Functions of gatekeepers in journalism

Before any news story sees the light of the day in organized media organizations, it passes through certain persons who crosscheck and confirm that it is newsworthy and meets organizational standard. These persons are referred to as gatekeepers.

Gatekeeping is a concept used to explain how news items travelling through a news channel get clearance at certain ‘checkpoints’ before getting to the news consumer. Gatekeepers are individuals or groups of persons that determine and monitor the movement of information within a communication channel from the sender to the receiver.

Who are Gatekeepers?

Gatekeepers are the personnel in media organizations who generate news and other media contents, select, edit, facilitate and monitor the movement of these contents through the channel. Gatekeepers are people who play significant roles in what could be referred to as the news-refinement process. They perform the gatekeeping function at various stages in the news-processing channel. This is the function of determining which stories meet the required standard in order to get published. Journalists act as gatekeepers or appear at every gate or ‘news checkpoint’ in the news-processing or news-refinement channel.

Gatekeepers could be referred to as key players involved in the process of seeing that a story meets the required standard for getting published or aired in a medium. They play one effective role or the other in this process directly or indirectly. They wield different powers at their levels but they all contribute in one way or the other towards the goal of determining the content of the organization’s publication. The number of gatekeepers that could exist in a media organization depends on its size. A small metropolitan newspaper, for instance, will have fewer gatekeepers than a large national or international newspaper. However, there are basic gatekeepers found in most media organizations irrespective of size. They could be magazine/newspaper publishers, newspaper editors, radio station managers, and television news directors, among others. A typical newspaper organization would be used as a model in explaining the workings of gatekeepers.

Functions of Gatekeepers

The basic functions of gatekeepers are as follows:

  • They make sure that only newsworthy stories are selected from the pool of daily happenings in the society. This is basically the first gatekeeping activity – choosing what is to be reported as news through a specific medium.
  • They edit stories to remove irrelevant portions, correct errors, add missing facts and see that objectivity, legal and ethical standards are upheld in story content.
  • They ensure that stories adhere to the house style of an organization. The house style is the unique way of presenting facts and constructing sentences adopted by an organization. It is “a medium’s rule book on punctuation, spelling, capitalization, diction, syntax and taste” (Ekwelie, 1992, p.59). Every organization has a house style which gatekeepers use to determine what sees the light of the day through a specific medium.
  • They process and present news stories in forms that the audience can understand. Gatekeepers gather facts and put them in the right, coherent order that will make meaning to the audience.
  • They maintain the character of a media organization. This is achieved by selecting and possibly rewriting stories to meet specific professional standards a medium is known for. A newspaper or television station is known for cutting edge reporting because the gatekeepers are doing a good job by allowing only cutting edge stories to see the light of the day.
  • Gatekeepers facilitate the achievement of an organization’s policies and objectives. A special interest publication for instance, can only achieve its editorial policies through the gatekeepers. A sports or business newspaper depends on the gatekeepers to ensure that stories that reflect the publication objective get through to the final publication.

(Source: Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Ecology in the Digital Age – second edition, 2021; written by Nwabueze, C.)

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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