force dominates both public debate and perspectives of research in the field of mass communication. As such, the question of how media content is produced and the factors which influence this leads to the study of media organisations and the people who work in them - media professionals (Dickinson, 1996). It has been argued that the way media professionals view themselves and their role in society has an important impact on the ways in which they approach their everyday work.
Media practitioners, like workers in any other field operate within a set of systems. This essay will attempt to define "professionalisation" and look at the how those employed in the media conceive themselves and the impacts such views have upon the operations of the media organisations in which they work. It will also examine how 'professionalisation' of media occupations is measured as well as the factors that impede the realisation of professional aspirations. Additionally, ideas of professionalism and how it influences and affects media coverage of important issues will also be considered.
Gallagher (1982) offers three definitions of the professional - firstly the 'expert' as opposed to the 'amateur'; secondly as rationale, bureaucratic, efficient-embodying an ethic of 'service' to a client of the public generally; and thirdly, someone whose work invests organisations with a set of moral values and norms. Each definition serves to highlight the fact that the idea of being a professional is often seen as a way of creating a distinction between those who are seen as 'professional' employees and other (such as cleaners etc) whose work is not considered to bestow the supposedly positive elements of professionalism onto their work. Dickinson (1996) notes that there are several attributes generally held to distinguish professions from other occupations. However, he adds that more recent approaches use the concept of the 'professional project' to account for the 'professionalisation' of certain occupations commonly held to be professions (p. 11).
The extent to which media professionals bring an aura of prestige to their work is often debatable. In fact, many researchers have questioned the extent to which media industries, which are deemed 'professional' actually deserve that label. Elliot (1977) argues that claims to being professional within certain media contexts are merely claims at being competent. He sees professionalism as a way of 'mystifying' everyday activities of certain media roles or jobs. He suggests that the fact that many of the activities in organisations are attributed the label 'profession' does little more than bestow on them a greater level of cultural and social credibility. Elliot links the need to achieve this status with the fact that most of those employed in roles that strive for professional status emanate from middle-class backgrounds where the social distinction of being a 'professional' is of great importance.
Elliot (1977) argues:
Claims to professionalism in journalism are based on such routine competences as factual accuracy, speed at meeting deadlines, style in presentation and a shared sense of news values. Professionalism in media occupations therefore is adapting to the dilemmas of role conflict by which skill and competence in the performance of routine tasks becomes elevated to occupational ideal (pp. 149-150).
Dickinson (1996) agrees with Elliot and explains that while certain personnel in media organisations do not exhibit the attributes of the traditional professions, it is not to say that 'professionalism' is unimportant in the context of media production. However, Dickinson suggests that unlike other workers in occupations which meet the qualifying criteria of 'professionals' in the 'professional project', 'media professions are not, in the sociological sense, professions at all' (p.12).
The focus on the 'doing' of a job has important repercussions within the realm of the media. The concentration upon carrying out of tasks in a particular, accepted way allows media professionals to lay claim to a certain distance from the material they are working with. Dickinson (1996) notes that there is a certain 'routinization' in media organisations, despite the claims of journalists to the randomness and unpredictability of their occupation. 'The overriding feature of news work is its routine nature, structured as it is around a clearly identifiable cycle of planning, gathering, selection and presentation'(Dickinson, 1996, p.20).
This in turn leads to concentration on questions of form, under the guise of 'how things are done' at the expense of issues of content which becomes an almost free-standing and transparent reality. Elliot (1977) goes on to argue that this leads to the idea that 'professional broadcasters may distance themselves from the content and disclaim for the message' and further suggests that the idea that something is unsuitable, and the perceived ability of professionals to judge what that material may be, are not necessarily self evident, therefore their claim to be able to do so is a highly ideological one. Elliot links this with claims to moral leadership. He suggests that this involves the professionals positioning themselves as the one who knows the needs of the client or the public better than they do themselves. He argues that 'the effectiveness of professionalism as a mechanism of social control over aspects of social life involving conflict and change rests primarily on such claims' (1977, p. 152). What Elliot is suggesting is that the idea of media professionalism is strongly linked with the media's ability to present itself as an arbiter of good taste and correct behaviour.
White's (1950) concept of the 'gatekeeper' as a metaphor for an individual media professional's role in the process of news selection. By observing and interviewing the individual responsible for initial story selection, White was able to show that 'Mr. Gates' exercised his own highly subjective and idiosyncratic judgements to filter news agency materials. White's study was the first to suggest that news was best understood as a manufactured product, fashioned by individuals following working routines and conventions.
