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date: 14 April 2021

Gatekeeping and the Negativity Biaslocked

  • Stuart N. SorokaStuart N. SorokaDepartment of Political Science, University of Michigan


Research on media gatekeeping is focused on the factors leading to a distribution of information in media content that is systematically different from the “real world.” Early gatekeeping work examined editorial decisions, and emphasized the effect that a single editor’s preferences and beliefs could have on the content new consumers receive. The literature has gradually shifted to focus on more generalizable factors, however. These include organization-level assessments of newsworthiness and commercial/economic considerations; broader system-level factors including the impact of dominant ideologies and political and social norms; and common individual-level factors, including a range of cognitive and psychological biases.

The tendency for humans to prioritize negative over positive information is one such cognitive bias—and the growing literature on the negativity bias is discussed here as one example of a set of organization-, system-, and individual-level “gates” that have a systematic impact on news content. Negativity is just one example, however. Sensationalism, violence, geographic proximity, availability of visuals, prominence of celebrities—all of these tendencies in media content can and have been examined effectively using the gatekeeping metaphor. Some of this work is reviewed here, alongside some recent trends in gatekeeping work, including the “distributional” approach to gatekeeping, and the shift in gatekeeping brought on by the “new media” environment.

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