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Marilyn Lester Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 39, No. 1 (Feb., 1974), pp. 101-112 Published by: American Sociological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2094279 Accessed: 16/11/2010 13:41
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Richard Flacks. The generalimplicationsof this schemafor the study of mediaand powerare discussed. by virtue of the ways they attend to and give accounts of what they believe to be a pregivenworld.accidents. news tells us what we do not experiencedirectly and thus renders otherwise remote happenings observableand meaningful. News is thus the result of this invariant need for accounts of the unobserved. et al. those happenings are used as temporal points of referencefor orderinga past and future. Barbara.LindaMolotch. this capacity for filling-inothers. 39 (February): 101-12 belief that an objective worldexists to be reported..scandals serendipitous to reveal different kinds of informationabout the ways society is organized. 1963) that whether. Hugh Perrow. copy editors. Milton Mankoff.and each type holds different challengesto those who have or lack power. John Weiler. Financial support was provided through a Santa faculty senate grant.aredailynewsmakers.typesetters. ACCIDENTS. veryoneneedsnews.Public events are held to exist becauseof the practicalpurposes they serve. Although those who make their living at newswork(reporters. and the production work of those in the media.Eugene Weinsteinand Don Zimmerman. See Dewey (1927).reckon time.' THEORETICAL GROUNDINGS Humans schedule and plan (Miller. we fill each other in with news. Pasts and futures are constructed and reconstructed. In a manner analogous to the creation of a meaningfulspatial world.NEWSAS PURPOSIVE BEHAVIOR: ON THE STRATEGICUSE OF ROUTINE EVENTS.) have additionalneedsfor news.Conversely. Theresultis a processof news creation.a kind of accountingprocedure.it creates them. all individuals. 1960). of American Sociological Review 1974. from the standpoint of the outside observer. Lloyd Fitts.Charles Michael Schwartz.purposive.and creativeactivitieson the part of news promoters. news assemblersand news consumer&At each stage in the process of an generating event. anything is "really happening"and whether there is any "realreason"to create calendars. rather than because of their inherent objectiveimportance. David Street. produce the social and political "knowledge" of publics. etc. This paper seeks to understandthe relationshipsbetween different kinds of news needs and how it is that news needs of people differently situated vis A vis the organization of news work Fishman. 101 . Richard Kinane.we developa conceptionof By suspending news as a constructedreality. Universityof California. AND SCANDALS* Lester and Molotch Marilyn Harvey SantaBarbara University California. a given happeningis attended to and its featuresassembledin the context of whathas gone beforeand anticipatedin the future.Mark 1The term "public" throughout this essay is used in the sense John Dewey used it: a political groupingof individuals broughtinto beingas a social unit through mutual recognitionof common problems for which common solutions shouldbe sought. Vol.MiltonOlin. Informationthus does not merely go to publics. people nonetheless provide accounts of activities which make those activities observable as real and patterned happenings.The news content of mass media is seen as the result of practical. publishers. We learn from the experience of a in sociologist-patient a tuberculosissanitorium (Roth. Gaye Tuchman. Mehan. In everydaylife. Eliot Friedson.Each type of event tends and of event types: routines. as a continuous process of *We would like to thank Aaron Cicourel. or scheme a future.accomplishedaccordingto the occasionedevent needs of those withaccess to media lead to a typology can in The manner whichaccessis accomplished varyand thesevariations events.
and others) that what is "really happening" is identical with what people attend to. DOING EVENTS daily routines. Appelbaum. and the event so constructedis continuously dependent on purposes-at-hand its durabilfor ity. that is.3 Public Time is the term which we will take to stand for that dimension of collective life through which human communitiescome to have what is assumedto be a patterned and perceptually sharedpast. so public time is analogously constituted through public events. 1971. reified as an object in the social world (cf. In their individual lives. Americansconspicuously use such rites of passage as birthdays. Our conception is not of a finite set of things that "really happened out there" from which selection is made. 3As we imply above. societies. it does not consist of a stable collection of elements. to a degree. These few become resourcesavailable as practically needed-to break up. of contingentaccomplishments the production and recognition work of partiesto the activity. Schutz. We propose (following Garfinkel. 1973) and thus available as a resource for constructing events in the future. it can be infinitely dividedand elaboratedinto additional happeningsand occurrences. Once such use occurs. Thusthe content of an 2Schutz draws a similar parallel between the world of space and the world of time constituting the. (Zimmerman and Pollner. 1967. Each time there is a need to carve up reality temporally. Vol. Individuals "see" chairs when they enter a room because of the recurrent need to sit. we view that sharedness as yet another accomplished feature of the process of creating events. Our conception thus follows Zimmerman and Pollner's description of the work of the "assembling occasionedcorpus": By the use of the term occasioned corpus. other occurrences may serve the same function (e. Part III). Wewill use the term "events" to refer to occurrences The everyday activities of constituting events are guided by one's purposes-at-hand. history. Collectivities of people-communities. geographical moves. The occasioned corpus is a corpus with no regularelements. we wish to emphasizethat the features of socially organized activities are particular. to a degree. employments. natural attitude of everyday life (cf. but they are not intrinsically durable. demarcate. present and future.102 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW which are creatively used for such purposes. promotions. the time one's son was arrested. Any occurrence is a potential resource for constructing an event. A much oversimplified analogyto fact-making about the physical world may be helpful here. anniversaries.g. Eventsmay