However, White's study has been criticised by many for being too narrow in its treatment of communicators whom it casts as agents for system maintenance and control:
Processes of 'gatekeeping' in mass communications maybe viewed within a framework of a total social system, made up of a series of subsystems whose primary concerns include the control of information in the interests of gaining other social ends (Donahue et al., 1972, p.42).
Dickinson (1996) highlights two main objections to the 'gatekeeper' approach. He notes that there are several different routes via which the 'raw material' for media work can arrive in the media organisation and the fact that in modern media production the process taking place within the organisation involve a variety of personnel who are at least as important in shaping the media product as those in the initial filtering process. Negus (1991), discusses the limitations of the 'gatekeeper' concept when applied to the music industry and shares Bourdieu's (1986) 'cultural intermediary' view which suggests that media workers, at least those involved in the recording industry, are best thought of as 'collaborators' rather than 'gatekeepers' working together in the creation of media products.
The workers involved, the artists and those in studio recording, marketing, advertising, and public relations, all contribute to the formation of the 'product' as it is finally consumed. The boundary between the recording industry and the potential artists is not so much a gate where aspiring stars must wait to be selected and admitted, but a web of relationships stretched across a shifting soundtrack of musical, verbal and visual information (p. 46).
Additionally, Dickinson (1996) notes that recent research (Morrison and Tumber, 1988; Blumler, 1991; Schlesinger and Tumber, 1994) have shown that the 'gatekeeper' idea also overlooks and underestimates the role of individuals and agencies outside media organisations in contributing to and controlling the flow of material into the production processes. However, he concludes that White's study must be remembered for drawing attention to the fact that news organisations depend on a steady flow of material from news suppliers. 'What has changed since the 1940s is that news sources and source organisations - such as political parties, the military and the police - have become more adept at anticipating media needs and contributing to the steady flow of media material' (p.11).
In their quest to gain control over their occupations, media personnel often encounter challenges and limits which arise from external constraints imposed on media organisations, the nature and public image of media occupations, the responses of media personnel to these, and the constraints imposed on them by the organisations in which they work thereby questioning the extent of autonomy in media occupations (Dickinson, 1996, pp. 12-13).
Gallagher (1982) notes that a central feature of mass communication organisations is their ambivalent relationship to other sources of power in society. Mass communicators are typically characterised as a potentially powerful social group with access to scare societal resources - the channels of communication. This power, however, is exercised in the context of a network of public controls and constraints external to the organisation. Such controls are used to counterbalance the potentially disruptive power of mass communicators: access to large diffuse audiences, for instance, could be used to threaten accepted social distributions of knowledge and ideas which, in stable societies, tend to be integrated with established hierarchies of power and social control. Dickinson (1996) adds that media organisations do not operate in a political and cultural vacuum and are influenced from outside influences in the pursuit of commercial and/or artistic success and public support.
Firstly, media organisations must be considered to be commercial operations. As Dickinson explains, even if they are not in the business of generating profit, the success of media organisations is measured by their capacity to deliver large or well defined audiences to advertisers or sponsors.
Secondly and probably the most crucial of all relationships which bind any media organisation to its society is that between the organisation and the government. In essence, this relationship is characterised by the links of both media and government to the electorate, whose support is necessary to both sets of institution. Elliot (1977) describes how the British broadcasting institutions' appeal to professionalism is made on the grounds that it is a guarantee of media autonomy and independence. From time to time all broadcasting organisations undergo reviews by the state in order to obtain re-licensing or re-charting. These periods of scrutiny have profound effects on all internal decision making over programmes, since the organisations tend to construct their programme schedules in ways designed to gain the political support of various sections of the community. Dickinson notes that during the periodic political crises that mark the BBC's history broadcasters have felt able to respond to attacks by the government by reiterating their professional competence and integrity as politically neutral observers. The BBC has for many years existed in a semi-permanent state of crisis brought on by its dependence on the state for the approval of its Royal Charter, and for agreement on the level of its licence fee. Developments in the structure of the communications industries - the introduction of 'new' television services and the fragmentation of audiences has made the situation worse. Apart from the imposition of overt control such as the restrictions on broadcasting reporting of paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland by the British Home Secretary, the state may also present implied threats to the continued autonomy of media organisations which can trigger protective strategies from them (Dickinson, 1996, p. 14).
