Monday, September 16, 2013

Week 3, Research Report 14, Kexin Jiang

Research Report: Under the Surface of “Deciding What’s News”

In the late 1970s, after the explosive media coverage of Watergate and the Vietnam War, Herbert J. Gans, a German-born American sociologist who taught at the Columbia University, was curious about how journalists make decisions at “Times,” “Newsweek,” “the CBS Evening News,” and “the NBC Nightly News.” So he made up his mind to make careful observations of what they do and to talk with them at length. Eventually a book named “Deciding What’s News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time” came out and became a stunning work at that period of time. Because of his sociological background, Gans uses empirical methods to demonstrate what is “in the news.” (
As one of the most authoritative and productive sociologists, Herbert J. Gans works both as a scholar and as an advocate of antipoverty and other public policy agencies. Gans’ works on the media aim to look at American society from the perspective of the country’s working and the lower middle class majority (Caves, pp.280).
In the second chapter of the book, “Values in the News,” Gans points out that journalists base their reporting on the inherent assumptions, which he called enduring values, about the nature of external reality, and that there are six main enduring values including Ethnocentrism, Altruistic Democracy, Responsible Capitalism, Small-Town Pastoralism, Individualism, and Moderatism (Gans, 1979). Rather than just “writing down the unwritten rules of journalism,” he thinks rules contain values, and “the book is also about the values and ideology of a profession which deems itself objective and nonideological.” ((
The book, “Deciding What’s News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, Newsweek, and Time,” has been published twice. It was first published in 1979 by Random House, and then republished in 2004 by Northwestern University Press. Random House is the largest general-interest trade book publisher in the world, and books published by Random House have won an incomparable number of Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes ( Similarly, Northwestern University Press also publishes books of different kinds of subjects and develops a number of on-going series. Additionally, the Press publishes scholarly books of fiction, non-fiction, and literary criticism. As a result, “Deciding What’s News” is definitely considered as an important academic publication, and it is being taken crucially by the scholars (
Besides the information of author and publication of “Deciding What’s News,” based on my research on the book, there are some reviews and responds to this book as well. “Publishers Weekly” presents a view that Gans has done a top job of “writing down the unwritten rules of journalism” and “has taken a deep and penetrating look at how news is reported in our country and has come up with a significant and impressive analysis.” Furthermore, Carey McWilliams, the editor of the “Nation,” also suggests that Gans has accomplished an excellent study of the mass media and successfully presented how to decide what is and what is not news, what its limitations are and what its built-in biases are ( By and large, most of people who have read this book consider it to be a required reading for media personnel.
In conclusion, “Deciding What’s News” is absolutely worth reading for people who want to be journalists and for people who are already journalists because it contains valuable information and basic ideas about journalism. Also because this publication of Gans came out about three decades ago, it is interesting for us to view his work after such a huge development of society as well as journalism.

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