thus. In such constructions an infinite number of available activities are not attended to. Depending upon the context. our idea is not analogousto selective perceptionof the physical world. an occurrencebecomes. Sociologists sometimes "see" religion as an explanatory variable in their data because it sometimes "works. The work of assemblingan occasioned corpus consists in the ongoing "corpusing and decorpusing"of elements rather than the situated retrieval or removal of a subset of elements from a larger set transcendingany particular setting in which that work is done. "Important" occurrences are those which are especially useful in demarcatingtime. and a future. and deathsfor this end.. the date the house was painted.." A new happening reinforms what every previous happening was. civilizations-similarlyappear to create (or have created for them) temporal demarcationswhich are assumedto be shared in common among those who are deemed and deem themselvesto be competent individuals in the collectivity. Just as the rudimentsof an individuallifetime consist of privateevents. the reason for doing so constrains what kind of carvingwill be done.the year the crop failed). and a certainfew become created observables. with new "additions"embellishing an established "whole. An occurrence is any cognized happening. persist.2 But the creationof temporal points of referencevaries over time. 1970:94-7) Thus pasts and futures are not accomplished once and for all. while members assume that meanings are shared." The analogousprocessin creating temporal points of reference means that occurrencesbecome events accordingto their usefulness to an individual who is attempting on a particularoccasion to orderher or his experience.and fashionlifetime. klans. I. . in turn each happening gets its sense from the context in which it is placed.
it involves making experience for great numbersof people. and make decisions. For a discussion of gate keeping. That is. a politician might charge that his opponents have deliberately "cooked up" a "phony issue" to deflect voter attention from the "realissue. This potential public impact means that the social multipliereffect of the work of those who do news for publics is much greater than the effect of people who do news for themselves and their face-to-face associates. for example. what the event will have turned out to be using as resourcesthe work of agencies who came before and anticipating what successive agencies "might make out of it. journalists. Although analogous processesand distinctions exist for private and public events. whetherthe "My Lai massacre" "really" happened or whether it was "only" a routine search and destroy mission. The work of historians. for example.it is not an event. this greaterimpact of the latter leads us to focus our discussion on public events. That is.g. analogousprocessesare at work. Sometimes. whether it is or is not an event) an issue resides. cultures. through a distinctive set of organizational routines.or the thirteenth birthday. and specific situations. change priorities. Women's liberationists assert that although it is in fact an occurrence. involving at least two parties having access to eventcreating mechanisms.For public issues. it "simply" happens. an occurrence passes through a set of agencies (individuals or groups).e. whether menopause is a "real" event. It should not serve as a time-markingfeature of the environment through which certain consequences (e. see White (1965). the person. The thirtieth birthday. and at the same time. This view departs fundamentally from the gate keeping theory of newswork which sees the self-same happening as acted upon by a series of newsworkers (cf. no woman should hold important responsibility) should follow. In all public issues. will become an issue if there are competing interpretationsof what really happened. The work of promoting occurrencesto the status of public event springsfrom the event needs of those doing the promoting.statuses. they will have differing and sometimes competing uses for occurrences. To the degree to which individuals or collectivities have differing purposes. Unlike the case of privateevents. Under these circumstances an issue takes form. and embedded in that struggle are differing interests in an outcome. We debate. For example. Shibutani. the issue itself can become an issue. Any public 103 issue involves a similarstruggleover an occurrence and similar interests in the outcome: Did the ITT lobbyist send that memo as specified? Is the crime rate so high that now The "you-can't-walk-the-streets"? existence of an issue demonstrates that competing event needs exist with respectto a given occurrence. It is currently being disputed. to dispute over whether anything significanthappened at all. Gieber (1964).An issue ariseswhen there are at least two such competing uses. That choice between accounts determines the nature of the occurrence.in fact. CAREERLINESOF PUBLIC EVENTS In the careerpattern of a public event. or menopause. (or event) "really is"-is as it is attended to through members' practical work. . each of which helps construct. Others (usually men) assertthe contrary. a struggletakes place over the nature of the occurrence."4 4Cicourel (1968) makes an analogous argument with respect to the creation of a juvenile delinquent. lead to comConflicting purposes-at-hand peting accounts of what happened or. 1966). the issue of the issue becomes an event. the degree to which it was special enough to be used to reorder past occurrences and events.and in these differing accounts of the meaning of the occurrence (i. what is a variantof the same question. these mechanismsare the massmedia. or the signing of a lease. A delinquent is constituted by a set of accounts produced by a series of law enforcement agencies motivated by the need to appear rational to others in the processing system. Thus a delinquent is an accomplishment of a chain of processing agencies who need to do a competent-job-for-all-practical-purposes. what the act. rooted in diversebiographies.NEWSAS PURPOSIVE BEHAVIOR individual's conceptions of the history and the future of his or her collectivity comes to depend on the processes by which public events get constructed as resources for discourse in public matters. class origins.that is." In such instances. sociologists and political scientists helpsto accomplishthis task for various publics by makingavailableto citizens a range of occurrences from which to construct a sense of public time. Any youth's activities will be made (through a course of accounting work) to tally with or violate some law.