Smith (1973) states that the story of broadcasting is in many ways a history of how broadcasting organisations set about the task of staying in business. The actual programmes reveal the institution's need as much as the interests of the audience (p. 59). The relationship with government means that the broadcasting organisation is constantly under review, at times under direct scrutiny, and occasionally - at least in the perception of the broadcasters under threat.
Gallagher (1982) argues that because of the close and complex relationship between media organisations and other dominant social and political institutions, the mass media will essentially tend to reinforce, even though they may ostensibly, or in passing, challenge or question, prevailing social and political hierarchies. She adds that it must also be clear, however, that the degree of reinforcement and the nature of controls within which it operates will vary enormously with differing historical and social circumstances. Tracey (1978) contends that the complexity of the relationship between the media and the dominant social institution is highlighted by 'alternate moments of apparent autonomy and real subjection' and argues that external controls or constraints on the mass media have functioned indirectly through 'the defining of impartiality, the underpinning of conventional forms and a commitment to the productive and consumptive practices of a commercial process,' rather than through the exercise of any direct authority. Instead, there operates, according to Burns (1977) a 'politics of accommodation,' in which the relationship between communication organisations and the central social authority is mediated by organisational conceptions of audience interests and the professional or occupational ideologies of the communicators themselves.
However, Gallagher argues that it cannot be assumed that mass communications organisations are directly or even particularly effectively controlled by other powerful social institutions:
External constraints for example, are paralleled by equally influential demands internal to organisations themselves. In part, these relate to the claims of individual communicators to a sense of professional autonomy and are manifested primarily in terms of intra-organisational conflict or tension. At the same time, this drive towards autonomy of independence is expressed collectively in organisational terms in the delicate set of balances which maintain the separation of media institutions from the apparatus of the state (p.157).
Overriding all these individual and organisational demands however, is the problem of survival as communication organisations are concerned to stay in business. Consequently, they are involved in a continual and evolving process of negotiation with other sources of civil or power. This means that the operation of a mass media organisation will be bounded by rules and conventions which may not be explicit, but which fit the prevailing notions about more general social organisation, and which are mediated by such factors as media ownership, finance, organisational conceptions of the audience, and the development of professional and occupational ideologies.
The fact that the structure and organisation of mass media institutions can be shown at least in a partial sense to arise from and be shaped by extrinsic factors has implications for the individuals who work within the media organisations. Mass communicators must operate within the context of institutionalised values and criteria for success, which are not simply the particular values of normative order in society (Gallagher, 1982). Moreover it can be argued that structural constraints are implicit in the social organisation of mass communicators and the ways the organisation helps or precludes the achievement of occupational goals.
The structural organisation of production is important primarily because of the way in which individual roles are defined. At the same time, the existence of creative, ambiguous roles within organisations of bureaucratic centralisation is a potential source of conflict or tension. Indeed the very terms 'structure' and 'organisation' imply a pressure towards bureaucratic methods of problem solution, methods make take various forms from the use of standardised decision making processes to the development of institutionalised expectations but whose aim is to deal with potentially conflict ridden situations or relationships (p.163).
It is often argued that the central dilemma for mass communicators concerns the extent to which large scale media organisations tends to 'bureaucratize' the creative roles of its members. Demands for stability, regularity and continuity may be said to drive media institutions towards the rationalisation of staff roles. 'The real trouble is that the 'industrial revolution' in entertainment inevitably revolutionises the production as well as the distribution of art. It must, for the output required is too great for individual craft creation; and even plagiarism, in which the industry indulges on a scale undreamed of in the previous history of mankind, implies some industrial processing (Newton, 1961). Newton goes on to argue that the impossibility of individual craft is paralleled by the organisation of production for quantity, speed and marketability, rather than for quality.
Because of the industrialised distribution system in the field of popular music, for example, and it reliance on large audiences, the mass media can afford neither the unreliability of the individual music creator nor the tastes of sophisticated minorities. This the arguments goes, produces an inevitable drive towards standardised, commercial, musical pap, which leads to a further worsening in audience tastes and alienation of the professional musician. Coser (1965) has described alienation as a typical communicator response, and pointed to the development of occupational ideologies and values which dismiss general audiences as unappreciative 'outsiders'.
