Does the news reflect or construct the world? LAURA BOWATER investigates

Matheson (2005: 15) claims that “[t]he news does not simply reflect the world as if it were a mirror, as journalists often claim […] [A]lso […] the news does not simply construct a picture of the real either, as critics […] have suggested”. This implies that the news which is presented can never be neutral, therefore there will always be some bias one way or another.

The stance taken by news producers is dependent on their audience and is therefore appealing to the side in which the audience’s bias is presented. Therefore the facts can be distorted to fit the audience. This is done through news values to make the news interesting for their intended audience. This is supported by Harcup and O’Neill (2001) who state that “[n]ews values are the criteria employed by journalists to measure and therefore to judge the ’newsworthiness’ of events. […] the news needs to be interesting or appealing to the target audience. News values are meant to be the distillation of what an identified audience is interested in reading” (as cited in Richardson, 2007, p.91).

When looking at the news on the days leading up to the EU referendum it is clear to see the contrasting stances which some papers have taken. On the day of the result the Daily Mirror led with the headline: “So what the hell happens now?”. The use of the noun ‘hell’ indicates negative ideas towards leaving the EU, therefore indicating a bias to be on the stay campaign for Britain. This clearly indicated that leaving the EU is going to have a negative effect on Britain are therefore appealing to the public that wanted to stay within the European Union.

In contrast on the same day the Daily Express had the headline ‘Historic day for Britain’. On the surface the adjective ‘historic’ could be seen to represent a positive view towards the leave campaign of the EU Referendum and therefore achieving the result it set out to achieve. This would appeal to the leave proportion of the population therefore showing again the biased nature of the news. On the surface, ‘historic’ could be inferred to be a neutral adjective, however juxtaposed with the image of the Chelsea pensioners presented underneath the headline it would be safe to assume that it is being used in a patriotic and positive manner.

The BBC is often perceived as the place where the news is neutral. However, post-structuralists would maintain that it is impossible to write from an unbiased stance, arguing that the aim to be unbiased is in itself ‘a position’ (Baker, P., Gabrielatos, C. and McEnery, T. (2013: 8).

LAURA BOWATER, English Language undergraduate, University of Chester


Conboy, M. (2007). The language of the news. Abingdon: Routledge.

Daily Mirror Cover (2016) What the hell happens now? 

Matheson, D. (2005). Media discourses. McGraw-Hill Education (UK).

Richardson, J. E. (2007). Analysing newspapers: An approach from critical discourse analysis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.



4 thoughts on “Does the news reflect or construct the world? LAURA BOWATER investigates

  1. Emily Boland says:

    This is a very informative post about whether the News is a real reflection of the world or not, and has been written in a consistently appropriate style. It is clear that research has been done into the topic, and previous work related to this area has been referred to and used to support the points made for either side of the debate. Both sides of the debate have been outlined, and relevant examples of the reporting of news events in newspapers have been used to support each argument. As you note, some people perceive the BBC to be unbiased in terms of their reporting, which is true and a very interesting point. If I had to ask one question for this post, I would ask what your personal opinion is regarding the BBC having a neutral reporting stance, and why you think this?

  2. Kirsty Cruickshank says:

    I throughly enjoyed reading this blog post! I always find it interesting how much newspapers differ when discussing the same topic, so I loved the comparison between the Daily Mirror and The Daily Express. It shows how newspapers really do try and enforce their own political views on to the public. You mentioned that some individuals view the BBC as a neutral news source, what is your opinion on this?

  3. Mukadem Brumand says:

    I think it is not possible to stay neutral when reporting on a matter because words have positive and negative connotations and depending on what words the writer sees as non-judgemental he will choose the ones he finds appropriate. Those words represent the writer’s subconscious opinion on the matter. Also, connotations will vary depending on where and when you live and thus make the reader interpret it differently.

  4. Nicole Stalldecker says:

    Thank you Laura for this informative analysis. I agree with you that the news create a ‘reflection’ of the reality and that it does not mean that the content of the news is true at the same time. Is it really possible to be completly neutral? If you ask me, it is natural that people interpret news differently.
    For example, you mentioned that the word ‘historic’ implies a positive view, but could it not be seen in a negative way too?

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