constitute what was "done. as well as interests in preventing certain occurrences from becoming public events.aman-who-saw-a-flying-saucer) who identify (and thus render observable)an occurrenceas special. In some instances. helps to make that occurrence availableto still others. Kuntsler'sspokesman. the press conference is held for the 5 These agencies.aregenerally consistentwith Holsti'ssix "basicelements":source. Finally. in by: a) demonstrating fact. Lies. promotion work revolves around one's own activity which like all social activity is accomplished with its prospective and retrospective potential uses in mind. We now turn to a detailed examination of the newswork done by each agency in the newsmakingprocess and the power implications of that work. message. By "promoting" we merely mean that an actor.g. for all intents and purposes. on some ground.and obviousas in public relations work (cf. Nixon." A selective assertionof a subjectiveworld thus becomesa resourcelike any other.g. encoding process.our schemadoes not textually constrained make an objectivedistinctionbetweentellinga truth and telling a falsehood. . 1. recipient. a candidate'spress conference). in attendingto an occurrence.a decision to bomb North Vietnam is conducted with what-will-be-made-of-it and what-it-reallywas-all-along (e. doing and promoting are part of the same process.transforma perceivedfinite set of promoted occurrences into public events through publication or broadcast. or making a or mountain-out-of-a-molehill. they also have access (within limits) to promote the activities of others-including individuals whose purposes are opposed to their own. when he cannot persuade to others that his promotedaccount corresponds an objectivereality.a protest demonstrationis. gearedfor its selection as an event (cf. b) minimizing the effect of the objectivity assumptionby selectively claiming inherent ambiguityin the present case as expressedin the claims.are thus created because they are "looked for" by the second party. Thus. readers) who analogouslyattend to certainoccurrences made availableas resourcesby the media and thereby create in their own minds a sense of public time. crass. then. Based on the principle that event creation universally stems from conpurposes. the career of the occurrence will. a political candidate can "expose" the corrupt occurrence work of a 6'ur mention of policy statements of public figures raised the question of lies for readers of earlier drafts of this paper. the truly relevant reality.g. promotion work is less crassly self-serving as when a citizen tries to publicize a health danger." Thinking through these possible coveragesis part of the work of a newsmaker and is essential to competent event creation. In our language. Secondly. A lie to us is by distinguishable the fact that another party (observer) sees it as a deliberate move to effect a purpose done without respect for the conditions of an assumed.objective reality. its deniability) as two of its constituent features. being picky. Each successiveagency engagesin essentially the same kind of constructing which deterwork. But the work accomplished at each point closes off or inhibits a great number of event-creating possibilities. Myerhoff.. 1961) or transparently politicalactivity(e. includingthose involvedin havingto deal with others.6 Although promotersoften promote occurrences for which they themselvesare responsible. in the end. Kuntsler. For us. will radically differ from the result of prominent and widespread coverage which stipulates "indiscriminate massive bombing. For simplicity.g. "it all dependson how you look at it" or "if you knew what I knew at the time.the promoting may be direct. Commonly.as here presented.5 First. In others."the nature of the act itself. for some reason. from the perspectiveof the agent (Nixon). he attemptsto handlethe situation that the second party was. if the bombingis not widely reported or is reported as "bombing selected military targets. looking for the lie. we view events as being constituted by three major agencies.channelof transmission. indeed. 24). This assumedlack of to correspondence reality is typically invoked when the second party has purposescontraryto the liar's. there are the news promoters-those individuals and their associates(e.104 REVIEW SOCIOLOGICAL AMERICAN benefits which its public impact are assumed to provide. based on purposes-at-hand mine given event needs. working from the materialsprovidedby the promoters. Thus."that is. and rewritemen) who. 1972). there are the news assemblers (newsmen. In this closing off of possibilities lies the power of newswork and of all accounting activity. Boorstin." That is. Similarly.. there are the news consumers (e.decodingprocess (see Holsti. p. Nixon's secretary. a lie is a meaning accomplishedfor purposesat hand. in the same way. 1969. to you would see it as indeedcorresponding whatis.for others. editors. Promoting There are interests in promoting certain occurrencesfor public use. Whena liar is "caught. like any meanings.
