News production theory and practice: Fieldwork notes on power, interaction and agency

Tom Van Hout and Geert Jacobs

Abstract

This paper considers notions of agency, interaction and power in business news journalism. In the first part, we present a bird’s eye view of news access theory as it is reflected in selected sociological and anthropological literature on the ethnography of news production. Next, we show how these theoretical notions can be applied to the study of press releases and particularly to the linguistic pragmatic analysis of the specific social and textual practices that surround their transformation into news reports. Drawing on selected fieldwork data collected at the business desk of a major Flemish quality newspaper, we present an innovative methodology combining newsroom ethnography and computer-assisted writing process analysis which documents how a reporter discovers a story, introduces it into the newsroom, writes and reflects on it. In doing so, we put the individual journalist’s writing practices center stage, zoom in on the specific ways in which he interacts with sources and conceptualize power in terms of his dependence on press releases. Following Beeman & Peterson (2001), we argue in favor of a view of journalism as ‘interpretive practice’ and of news production as a process of entextualization involving multiple actors who struggle over authority, ownership and control.

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