Gatekeeping Theory of Mass Communication Explained


There are literally billions of data points that human culture generates every day. Although we access more information on a daily basis than we ever have before, it is impossible to access every data point that is created every day. This means we must filter these data points so that we are able to access the ones that are either most relevant or occur within our proximity.

This is where the gatekeeping theory of mass communication comes into play. This theory defines the processes that are used to select the data points we do consume on the individual level. Gatekeeping chooses the criteria, based on our personal preferences, to let some data points through while excluding those that may be unwanted.

Various filters can be applied to the gatekeeping mechanism. The most common filters include the type or nature of the information, the type of content, or the type of event that has occurred. Each filter is influenced by several different factors that help to create an individualized approach.

What Are the 5 Factors of Gatekeeping?

There are five factors that influence the gatekeeping theory of mass communication.

1. Individuals.
Individual journalists create the news. Individual writers create content. Individual editors alter the news in some way. Then we as individuals take truths out of the information we consume based on our individual experiences, perspectives, and beliefs.

2. Routines.
There are various themes in content and media that are always presented in a pattern. Schedules must be followed, information must be uploaded, and there is only a certain amount of time that is dedicated to the consumption of these data points by individuals.

3. Organizations.
Certain news organizations may have their own agendas, which influence the news. Fox News and MSNBC might approach the same data points, but in different ways. Organizations also have their own ethics and rules that they enforce, which means the data points being consumed may be tinged by those rules or ethics.

4. Third Party Media.
Advertisers, wealthy institutions, or wealthy individuals may be able to have a say in what data points are published in the first place. They may be able to influence the various gates that are mediating data for consumers as well.

5. Ideologies.
Information tends to follow the same pattern as the accepted societal norms, but within certain demographics of consumers. Ethical ideologies may also influence the data points. Looking at CNN and Breitbart, with their differences, would be an example of how ideologies influence the information being consumed.

An emerging sixth factor is also influencing the mediator role that gatekeeping as offered in the past. New technologies make it possible for an audience to be in direct contact with those who produce information, allowing for immediate consumption without a gatekeeping filter in place. This means anyone can publish anything and it is up to each individual and demographic to determine its credibility.

What Are the Features of the Gatekeeping Theory of Mass Communication?

Gatekeeping is the process of selecting, and then filtering, items of media that can be consumed within the time or space that an individual happens to have. This means gatekeeping must be put into a role of surveillance, monitoring the data points that are created every day to sort out the relevant items that someone will want to have.

Because of this, gatekeeping also sets a specific standard for information worthiness. In a world where “fake news” often competes with “real news,” gatekeeping can be programmed to tell the differences between the two types of content so that only the preferred data points are consumed by each individual.

Gatekeeping may also have influential factors on policies and procedures, playing the role of a watchdog within society. The relationship between the Presidential administration and the press is an example of this in the United States. Each works to keep the other in check.

Humans are also their own gatekeepers at the point of consumption, creating a secondary filter for information. If you live in Northern Canada and the informational gatekeeper pushes through content that talks about suntan lotion, the individual may filter the content and discard it because it is not relevant to them at that time.

Even the attitudes of content changes based on a personal perspective. People tend to support one side or the other in any media-related debate. That favoritism can make a subject seem more or less important based on how the data points are consumed.

The gatekeeping theory of mass communication is a method which allows us to keep our sanity. By consuming content that is most relevant each day, we can ignore the billions of additional data points that are calling for our attention.