Gatekeeping

regulate the flow of information

History and Orientation

Kurt Lewin was apparently the first one to use the term "gatekeeping," which he used to describe a wife or mother as the person who decides which foods end up on the family's dinner table. (Lewin, 1947). The gatekeeper is the person who decides what shall pass through each gate section, of which, in any process, there are several. Although he applied it originally to the food chain, he then added that the gating process can include a news item winding through communication channels in a group. This is the point from which most gatekeeper studies in communication are launched. White (1961) was the person who seized upon Lewin's comments and turned it solidly toward journalism in 1950. In the 1970s McCombs and Shaw took a different direction when they looked at the effects of gatekeepers' decisions. They found the audience learns how much importance to attach to a news item from the emphasis the media place on it. McCombs and Shaw pointed out that the gatekeeping concept is related to the newer concept, agenda-setting. (McCombs et al, 1976). The gatekeeper concept is now 50 years old and has slipped into the language of many disciplines, including gatekeeping in organizations.

Core Assumptions and Statements

The gatekeeper decides which information will go forward, and which will not. In other words a gatekeeper in a social system decides which of a certain commodity – materials, goods, and information – may enter the system. Important to realize is that gatekeepers are able to control the public’s knowledge of the actual events by letting some stories pass through the system but keeping others out. Gatekeepers can also be seen as institutions or organizations. In a political system there are gatekeepers, individuals or institutions which control access to positions of power and regulate the flow of information and political influence. Gatekeepers exist in many jobs, and their choices hold the potential to color mental pictures that are subsequently created in people’s understanding of what is happening in the world around them. Media gatekeeping showed that decision making is based on principles of news values, organizational routines, input structure and common sense. Gatekeeping is vital in communication planning and almost al communication planning roles include some aspect of gatekeeping.

The gatekeeper’s choices are a complex web of influences, preferences, motives and common values. Gatekeeping is inevitable and in some circumstances it can be useful. Gatekeeping can also be dangerous, since it can lead to an abuse of power by deciding what information to discard and what to let pass. Nevertheless, gatekeeping is often a routine, guided by some set of standard questions.

Conceptual Model

Source: White (1964)

Related to gatekeeping in media. For gatekeeping in organizations this model is not recommended.

Favorite Methods

Interviews, surveys, networkanalysis.

Scope and Application

This theory is related to the mass media and organizations. In the mass media the focus is on the organizational structure of newsrooms and events. Gatekeeping is also an important in organizations, since employees and management are using ways of influence.

Example

A wire service editor decides alone what news audiences will receive from another continent. The idea is that if the gatekeeper’s selections are biased, the readers’ understanding will therefore be a little biased.

See Wenig for example on gatekeeping in organizations.

References

Key publications

White, David Manning. (1964). "The 'Gatekeeper': A Case Study In the Selection of News, In: Lewis A. Dexter / David M. White (Hrsg.): People, Society and Mass Communications. London S. 160 - 172. "

Wenig,

Snider, P.B. (1967). “'Mr.Gates; revisited: A 1966 version of the 1949 case study,” Journalism Quarterly 44 (3):419-427.

Berkowitz, D (1990). “Refining the gatekeeping metaphor for local television news,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 34 (1)55-68.

Carpenter, Edmund, "The New Languages," in Exploration in Communication, eds. Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960).

Krol, Ed, The Whole Internet, (Sebastopol, CA: O'Reilly and Associates, Inc., 1992).

LaQuey, Tracy and Jeanne C. Ryder, The Internet Companion: A Beginner's Guide to Global Networking, (Reading Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992).

Eng, Paul and Julie Tilsners, "Up all night with the Internet," Business Week, no. 3357, p. 14, February 7, 1994.

"Inside Internet," MacLean's, January 7, 1994, p 45.

Lewin, Kurt, "Frontiers in Group Dynamics," Human Relations, v. 1, no. 2, 1947, p. 145.

Bleske, Glen L., "Ms. Gates Takes Over: an updated version of a 1949 case study," Newspaper Research Journal, v. 12 no. 4 pp. 88-97.

Bass, Abraham A, "Redefining the 'gatekeeper' concept: a U.N. Radio case study, Journalism Quarterly, 46: 59-72 (Spring, 1969).

Buckalew, James K., "A Q-Analysis of television news editors' decision, Journalism Quarterly, 46: 135-37 (Spring 1969).

McCombs, Maxwell E. and Donald L. Shaw, "Structuring the unseen environment," Journal of Communication, v. 26 no. 2, pp. 18-22 (Winter, 1976).

Willis, Jim, "Editors, readers and news judgement," Editor and Publisher, v. 120, no. 6, pp. 14-15 (February 7, 1987).

Dimmick, John, "The gate-keeper: An uncertainty theory," Journalism Monographs, no. 37, 1974.

See also Media, Culture and Society