Here’s what mass media theorist Pamela Shoemaker said in a 1991 paper about the concept of the media as a gatekeeper:
Thus we see the complexity of the gatekeeping process. The individual gatekeeper has likes and dislikes, ideas about the nature of his or her job, ways of thinking about a problem, preferred decision-making strategies, and values that all impinge on the decision to reject or select (and shape) a message. But the gatekeepers is not totally free to follow a personal whim; he or she must operate within the constraint of communication routines to do things this way or that. All of this also must occur within the framework of the communications organization, which has its own priorities but also is continuously buffeted by influential forces from outside the organization.
The media are made up of a lot of individual gatekeepers who operate within larger organizations. Despite this variety of personnel, the major media outlets are often criticized for acting in unison. Major stories aren’t major until broken by one of the big newspapers or TV networks, and then the rest jump on the bandwagon. They act collectively as powerful gatekeepers, determining what stories are important by their own collusion of thought. Individual gatekeepers can serve as collective gatekeepers if most of them look at the world the same way.
The blogosphere has changed that. In the last six months we’ve seen several major stories gain traction outside of the satisfying model. Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz pointed out that few traditional outlets chose to cover the most recent example, the Eason Jordan story.
As of yesterday, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and USA Today had not carried a staff-written story, and the CBS, NBC and ABC nightly news programs had not reported the matter. It was discussed on several talk shows on Fox News, MSNBC and CNBC but not on CNN.
Despite the collective decision of the gatekeepers to ignore the story, Eason resigned mainly because of the pressure exerted by the blogosphere. There was a time when only the largest of newspapers and the Big Three networks wielded such power.
Those days are over.