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

Tom Van Hout and Geert Jacobs


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.

Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
Ahearn, Laura M
(2001) Language and agency. Annual Review of Anthropology 30: 109-137. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Baron, David P
(2005) Competing for the public through the news media. Journal of Economics & Management Strategy 14: 339-376. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Bauman, Richard, and Charles Briggs
(1990) Poetics and performance as critical perspectives on language and social life. Annual Review of Anthropology 19: 59-88. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Beeman, William O., and Mark Allen Peterson
(2001) Situations and interpretations: Explorations in interpretive practice. Anthropological Quarterly 74: 159-162. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Bell, Allan
(1991) The Language of News Media. Oxford: Blackwell.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Bell, M
(1995) In Harm's way: Memories of a war zone thug. London: Hamish Hamilton.Google Scholar
Benson, R., and E. Neveu
(2005) Introduction: Field theory as a work in progress. In R. Benson and E. Neveu (eds.), Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 1-25.Google Scholar
Berkowitz, D
(1992) Non-routine news and newswork: Exploring a what-a-story. Journal of Communication 42: 82-94. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Blyskal, Jeff, and Mary Blyskal
(1985) How the public relations industry writes the news. New York: William Morrow & Co.Google Scholar
Boorstin, Daniel
(1999) The Image: A guide to pseudo-events in America. In Howard Tumber (ed.), News. A Reader. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 16-20.Google Scholar
Bourdieu, Pierre
(2005) The political field, the social science field, and the journalistic field. In R. Benson, and E. Neveu (eds.), Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field. Cambridge: Polity, pp. 29-47.Google Scholar
Boyer, Dominic, and Ulf Hannerz
(2006) Introduction: Worlds of journalism. Ethnography 7: 5-17. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Briggs, Charles, and Richard Bauman
(1992) Genre, intertextuality, and social power. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 2. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Carey, John
(1989) Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
Carlson, Matt
(2007) Blogs and journalistic authority. Journalism Studies 8: 264 - 279. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Carroll, C.E., and M. McCombs
(2003) Agenda-setting effects of business news on the public’s images and opinions about major corporations. Corporate Reputation Review 6: 36-46. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Champagne, P., and D. Marchetti
(2005) The contaminated blood scandal: Reframing medical news. In R. Benson and E. Neveu (eds.), Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 113- 134.Google Scholar
Clayman, Steven E
(1990) From talk to text: Newspaper accounts of reporter-source interactions. Media Culture Society 12: 79-103. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Clayman, Steven, and Ann Reisner
(1998) Gatekeeping in action: Editorial conferences and assessments of newsworthiness. American Sociological Review 63: 178-199. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Coman, Mihai
(2005) Media anthropology: An overview. Media Anthropology Network - Working Papers. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Cottle, Simon
(1998) Participant observation: Researching news production. In Anders Hansen, Simon Cottle, R. Negrine and C. Newbold (eds.), Mass Communication Research Methods. Basingstoke: Macmillan, pp. 35-65.Google Scholar
(2000a) New(s) times: Towards a “second wave” of news ethnography. Communications: The European Journal of Communication Research 25: 19-41. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2000b) Rethinking news Access. Journalism Studies 1: 427 - 448. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Davis, Aeron
(2000a) Public relations, business news and the reproduction of corporate elite power. Journalism 1: 282-304. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2000b) Public relations, news production and changing patterns of source access in the British national media. Media Culture Society 22: 39-59. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Doyle, Gillian
(2006) Financial news journalism. A post-Enron analysis of approaches towards economic and financial news production in the UK. Journalism Studies 7: 433–452. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Ericson, R.V., P.M. Baranek, and J.B.L. Chan
(1987) Visualizing Deviance: A Study of News Organisation. Toronto: Toronto University Press.Google Scholar
Erjavec, Karmen
(2005) Hybrid public relations news discourse. European Journal of Communication 20: 155-179. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Fairhurst, G.T
(2004) Textuality and agency in interaction analysis. Organization 11: 335-353. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Fishman, M
(1980) Manufacturing the News. Austin: Texas University Press.Google Scholar
Frank, Katherine
(2006) Agency. Anthropological Theory 6: 281-302. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Gans, H.J
(1979) Deciding What’s News. A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time. New York: Pantheon.Google Scholar
Golding, P., and P. Elliot
(1979) Making the news. London: Longman.Google Scholar
Hanitzsch, Thomas
(2004) Journalists as peacekeeping force? Peace journalism and mass communication theory. Journalism Studies 5: 483 - 495. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Herman, E.S., and Noam Chomsky
