Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

First Advisor

Janice Peck

Second Advisor

Elizabeth Skewes

Third Advisor

Andrew Calabrese

Fourth Advisor

Stewart Hoover

Fifth Advisor

Timothy Oakes

Abstract

For several decades media scholars have been examining news consumers’ dissatisfaction with news coverage of events. Some scholars have concluded that part of the consumers’ dissatisfaction stems not from poor quality journalism, but from news consumers not understanding journalistic practices and placing unreasonable expectations upon journalists (ex: Weaver & Wilhoit, 1996). In this dissertation, I analyze the case of Tent City 4, a homeless encampment in King County, Washington, to determine whether or not consumer complaints about the news coverage of Tent City 4 have merit. I begin by evaluating the newspaper coverage of Tent City 4 by the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and the King County Journal to determine whether the coverage met the standards of the news industry and the news values guiding journalistic practice for “good quality journalism.” Then, utilizing methods from Social Problem Theory regarding claims-making, I analyze other communications in the community regarding Tent City 4, including, but not limited to emails from area residents to government officials, transcripts from hearings and court cases, and posts to websites, to determine whether there were issues, themes, or sources journalists may have overlooked in the process of preparing their stories.

I conclude that, despite evidence that all three of the newspapers reported in a manner consistent with industry standards, that there is also evidence to suggest that the normalized routines for information gathering, the focus on selective news values, and the time limitations placed upon journalists can all lead reporters to produce “good,” and yet less than “excellent quality journalism.” In this case, evidence from the analyses of the community communications suggests a shortage of investigative reporting resulting in the marginalization of key groups involved in the debate over Tent City 4. In light of these findings, I argue that there is merit in investigating the complaints of news consumers. Additionally, I contend that it would behoove media scholars to take time to examine that which does not become news when evaluating news coverage of specific events.

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