as career mobility pat. 105 work of promoters? Assemblers'purposes-athand. or importantare to be selected. journalism awards." of which the most special.all television networks have abandoned their ness. then. In this instance. as a response. the assumption of an objective reality allows West7Breed (1955).What may eventually evolve ception of the media's role. through regularized interperspective. the Thus.leaksandpressconferencesof newsroom happen. as profit. Powerful promoters may attempt to inbetween their event creasethe correspondence needs and those of assemblersby pressuring media into altering their work routines. and the the generation of public events.of the generalsocial purpose and thus of the terns for a group of professionals. The typical con.speeches.sumably. at least in as a journalistic "professional canon" will western. Armed with time and money.g.NEWSAS PURPOSIVE BEHAVIOR political rival or take credit for its beneficent consequences. a job which may involve months of habit of "instant analysis" of presidential researchor a fleeting introspection or consul." lies occurrence promoters is the extent to which distinction between news and propaganda in the premise seen to be embedded in the the mediahave an institutionally patterned independent role in newsmaking. a finite number of things "really views. creatingsocialist To suggest the view that assemblers'own event needs help to constitute public events. producenews. trying to mobilize occurrences as resourcesfor their experience-building work. all become inextricably and reflexively tied to the content of pub. the consisting of knowably "important"events of event needs of assemblers come to closely the world. Thus.g. the substantive relationship between reality. is man or maintaininga given regime). Pretional activities through which news is gener.by the institutionally powerful to sustain cators of an objective reality "out there.W. an resemblethose of promoterswho affect jourexpert with a "nose for news" will be led to nalisticwork routines.RichardNixon could promote letters from P. From their encouragement. The sanctions which the powerful exercise to control media routines may be direct and crude (e.House pressure. Validity also to imply the importance of the organiza. In societies having a formally-controlled occurrences which do.e. career advancement and survival ated. coincide or conflict with the construction to reflect reality.patterns which inhibit follow-up.O. 1973) haveprovided process. anti-trustsuits againstbroadcasters) Media personnel form a second agency in or subtle (e. interest." ideological hegemony. In such societies.utility of a given occurrence.on the assumption that there is a reality the lished news. 1972b. indeed. index that from this ideal tends to press. availableaccount of their activities-i. is that have been historicallygroundedin an attempt the media stand as reporter-reflector-indi. How then assemblers' work: those with purposes prothose whose only purposeis does the construction work of the media duce propaganda. Gieber(1964. to servea largerpurpose(e. 1956) and Tuchimportant ern newsmakersat all levels to have an ever man (1972a. skilled competition among people having access'to the media. advertising 2. they insightsinto the assembling . Any departure be treated as "bias" or some other pathologi. mothers which were written as private communicationsand perhaps not envisioned by their authors as public events. threatening speeches. in the Western news assemblers that vary from those of "propaganda.thus tends to be equated with utility.g. we assume.7 The extent to which news out-there-to-be-described. involves "checking a story out" for worthi. as they contrast or coincide with the purposes-at-handof different types of promoters.news promoters and assemblers is less obscured. Assembling boycotts. The richness and irony of political life is made up of a free-wheeling. will determine the answersto such a question. product of any system which denies this premise is termed organizations generate event needs among mind. formally uncensoredsocieties.Similarly. As Tuchman (1972) has argued. to White tation with a colleague. Because Westernconceptions of news rely making institutions. as routines for getting work "nose for news" with the bosses' conceptions done in newsrooms. media are organized cal circumstance. The nature of the media as formal depend on one's ability to mesh her or his organization. experiing. Theirtask mentation and deviation). for example.
essay. all shape the consumer'swork of constructingevents. we find it useful to describecertain substantive differences in the ways in which . But this kind of self-definition by practitioners should not be allowed to obscure the purposivenessof media work. lustrations of the occurrence of such plots and '0Manela (1971). Their newswork is procedurallyidentical with that of promoters and assemblers. liebling (1947) provides anecdotal il. we have heretofore attempted to suspend our belief in a normative order. Wilson. that self-definitionas an account is itself part of the very organizational activities through which newswork gets done.8Whilenot ignoring these.hence. they somehow manage to produce a product which favors the event needs of certain social groups and disfavors those of others. which may lead to a revision of what "reallyhappened. See also almost any issue of events. for example. The answers to two questions which can be asked of any event provide the basis for our typology." We distinguish between events by the circumstancesof the promotion work which makes them availableto publics. but the great majority of stories appearing in the daily press fall in this category. parallelsexist between the event needs of assemblersand promoters. Routine Events Routine events are distinguishableby the fact that the underlyinghappeningson which they are presumably based are purposive accomplishments and by the fact that the people who undertake the happening(whom we call effectorss") are identical with those who promote them into events. First: Did the underlying happening come into being through intentional or unintentional human activity? And second: Does the party promotingthe occurrenceinto an event appear to be the same as the party who initially accomplished the happening upon which the event is based? The relevance of these questions will become clearer as each event type is described. on groundsof frequency. formal organization rules and routines. following the ethnomethodological instruction. Despite the overarchingsimilarity of individuals'and organizations' methods of newsmaking.A residue of biography. in an analogous typology of related chicanery. These parallels do not necessarily result from plots. The prototypical routine event is the press conference statement. A TYPOLOGY PUBLIC OF EVENTS 'That is. treats events as objective phenomena which ChicagoJournalism Review or (More:)A Journalism are categorized in terms of how well they fit ongoing Review or Cirino(1970). previous materials made available by media. glutted with the published and broadcasted work of the media. In the West as in the East. In fact. but with two important differences: the stock of occurrences availableas resourceshas been radically truncated through the newswork of other agencies. they ordinarily have no institutional base from which to broadcasttheir newswork. practical work."selling out" or even ideologicalcommonalities.we term them "routine. we make manifestthe basic similarities between newsmakingin any social or political context.and."'0 Whether or not a given promoter is the "same" as the effector can be difficult to determine in some instances. However. 