(1988) Manufacturing Consent. New York Pantheon.Google Scholar
Hetherington, A
(1981) Guardian Years. London: Chatto & Windus.Google Scholar
Jacobs, Geert
(1999) Preformulating the news. An analysis of the metapragmatics of press releases. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Jakobs, Eva-Maria
(2003) Reproductive writing - writing from sources. Journal of Pragmatics 35: 893– 906. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Kjær, Peter, and Roy Langer
(2003) The negotiation of business news: A study of journalist-source interaction. Paper presented at the 19th EGOS Conference, Subtheme 14: "Organizing power and authority in a fluid society" . Copenhagen.
Lau, R.W.K
(2004) Critical realism and news production. Media Culture & Society 26: 693-711. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Leijten, Mariëlle, and Luuk Van Waes
(2006) Inputlog: New perspectives on the logging of on-line writing processes in a windows environment. In K. Sullivan and E. Lindgren (eds.), Studies in Writing: Vol. 18. Computer Key-Stroke logging and Writing. Methods and Applications. Oxford: Elsevier, pp. 73- 94.Google Scholar
Livingstone, S
(2003) The changing nature of audiences: From the mass audience to the interactive media user. In A.N. Valdivia (ed.), A companion to Media Studies. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 337-359. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
MacArthur, C.A., S. Graham, and J. Fitzgerald
(eds.) (2006) Handbook of writing research. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
Manning, Paul
(2001) News and News Sources. A Critical Introduction. London: Sage.Google Scholar
Matheson, Donald
(2004) Weblogs and the epistemology of the news: Some trends in online journalism. New Media Society 6: 443-468. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
McCombs, M
(2004) Setting the Agenda: The mass media and public opinion. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
Neveu, E
(2005) Bourdieu, the Frankfurt School, and cultural studies: On some misunderstandings. In R. Benson and E. Neveu (eds.), Bourdieu and the Journalistic Field. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 195-213.Google Scholar
Pavlik, J.V
(2000) Journalism and new media. Journalistic Studies 1.2: 229-237. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Pedelty, Mark
(1995) War Stories: The Culture of Foreign Correspondents. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Perrin, Daniel
(2003) Progression analysis (PA): Investigating writing strategies at the workplace. Journal of Pragmatics 35: 907-921. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Peterson, Mark Allen
(2001) Getting to the story: Unwriteable discourse and interpretive practice in American journalism. Anthropological Quarterly 74: 201-211. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2003) Anthropology & Mass Communication. Media and myth in the new millenium. New York: Berghahn Books.Google Scholar
Reich, Zvi
(2006) The process model of news initiative. Sources lead first, reporters thereafter. Journalism Studies 7: 497-514. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Robinson, Susan
(2006) The mission of the j-blog: Recapturing journalistic authority online. Journalism 7: 65-83. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Schudson, Michael
(2005) News as stories. In Eric W. Rothenbuhler and Mihai Coman (eds.), Media Anthropology. Thousand Oaks: Sage, pp. 121-128. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Shoemaker, Pamela J
(1991) Communication concepts 3: Gatekeeping. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
Sigal, L.V
(1973) Reporters and Officials: The organization and politics of newsmaking. Lexington: Heath.Google Scholar
Silverstein, Michael, and Greg Urban
(eds.) (1996) Natural Histories of Discourse. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  BoPGoogle Scholar
Sleurs, K., and G. Jacobs
(2005) Beyond preformulation: An ethnographic perspective on press releases. Journal of Pragmatics 37: 1251-1273. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Sleurs, K., G. Jacobs, and L. Van Waes
(2003) Constructing press releases, constructing quotations: A case study. Journal of Sociolinguistics 7: 192-212. Crossref  BoPGoogle Scholar
Ståhlberg, Per
(2002) Lucknow Daily: How a Hindi Newspaper Constructs Reality. Stockholm: Stockholm Studies in Social Anthropology.Google Scholar
Strauss, Susan, and Zuehua Xiang
(2006) The writing conference as a locus of Emergent Agency. Written Communication 23: 355-396. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Thompson, John B
(1995) The Media and Modernity. A Social Theory of the Media. Cambrige: Polity.Google Scholar
(2000) Political Scandal: Power and visibility in the media age. Oxford: Oxford Press.Google Scholar
Tuchman, Gaye
(1972) Objectivity as strategic ritual: An examination of newsmen's notions of objectivity. American Journal of Sociology 77: 660-79. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(1978) Making news: A study in the construction of reality. New York: MacMillan.Google Scholar
(2003) The production of news. In Klaus Bruhn Jensen (ed.), A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies. London: Routledge, pp. 78-90.Google Scholar
Tunstall, J
(ed.) (1971) Journalists at Work. London: Constable.Google Scholar
Velthuis, Olav
(2006) Inside a world of spin: Four days at the World Trade Organization. Ethnography 7: 125–150. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Whitney, D.C., and J.S. Ettema
(2003) Media production: Individuals, organizations, institutions. In A.N. Valdivia (ed.), A Companion to Media Studies. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 93-114. CrossrefGoogle Scholar