Let’s think about what we come across skimming through a printed newspaper. The answer is most likely colorful and large pictures of some familiar faces: the politicians, celebrities, business people and so on. Now picture someone that’s reading that content; someone who is probably commuting to work, sitting in a cafe or at a park. In the news industry those who make in the papers and those who consume it don’t necessarily overlap.
In the journalistic production elite actors like political figures, bureaucrats and specialists have long been regarded as reliable and prominent sources of information, whose opinions and statements would supposedly spark a broader interest in society. Albeit not a recent practice and probably dating back to the very beginning of journalism, everyday people would also find themselves a moderate place within the news, either as the main subject of an unfolding event or someone whom the journalist consulted to represent the public opinion on a particular issue.
Academic research on news covering ordinary citizens has been on the rise, especially with the proliferation of social media platforms that, in various ways, rendered those people more publicly visible as actors that have a say in things that matters to them and that are capable of shaping the public debate. Their presence in printed newspapers is still necessary for several reasons. People also like to read content they can relate to and it is in one way or another the mainstream media’s responsibility to make sure diverse opinions are heard.
With this research, we wanted to see to what extent printed newspapers are covering news about ordinary citizens and how. We selected 12 Turkish newspapers of different scales, reach, ownerships, ideology and target audience to map out whether there are any patterns when portraying an ordinary citizen as the subject of news using content analysis methodology.
- Newspapers devote more space to elite actors such as state officials and bureaucrats.
- Political ideologies of the newspapers are determinative when it comes to choosing which ordinary citizens are going to be represented and how.
- The portrayal of ordinary people in the news can’t go beyond them being passive actors. Only a few newspapers give voice to the public opinion on political matters.
- The majority of the content covering ordinary people focus on topics like crime, death and accidents.
- In 1 out of 5 ordinary citizen news stories, a femicide or violence against a woman is being reported.
- The main subjects in stories reporting death are generally women and workers.
- Ordinary citizen stories, with a few exceptions, almost never make it to the front pages of the newspapers.
- Ordinary citizen stories are generally kept short and written in a negative tone. A “routine news” style, which is far from being solution-oriented, is observed. This means that ordinary people’s stories are turned into crime news, in which the social dimensions are disregarded.
- Ordinary citizen stories in which a positive incident is being reported are rather exceptional. This demonstrates a persisting approach in Turkey’s journalistic production where negativity is associated with newsworthiness.
- The use of language is direct in ordinary citizen stories. It is possible to come across disturbing rhetoric and visuals especially in crime and violence stories.
- In many newspapers, stories covering civil society and ordinary people are intertwined; but overall, the visibility of civil society organizations and representatives in the institutional context is lower.
- In some newspapers a politically correct tone in favor of the victim is utilized in contrast to those that portray ordinary people as one of the parties to a crime in the traditional ‘3rd page news’ pattern.
- Sensational headlines used to mislead and attract readers
- Mostly photographs of the crime scene and personal photographs of the subjects of the incident are being used in ordinary citizen stories, prompting certain ethical concerns.