However, Negus (1995) explicitly rejects the use of the simple art/commerce dichotomy as a way of explaining the tensions between cultural producers and the organisations in which they work. 'Those who have employed the dichotomy in their analyses of the recording industry's role in appropriating the creative works of musicians, have failed to explore the way that the production of popular music involves a struggle over what actually is 'creative' and what is to be 'commercial.' Creativity and commerce do not confront each other in a straightforward way but are continually redefined over time as music styles and genres change and new techniques are introduced' (p. 23). Negus also suggests that similar struggles over the definitions of the creative and the commercial are likely to be found in other media organisations. Nevertheless, Gallagher (1982) argues that the power of the general economic and commercial factors in determining the creative freedom of individuals in the production process should not be underestimated as in times of financial stringency, particularly, experimentation and originality tend to be subordinated to predominantly market considerations.
Despite some real autonomy in tactical detail (at the operational level), communicators can be strategically controlled (at the level of policy implementation) by notions accepted within their own occupation and more broadly within the media organisation. In Burns (1977 study of BBC professionals he commented 'What is drummed into producers is that if there is any doubt in their minds about a topic, or viewpoint, or film sequence, or contributor they must refer up to their chief editor, or head of department (p.195). Similarly, Tuchman's (1978) study of news workers showed that professionalism in journalism was defined chiefly in terms of the goals of the news organisation. He explained that the result was the traditional professional ideals in journalism - a concern with public service, 'social responsibility.' And freedom from the constraints of commercialism had been replaced by that of 'objectivity,' which meant, in practice, an exaggerated concern with facts and 'journalistic neutrality' at the expense of potentially contentious interpretation.
Additionally, the economic mechanism according to Gallagher (1982) is closely linked to organisational perceptions of audience requirements and behaviour. However, McQuail (1994) notes that quite a lot of evidence suggests that it is quite common for communicators to be hostile towards the audience, viewing them with some arrogance to be unappreciative, ignorant and, because of the need to cater for their desires and demands, a threat to communicator's autonomy. Dickinson (1996) adds that although there is some indication that this hostility may be exaggerated, research does show that media organisations are in fact ignorant of their audience. 'Wilful ignorance may in fact be an element of the communicator's occupational ideology, the exercise of 'professional instinct' as one of the particular esoteric skills required in the job' (p. 28).
Research confirms that audience ratings - audience size, and the level of appreciation shown for particular programmes (known as the 'AI Index' in British television) are a subject of concern for most media organisations, especially those in the commercial sector. Tunstall (1993) shows they do play a significant role in scheduling and are used routinely as management tools. However, as Dickinson (1996) points out programme makers generally display ambivalence towards them, quoting them when they confirm their 'professional instincts' and treating them with suspicion or ignoring them when they don't. This ambivalence never becomes a major problem, because in Ang's (1991) view, the real purpose of audience research is to provide an image of the controllable audience, uncomplicated by the 'untidy reality' of real audiences. Ang argues that communicators are uninterested in the 'real' audience because this knowledge would interfere with the creation of a 'streamlined product'. According to Dickinson, this suggests that communicators prefer to rely on their own judgements about what makes a good media product.
In conclusion, there is much to be gained from the analysis of media personnel, not as significant individuals, bust as members of particular organisations and as members of occupations engaged in the production of certain media forms. As Dickinson (1996) notes, their responses and adaptations to the exigencies of media production and the working environment of media organisations have a profound effect on the nature of media products. In following established and widely accepted patterns of working practices it is possible to argue that media professionals are conforming to what may be labelled occupational ideologies. Allaun (1988) has commented that this may be seen as a form of self-censorship but that those accepting working practices often do so willingly. 'Self-censorship is not the cause of a jaundiced press; it is one of the symptoms. It does not take long to realise that when the news desk is looking for and usually a journalist will supply it, even if it is just for a quiet life (p. 45). This willing acceptance means that the journalist enters willingly into a system that operates ideologically. As Hartley (1983) argues, professionalism certainly plays an ideological role, functioning as it does to assist the reproduction of social structures. He sees ideology as 'the means by which ruling economic classes generalise and extend their supremacy across a whole range of social activity, and naturalise it in the process, so that their role is accepted as natural and inevitable; and therefore legitimate and binding' (O'Sullivan et al., 1982, p.183). If this view is accepted, the codes of practice that operate within a professional context can be articulated as a central part of the legitimisation and reproduction of dominant ideas, beliefs and values in the workplace and in society more generally. Media professionals, it therefore follows, operate within these dominant ideas and in so doing are part of their dissemination and reproduction.
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