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Observing occasions of city hall newsgathering Webster, Sylvia Kathleen Freya

Abstract

This study is a description of newsgathering practices and how newspaper reporters produce news accounts in the city hall setting, as directly experienced in a participant-observation research situation with city hall reporters. Classical concerns with news have assumed news to be stories selected from and reporting the "objective reality of social facts" (Durkheim, 1938) occurring "out there" in the world as intrinsically "newsworthy" independent of their telling as "news". However, within a new stance taken toward the news by a number of scholars, city hall news is focused on here as the practical accomplishment of reporters' routine newsgathering practices. A central concern is to learn and describe how city hall reporters organize their observations and background knowledge of civic business so as to produce "city hall news". Another major focus is to describe and attend to my own observational situation within my account as the medium through which an ethnographic account of city hall news account-making is accomplished. By attending to my ongoing learning process, this thesis is an exercise in exploring my direct experience of this news-gathering setting as a means of discovering what it is to observe an occasion so as to produce an account of it. The conceptual framework of the "co-observational situation" is introduced for portraying the organization of my research experience as a co-observer, having access to accomplish concurrent observations of city hall occasions with newsgather-ing reporters. Statements expressed by reporters as adequate and reasonable explanations of their newsgathering work are presented as the "data" for this account, along with field-noted and tape-recorded observations made while accompanying my chief reporter-informant. As a co-observer of city hall business occasions with reporters I could see only part of the process of how news-gathering is done. Chapter 3 describes how I learned what there is to observe happening in city council meetings as regular news-gathering occasions. It is discovered that not everything reported as "news" about a council meeting or topic of decision-making can be observable within the time boundaries of the meeting occasion itself. Other routine occasions of newsgathering such as committee meetings and mayor's press conferences are observed as previewing developing newsworthy topics of civic business. Reporters are found to have a sense of knowing what to look for as "the story of the day". What becomes told as the "newsworthy" item of civic business discussed in a city council meeting 'today' is not necessarily found or initiated as a "newsworthy" topic solely within the occasion of that meeting. Instead that topic of "newsworthy11 civic business is often worked up as "news" in earlier and later newsgathering situations available to the city hall reporter.

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