Ideological Subtext – Part 1

One of the things I want to do in this blog is to share my analysis of ideological subtext in the news media. Ideological subtext consists of the messages that a journalist and media outlet make in developing story details, e.g., who or what to feature as the case history example, what comments are selected or simply the unstated point-of-view narrating the news story. The ongoing pattern of decisions creates the media outlet’s ideological subtext. For example, peruse the non-business pages of any newspaper specifically looking for examples of the writer taking for granted that free markets are preferable to regulated ones. I’m sure you’ll find many.

The photos in a story that began on the front page of the August 4, 2009 New York Times titled “Years After Layoffs, Many Still Struggle to Match Old Salaries” betray a Times ideological subtext that I believe is relatively new: support of an overtly Christian lifestyle. The story reflects the headline and focuses on a few people in a networking group laid off by Pratt & Whitney in 2000. The captions to two of the three photos on the page A12 continuation say it all: “Chuck Dettman arriving at his Christian counseling service, Today’s Promise, in Jupiter, Fla.” and “Jim Clark, with his wife, Jeanne, outside St. Paul of the Cross Church in North Palm Beach, Fla.”

Now the writer, Micheal Luo, chose to ask the photographer to take photos in a religious setting and the editor chose to use them. The decision to let religious environments dominate a story about jobs and economics was consciously or unconsciously ideological. Even if the subjects of the case histories all wore their religions on their sleeves, the photographs still could have avoided interjecting religion into the context, for example, photos in front of their homes or at their current lower-paying jobs. Or, the writer could have selected a more diverse group of subjects, which is what we have come to expect from the Times in any case.

(In fact, years ago I used to exploit the Times’ desire to use a diverse set of case history subjects to get stories placed about Pennsylvania economic development programs. I would send information about a Pennsylvania case history to reporters stationed in Detroit and Washington, D.C., who would use the information to round out stories they were doing on economic development that focused on case histories in their regions.)

I wish I had started a blog in 2000 because that’s when I started to notice the Times using religious contexts to depict stories on a wide range of economic topics, social issues and even foreign policy beliefs. I can’t prove it, though, unless I could somehow go back and analyze every Times article over the past 40 years. Let’s call it an impression I have.

4 thoughts on “Ideological Subtext – Part 1

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