3. J. Consuming Membersof publics. we are intrigued by the possibility of news generatedthroughthe parallel needs of promotersand assemblers which arise for different reasons. to extend our analysis to a common-sensically useful approach to news and to provide tools of concise description for mundane. Consistentwith that fact. Similarly. engage in the same sort of constituting activity as news assemblers. and present context. unlike assemblers. any event which we may pull from a newspaper's front page for illustrative purposes may be seen to contain some featuresof each event type. Though perhaps unaware of the implications of one another's work. 1970).the category which any kind of event "fits" may similarlyshift with changing features or schemes of interpretation. we are imposing ideal types on data. It is clear. By choosing to suspend belief in an ability to index "what really happened" (cf. that if RichardNixon's Press Secre- report (or at least try their best to report) what is there.9 In using this typology. we enter the "attitude of everyday life" in this section of the 8A. conspiracies.106 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW occurrences are promoted to the status of public event.
To the extent to which it can be assumedthat both party's purposes are identical-e.With respect to this accessibility. This "importance" is taken-for-granted. especially those in political life. other individualsand groupsare occasionally in the position to generate events. Such people. the "inspecting" beach beneathhis feet. for example.O.O. elucidating those features does not tell us what makes for a successfulroutine event. however.W. habitual access is generally found among those with extreme wealth or other institutionally-basedsources of power. The activity was an attempt to generatean event so as to inform the American public that Richard Nixon was personally concerned about oil on beaches. varioussubtypes of routine events can be discussed. on the other hand.Intra-or inter-groupcompetitions notwithstanding.wife. it may be that Nixon wants to bringattention to the P. After noting that kind of constructing work.'s and/or to mobilize support for the war-the promoter and agent can be deemed identical and the written letter as a public event can be classifiedas routine. Molotch. When Fidel Castrovisits a hospital or Mao checks up on a generator. habitual access exists when an individual or groupis so situatedthat their own event needs activroutinely coincide with the newsmaking 107 ities of media personnel. While all routine events share certain features. the "new"loccurrence is analyticallythe same as any other. Nixon reads a letter on TV written to him by a P. to bring public attention to P. Routine access is one of the important sources and sustainersof existing powerrelationships. those who seek to create public events by promoting their activities (occurrences) must have access to that second stage of event-creation.W. (b) those where the event-promotersare seeking to disrupt the routine access of others to assemblers in order to make events of their own. wife. That competition may involve occasional struggleswith other powerful figures. 1972b). and (c) those where the access is afforded by the fact that the promoters and news assemblers identical. the effector (Nixon) and the promoter (Press Secretary)can be taken as identicalfor all intents and purposes. Each day a multitude of activitiesis done with a view to creating routine events. are (a) Habitual Access. 1970). the results are seen as close to those first envisionedby the effector/promoter. must be concerned with keeping their podia alive and organizingthe news so that their goals do not suffer in the continuing competition to create publics. furthermore. the President of the United States is always assumed to say "important" things. this power is both a result of the habitualaccess and a continuing cause of such access. and. Habitual access is likely limited in this country to high government officials. or. the promoter. with insurgent groups seeking to provide a different set of public experiences. a similar dynamic is at work. as effector. Although news assemblers commonly act upon the assumption that those with official authority are the most newsworthy (Tuchman. certain glamour personalities(cf.g. Nixon is not merely using his position to advancethe effector's public event needs. Of course. major corporate figures. President's . Yet. The successof a potential routine event is thus contingent on the assembler'sdefinition of an occurrence as a "story.sfor other long-range("ulterior") purposes not shared by the P.O." Put another way. If. 1972b).W. Nixon was depicted leaving his helicopter on a section of the sand. and P. In such a case. Nixon's talented assistants could have done the inspection for him.O. Needless to say. to a lesser extent. (a) those where the event promotershave habitualaccess to news assemblers. The function of habitual access is illustrated by a routine event such as Richard Nixon's "inspection" of a Santa Barbara beach after the calamitous 1969 oil spill (cf. Thus. the degree of identity between Nixon. Indeed. and a Washingtonreporterwho acts on the opposite assumptionwill probablylose his job.W. When this type of occurrencebecomes a successfulpublic event. whereas the U.'swife.S. Nixon is scientifically incompetent to "inspect" beaches. Tuchman. but is fosteringa new occurrenceof his own and promotingit as a public event. His efforts and inspection were meant to instruct the public that the beaches were in fact clean. As the term implies.O.W.NEWSAS PURPOSIVE BEHAVIOR tary promotes the President'strip to Chinaor Russia. But those intentions must complement the work done by news assemblers if a public event is to result. is less clear.
