Translation Channel in News Gatekeeping Process
The gatekeeping metaphor was originally introduced by the German-American social psychologist Kurt Lewin in 1947. The key concepts in Lewin’s theory which primarily focuses on changing the food habits of a population are channel, gate, gatekeeper and force. For Lewin (1947, 144-145), the food moves through some channels in order to reach the family table, and there are certain areas (i.e. gates) within channels where decisions on what to select and what to discard are continuously made by individual gatekeepers. The process of gatekeeping is also governed by some forces which determine whether or not an item can move into and through the channel. Lewin says that the same gatekeeping process holds true for producing news in news organizations. This analogy made in passing is in fact the original transfer of gatekeeping theory to mass communications and journalism research. In 1950, David Manning White who worked as Lewin’s research assistant at the University of Iowa applied gatekeeping theory to research on mass communications. His article “The Gatekeepers: A Case Study in the Selection of News” later motivated other scholars (e.g., Bass 1969; McNelly 1959; Westley and MacLean 1957; Gieber 1956) to write on the topic.
Lewin’s concept of force is probably the most complex concept in his theory. In the early studies on news gatekeeping process, several factors are considered as forces behind the decisions made by individual gatekeepers. For instance, White (1950) views personal subjectivity as the force governing the gatekeeping process; or, Gieber (1956) considers institutions and their routines as influential factors. In this respect, a more holistic view is offered by Shoemaker (1991, 75) who asserts that whereas the decision to select, discard and shape the news message in a particular way can be influenced by the gatekeepers’ personal values, individual gatekeepers are not totally autonomous in the process of decision making. In fact, they work within the constraints of communication routines of organizations which are themselves influenced by forces from outside of the organization. He also adds that, “none of these actors – the individual, the routine, the organization, or the social institution – can escape the fact that it is tied to and draws its sustenance from the social system” (Shoemaker 1991, 75).
According to Shoemaker et al. (2001, 234; see also Shoemaker and Reese 1996), studying gatekeeping in communication context can be done on five levels of analysis, i.e. individuals, routines of communication work, organizational characteristics, social institutions, and societies. The factors mentioned by Shoemaker et al. (2001) are in fact the forces influencing the process of news gatekeeping. It should be noted, however, that these factors are not of equal influential power. Whereas individual subjectivity may have the minimum impact, socio-political systems can be said to have the maximum influence on the gatekeepers’ decisions.
In addition to mass communications and journalism, Lewin’s gatekeeping theory has been applied to research in other disciplines, such as management and information science (Barzilai‐Nahon 2008). In translation studies, the gatekeeping metaphor has been widely used in the study of news translation (e.g., Valdeón 2014; Cheesman and Nohl 2011; Fujii 1988). The relevance of gatekeeping theory to the study of news translation is due to the role that translation plays in international news gatekeeping process. This role has been acknowledged by Bass (1969) who proposes a two-segment news processing model.
In this model, the process of news flow is divided into two segments, i.e. news gathering and news processing. At the stage of news gathering, a news copy is produced and then transmitted across the news room or across the world to the news processors whose task is to edit, translate and modify the news copy for local needs on the basis of certain policies (Bass 1969, 72). As can be inferred from the model, translation is a part of news processing action and translators can be considered as individual gatekeepers whose decisions influence the final news product.
In the study of news translation, it could be said that gatekeeping theory has not been used to its full potential. The process of translation in global news organizations can be better described by employing the fundamental concepts of Lewin’s gatekeeping theory (i.e. channel, gate, etc.). In fact, translation is a channel through which information reaches audiences in different linguistic communities. The selection of a particular message for translation and the transformation of the message in particular ways are carried out at the gate sections of the translation channel, which are controlled by ideological forces. Also, Lewin’s idea that “changing the food habits of a family is equivalent to changing the food that moves through [the] channel” (1947, 144) is useful for describing the significance of the role that translation plays in controlling the flow of information. Shaping the worldview of a society can be said to be equivalent to shaping the information that its members receive every day, and translation is the main channel of shaping information in the course of foreign-language news text production.
In my Ph.D. thesis – Describing Translations of Political News Texts (in progress) – I draw on Lewin’s gatekeeping theory, among other theoretical tools, to deal with the conceptual problems of research on news translation. Applying more thoroughly the gatekeeping theory to the study of news translation could contribute to a better conceptualization of the translation process in news organizations. It could also accentuate the role of translation in directing the public perception of social, political and economic realities.