The modern press
With the growing power of media in the modern world and their omnipresence in human life it is worth considering the role/roles of
journalism in contemporary societies and the effects modern journalism may have on the social sphere within which it is produced.
it is a generally acknowledged belief that newspapers should serve the public by informing them on events and issues that are in “the public interest” and provide such information that the public “has a right to know” (Temple 2008). However, it would be simplistic and wrong in principle to assume that newspapers simply provide objective accounts of events without promoting particular views, attitudes or ideologies. This notion raises a crucial question as to whether it is possible to report on events without communicating a certain stance at the same time (cf. Fowler 1991, Richardson 2007).
There does not seem to be a consensus over what “objectivity” means in newspaper discourse. Whereas to a lay man, it represents reporting facts and not opinions, newspaper language analysts express their reservations about what should be considered “a fact” in newspaper discourse. In Richardson’s view, the whole process of news production encompasses value judgments and “news reporting is inevitably value-laden” (Richardson 2007: 86-87), which by no means should be understood as news reporting not being objective. Here, Richardson’s definition of “journalistic objectivity” as opposed to dictionary definitions of objectivity is worth mentioning: “... to file an objective report a journalist needs to distance him or herself from the truth claims of the report” (Richardson 2007: 86).
News reporting, unlike other types of news discourse, for example editorials or reviews, is not primarily to be associated with the expressing of opinion or evaluation, and yet it is not devoid of views and judgments (White 2006), whether expressed overtly in the tabloid press or covertly in the serious press. Widdowson points out that “what is presented as a factual account in a newspaper article will usually reflect, and promote, a particular point of view” (2007: 6). It should also be noted that newspapers are businesses like any other and in order to withstand competition from other newspapers and types of media they will necessarily strive to meet both the informational and entertainment needs of their audiences and make profits at the same time (Harcup 2009, Sparks 1999). However, the fact that news reporting includes a certain stance delimited partly by the intended readership does not mean that modern British newspapers are biased and badly written. Temple (2008) expresses his optimism as to the future of British newspapers in the modern digital world. In his view, all major quality daily papers may largely rely on press agencies releases and PR material and their agenda may include news that we would not traditionally associate with the serious press, but they still provide “an astonishing range of (usually) high quality news, commentary and analysis across all areas of life” and both the current tabloids and broadsheets are “better written than ever before” (Temple 2008: 210).
Whether providing information or entertainment, or a mixture of both, journalism is of a social nature and has “social effects” (Richardson 2007).
Being produced in a particular social environment, it inevitably encompasses, reflects and/or reinforces the beliefs and values that are considered desirable and acceptable within a particular community, which can be a nation as such or a particular group of people who are expected to primarily form the “intended” or “implied” readership of a paper. The implied readership should not be seen as a “homogenous group of people with shared beliefs and values whose defining feature is the newspaper they read” (Reah 2002: 36). Readerships of all newspapers consist of people with various social and educational backgrounds, but still each national newspaper “has its own distinct identity and user profile; ... each group of readers is a segment of society, and one would expect that the concerns of that section are broadly represented by the newspaper they have chosen” (Temple 2008: 190).
By disseminating crucial social problems newspapers contribute to setting the norms of behaviour, they may initiate a discussion about key social issues or even aspire to act as a driving force of change. Whether and to what extent newspapers really influence their readers’ thinking and views is disputable, however. Readers are not to be viewed as mere passive recipients of newspaper content, or in Leitner’s words, “passive targets of the message flows” (Leitner 1997: 189). Newspapers may try to promote particular ideas and views, but what readers really make of a news story is a completely different matter-it is fully within the power of readers what they will accept or refuse, depending on their knowledge, experience, background and also the circumstances under which the news is “consumed” (Hartley 1982).
Apart from newspapers, the public have at their disposal many other informational sources that provide them with information and opinions; therefore, the influence of newspapers on their readerships’ perception of reality is hard, if not impossible, to measure. Regardless of the influence newspapers really have on their readers’ views and attitudes, modern journalism can be characterized as “one of the key social and cultural forces in our society” (McNair 2003: 21). When considering the social roles of media in modern societies, Bell’s description is particularly fitting-“... media are important social institutions. They are crucial presenters of culture, politics and social life, shaping as well as reflecting how these are formed and expressed” (Bell 1998: 64).