civil rights. Sale. token reform (maybe). Police. 1973). This "obvious" disruption of normal functioning and its challenge to the received social world prompts the coverageof the massmedia. We would argue that a protest event-e. and publishersas well. The very reporting on the occurrence may come to be seen as precipitating the creation of more such occurrences. The coverage which results typically speaks to these implications-not to the issues which raised the protest in the first place. and youth will ebb and flow over time and place (cf. but It is not a case of holdingback information. not the protestitself. the access to the media continues acrosstime and issue. No rapes. important conservatives think it means that students are bums and should be coddled less. multitudes are assembledin an inappropriateplace to intervene in the daily schedule of occurrenceand events. People can go back to their everyday activities. Those lacking habitual' access to event-making who wish to contribute to the public experience.' 2 Whenimportant 11 This situationeventuallychangedin reference to anti-waractivity. shock. a particular war ended. They must "make news" by somehow of crashingthrough the ongoingarrangements newsmaking. the relatively powerless disrupt the social world to disruptthe habitual forms of eventmaking.accordingly warbecamethe issue. Thus. in a sense. Myerhoff. Certaincanons of the "responsibilityof the press" are readily available to editors who choose to bypass antiroutine events. to the extent that student protest activity continues as an issue. a student sit-in or a Jerry Rubin remark-receivesmedia play preciselybecause it is thought to be an occurrence which "serious people" need to understand. The focus is typically on how to handle dissidents. stepped-up counseling in the Dean's office. There is a second reason this type of routine event declines in usefulness to important people.g. improved student-faculty ratios). an interest develops in eliminatingsuch events from the news-either by taking actions to prevent them (e. it does so because important parties disagree about what the protest means and how it should best be handled.civic leaders. Thus. "anti-routine"events. Important liberals think it meansthat certaininstitutions need to be reformed (e. the ideal-typicalroutine event is taken to be the generatingof a public experienceby those in positions to have continual access to assertingthe importanceand factual status of "their"occurrences. may bar reporters from the sites of ghetto riots.11 We would argue that coverage of student protest fades as the event needs of one or the other important party declines. softening resistance to student demands)or by agreeingnot to report them. or some more violent form of "trouble. we might be accusedof creatingan issue if we give it full-blowntreatmentat this point in time. The disruptive occurrence becomes an event because it is a problemfor the relatively powerful. . and be supported in doing so by politicians. Thus.108 AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW Issues exist through this disagreement on meaning-methodsamong parties with access.the strategicneed to know is satisfied. often come to rely on disruption (cf. Such activities constitute. spokespeople for women's rights.and not on the points raisedby the dissidents. the access of other groups-e. generating surprise. 1973). 12 responseto a complaintthat his newspaper was holdingback an importantstory. becausethe position and event needs of the American press and a substantial portion of the elite became sympatheticwith the movement. The purposivenessunderlying all routine events can be selectively perceived at appropriatemoments to justify cancellinga story because it is viewed as promoted precisely for its media effects." Thus. The mystery of the student protest declines as the scenario becomes increasinglytypified through repetition: buildingsare taken-speeches made-administrationsrespond-cops are called-heads are cracked-ringleaders arrested-trials proceed. In extreme cases. Molotch and Lester. for example. For this reason. little destruction.g. the event needs of a segment of the elite came to correspond to those of the the protesters.That is why the leaders of campus revolts almost never find themselves quoted substantively in the press (cf. (b) DisruptiveAccess. a reporterfor the Los AngelesTimes wrote Molotchthe following defense: "We have not run an extensive story becauseof the judgmentof my editorsthat on case has not become an issue of because the major proportions enveloping the campus community.What does a sit-in mean? Have students gone berserk? Will secretaries be raped? Is order in jeopardy?People interestedin maintaining the ongoing process need to answer these questions before developingstrategy and plans for restoration of order.g.g. 1972).
