Unless you are living under a rock, you are probably very familiar or at least aware of the purported bias in the news. Depending on your political leanings, you may have strong opinions and ideas about the veracity of your news sources (and those you don’t favor).
There are plenty of previous scientific studies on a variety of types of bias in news and specifically political news—https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Media_bias. As we head into the next election cycle in the USA, we wanted to take a closer look at “Gatekeeper” bias, which directly relates to the News Vacuum and Reinforcement Cycle, which was the topic of an earlier article.
The Wikipedia definition captures the common understanding of Gatekeeper function, as follows:
Gatekeeping is the process through which information is filtered for dissemination, whether for publication, broadcasting, the Internet, or some other mode of communication. The academic theory of gatekeeping is founded in multiple fields of study, including communication studies, journalism, political science, and sociology. It was originally focused on the mass media with its few-to-many dynamic but now gatekeeping theory also addresses face-to-face communication and the many-to-many dynamic inherent in the Internet. The theory was first instituted by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1943. Gatekeeping occurs at all levels of the media structure—from a reporter deciding which sources are chosen to include in a story to editors deciding which stories are printed or covered, and includes media outlet owners and even advertisers. Individuals can also act as gatekeepers, deciding what information to include in an email or in a blog. 
Bias Snapshot: Examining Gatekeeper Influence
For this article, we conducted an experiment to compare and contrast the top political news stories on sources from opposite ends of the political spectrum, in an effort to document the prevalence of Gatekeeper bias in action and to see how this may influence what each of us considers the “news”.
We originally had wanted to focus on just the top 5 or 10 political news stories; however, that became a challenge due to the dynamic nature and changing top news stories throughout each day. We eventually focused on one day and what we (in the role of the audience) were presented as the top political news by each of these sources.
Gatekeepers Are Framing the Conversation
For our news sources, we chose a single “News Aggregator”, “Broadcast/Cable News”, and Leading Publisher from each side of the U.S. political spectrum (republican and democrat). We then attempted to match each news source with a counterpart on the other side of the political spectrum. We then looked at the common stories across each side of the spectrum, then contrasted with the most common top stories from the other side.
We did so in an effort to see if there was a noticeable Gatekeeper bias in what was being reported regarding political news, and therefore, consumed by the respective audiences of these news sources.
In conducting the experiment, it quickly became clear that there was a strong Gatekeeper bias on the two sides of the political spectrum. There were NO top political news stories that appeared on both sides of the spectrum. We had to add a news story like the UN Report on Climate Change to identify ANY even “quasi-political” news stories that appeared in news sources on both sides of the spectrum. Interestingly, these types of stories were more often found amongst the corresponding news sources on either side—where, for example, ONLY the news aggregators would publish the similar or related news.
Comparison & Findings
Sources & Topic Headlines
The following table shows top news articles from our chosen conservative and progressive news sources for Monday, October 8th, 2018.
|Source / Political Leaning||Topic Headlines|
Commonalities & Differences
This table illustrates commonalities and differences of topic headlines between conservative and progressive sources:
|Comparison||Conservative Sources||Progressive Sources|
Commonalities within Political Spectrum
Commonalities Across Political Spectrum
Thoughts & Considerations
This experiment can be repeated and may produce varied results. However, from the experiments we conducted, it is clear that the Gatekeeper bias is alive and well—at least as it relates to political news. This may be a significant contributing reason for the ideological divide we are experiencing in the United States and other areas of the world.