use of the decisionaltechnique guarantees that only those matters on which the elites do internallydisagree will emergeas study topics. loss of hydrogen bombs over given their purposes-at-hand. attitude polling) is a pur. be passively reporting that which objectively When accidents surface as public events.S. generatedby assemblerswho go out and "dig national defense) becomes unhinged from its up" the news. processes. Accidents thus rest upon miscal. nouncedby the moretraditional '1 It is preciselythese forms of eventswhichtend to be excluded in communitypower researchusing the decisional technique (cf.the release of nerve gas far less contingent than are routine events on concernthat my editors have for tryingto avoidthe situation where something becomes a major issue has becausea large daily newspaper writtenaboutit at length.we can expect that. happenings which are promoted by others followed by attempts to restore traditional into events. oil (c) Direct Access. political espionage. "decisional outis routine in that creatingthe occurrence(e. oil troversy is. For people in everydaylife.BEHAVIOR NEWSAS PURPOSIVE 109 people see a potential event as too costly. By uncriticallyacceptingthose stories which appearin newspapersover an extensivetime period as corresponding to the basic local political conflicts. in our terms." A Kennedy car accident gave the public access tenet of the "new journalism" is that such to that individual'sprivate activities and disnewsmakingis indeed appropriate. Fishman (forthcoming) details how the use of interviewin straight news came as a radical departurefrom objective news coverage. Spain all involve "foul ups" in which the strategic purpose of a given activity (e. a conflict over 1970). For example. an important resource for learningabout the When this identity is sufficiently transparent. This process of accidental disruption. gas research.wise deliberatelyobfuscatedby those with the posive activity promoted as a public event by resourcesto create routineevents. and (2) those who promote it denness of the accident and its unanticipated as a public event are different from those nature means that event makers are initially whose activity brought the happeningabout.in that the promoter and the assemblerare identical.14 Events such as the Santa Barbara spill.spill provided the local public analogous inmately engagein transparent news promotion.This con. routines of those who ordinarilypossess the the media involved may be castigated for psychic and physical resourcesto shield their lacking "objectivity" or for engaging in private lives from public view." Personalcommunicationto the author. Instead of scrutinizingthe police blotter may detect that being a deliberatelyplannedcontributionto a "crime is rising" or may interview or poll a purposelydevelopedsocial structure(or in the population for attitude shifts. unless the needs of powerful people differ. This newswork language of the literature. come"). Featurestories are often of this consequences.' 3 they do so in "error". 1962). Some news stories are production. 1971. be observed culations which lead to a breakdownin the empirically. it fosters revelationswhich are otherrecord checking. Thus.The techniquewas introducedas part of the yellow journalism movement and was depapers. at Dugway Proving Ground. and the inadthere are various vertent U. mutually contradictory acpurposiveactivity which leads to unenvisioned counts. Banfield. nonobjective 1 3Whatis or is not a transparently technique changes historically. As argued elsewhere (Molotch.g. resourcesfor eliminatingit. an accident like the Santa Barbara whether or not media personnel can legiti.g. and thus. study of event-structuring oil In their realizationas events.meanings can. sights into the everyday functioningof Ameror whether they must continue to appearto ican political and economic institutions.pluralistic findings are guaranteedthrough the mode of case selection. not ready and thus the powerful could give In the case of accidents people engage in uncoordinated. . Accidents proceduressubsequently routine event-making An accident differs from a routine event in and increasinglycome into play to define the two respects: (1) the underlyinghappeningis accident out of public politics. the accidentis the effector. however.positions. The Ted "muckraking" or "yellow journalism. assemblersin are the opposite of routine events. sort but many "straightnews" articles can be The accident tends to have results which of the same type. It is distinctive. we take accidents to constitute a crucial resourcefor the empirical customaryorder. happens. But the sudnot intentional. we have found. accidents are the Watergate arrests. January8.
1971). Thus.but unlike a routine event. sharesfeaturesof both the accident and 1970-71. Like the accident. effector himself (as with routine events). testimony in the aftermath of the Watergate the promoting is not done by those who arrests. the legitimacy of newsmaking as an objective enterprise is undermined. All this attests to the fact that all events are socially constructed and their "newsworthiness'is not contained in their objective features. an accident can stimulate a series occurrenceeffectors. high status people "fink" on each other-as. as in the instance of the Santa oil and Dean precipitating happening is intended and the Barbara spill. in so doing."or when political leaders wage internecinewar to eliminate opponents (e. similarly. Again. It is not a routine event in that those originallyinvolved in making it happen-whether defined as the troops in the field or the President and Generals-did not intend that the mass murder become a recorded phenomenon. be obviously the "managing news. 1969) could easily be conceived as far more disastrous to the natural environment and to human life than any oil spill.g. received far less coverage. but their trusted hirelings are also strategically well situated. Lester. the Fortas. the of scandals. the scandalreveals normallyhidden features of individual lives or institutional processes. 1969. My Lai) and often a complete failure. The more both circumstances are fulfilled. 1969. A scandalinvolves an occurrencewhich when the informer is of relativelylow status becomes an event through the intentional and unsupportedby a group with power. when political reformersexpose "the machine. the massive escape of nerve gas at Dugway Proving Ground (cf.did not envisionit as a public event. Of course. Of course. owing to the physical evidence widely available to direct experience. if newsmaking results in published accounts consideredby a multitude to differ from "what happened"as determined by their own event needs. the outflow of a small sea of oil on the beaches of Californiais for "anybody" a remarkableoccurrence. originally brought about the happening. it is difficult to deny their existence. The My Lai massacreis one of the more dramatic examples of scandal. for example. underlying happening which is unplanned (as we assume.scandal-making (e. Ronald A fourth type of event. The serendipity event has an read about it in newspapers. In fact. (The ITT issue derives from an attempt by Examples of the serendipitousevent are hard ITT to destroy the scandal by denying the precipitating occurrence. yet again. Thus. Dodd. Also. and in the McCord event is promoted. The tortuous route the occurrence followed (it was twenty months becoming a public event) has been elucidated in some detail. Given the inherent drama. formers") who for one reason or another do not share the event-makingstrategies of the Frequently. the serendipity Reagan deliberatelypaid no state income tax event. Oil spills off the Gulf of Mexico.g." That is. but did not expect. not all accidents become public events.Dita Bearddid.) A scandal requires 5 See New York Times. relatively little coverage occurred(cf. the greater the capacity to generate a scandal. well. scandals can also occur Scandals when statuses are more asymmetrical." with accidents) but is promoted by the but again. November 20. the event's realizationtypically comes as Serendipity a surpriseto the originalactors.it was and routine events but differ from both as an Army corporalwho exposed My Lai. the willing cooperation of at least one party The Times (London). this capacity is disproportionatelyin the hands of elites. the business can be quite arduous activity of individuals (we call them "in.110 AMERICAN REVIEW SOCIOLOGICAL having power and legitimacy which derive either from first-handexperience(the eye-witness) or position in the social structure(e.only later was it transformedinto a "massacre.it may Scandals share features of both accidents have been a clerk who exposed Reagan. and atypicality of accidents.' 5 My Lai was originally reported as a successful. sensation. . and a reporteror newspaperwhich ignoredit would. November 20. Like a routine event.g. routine offensive againstViet Congsoldiers. a "leaker"of memos or Pentagon papers). almost as large as the Santa Barbara spill." other In scandals. to the routine. the event needs of the powerful. Hirsch. write the notorious "ITTMemo. Goldfine scandals). and typically nonimportantgroupscan more easily hold sway in the temporaldemarcation process.
We think that mass media should similarly be viewed as bad clinical records. i. they are as unretrievable for sociological investigation as accidents are retrievable. distinguishedby the degree to which their underlying happening is accomplished intentionally and by whether the occurrence effector or an informer does the promotionwork. We can look for the methods throughwhich ideological hegemony is accomplishedby examining the recordswhich are produced.. sociologists who habitually take their research topics and conceptual constructs as they are made availablethrough mass media and simi- Happening Accomplished Not Intentionally Routine Scandal Serendipity Accident . Unlike the accident.Table 1 displays the four event types. but the practices of those having the power to determine the experience of others. is to accept as reality the political work by which events are constituted by those who happen to currentlyhold power. Following Garfinkel.e. We advocate examining media for the event needs and the methods through which those with access come to determine the experience of publics. one converts an accidentinto a deliberateact. the underlying happening in the serendipityevent remainsunobservedand perhapsunobservable members for of publics.rather than viewing an institution's records as standing ideally for something which happened. one approach to mass media is to look not for reality. Future researchon media and on the dynamics of power would be strengthenedby taking this "second face of power" (cf. For the citizen to read the newspaperas a catalogue of the importanthappeningsof the day. Only in the accident. We see media as reflecting not a world out there. people are not given the kinds of information which accidents and scandals afford. They are the least sociologically useful of any event type. but for purposes which underlie the strategies of creating one reality instead of another. what the "good reasons" are. we attempt a new departure for the study of news. our interest in its "badness"does not rest in an opportunity for criticism and depiction of irony. Garfinkel concludes that there are "good organizational reasonsfor bad clinical records. 1964) into consideration. one can instead see in those records the organizationalpractices of people who make Table 1. and. in the scandal. More profoundly. Bachrachand Baratz. Event Classificatory Scheme Happening Accomplished Intentionally Promoted by Effector Promoted by Informer records routinely. Thus. but rather in the possibility of understandinghow the product comes to look like it does. Self-proclaimed heroes are perhapsa variantof those who effect serendipitous events: one inadvertantly performsa given act which resultsin the accomplishmentof some courageousand socially-desiredtask. through self-promotion (or at least tacit approval)." And those "good reasons" are the topic of researchbecause they spell out the clinic's social organization. By way of summary. Becauseserendipity events are difficult to differentiate from routine events. Edelman. or for the social scientist to use the newspaper for uncriticallyselecting topics of study. thereby allowing access to informationwhich is directly hostile to those groups who typically manage public event making. secondarily. 1962. SUMMARY DISCUSSION 111 Consistent with Gans' (1972) urgings. is that routine political work transcended to some significant degree. Seen in this way. HaroldGarfinkelmade a similarpoint about clinical records he investigated. Because the agent can transform the unintendedhappeninginto a routine event through his promotion activities.NEWSAS PURPOSIVE BEHAVIOR to come by precisely because one of its features is that the effector/promoter disguises it to make it appearroutine.
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