Term Paper: Gangs Since the 1980S

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[. . .] Whether or not an individual claims to be "just reporting" these active decisions must be made and add up to the effect of a very conscious methodology for creating news stories. In this sense, the news, if not as subject to personal construction as fiction, still possesses a very heavy element of personal creation above and beyond so-called "objective" reportage.

As Herbert Gans points out in his book Deciding What's News, journalists do have a very significant effect on the creation of news stories based on what sorts of decisions they make about covering a specific story:

That structure is not solely a figment of the analyst's work, for journalists, being unable to report everything that happened... must select some actors and activities from many millions they could choose. The result is a recurring pattern of news about a fairly small number of actors and activities."

Gans 6)

Thus, we see that news stories are not simply unbiased objective reportage of events, but in fact are tailored and altered by journalists, writers, and editors toward a singular and unique vision. The question, of course is what vision exactly are journalists shaping and who and what interest serves to create this vision.

As Harvey Molotch has pointed out in his essay "The City as a Growth Machine," media outlets, such as TV news and newspapers generally have an interest in developing and growing a city:

The local institution which seems to take prime responsibility for the sustenance of these civic resources -- the metropolitan newspaper -- is also the most important example of a business which has its interest anchored in the aggregate growth of the locality.


Thus, we can see that not only do news reporting outlets construct their stories after a fashion, but they do so in a way that will most likely support urban growth in a way that would therefore increase the size of their market. Moreover, many media outlets are already owned by otherwise successful businessmen who have other economic interests -- therefore the sort of news that they would like their stations to play ought naturally to reflect their interests rather than to educate the populace or "objectively" report on current affairs on both the local and national level.

News reports tend to demonize gangs and make it seem as if urban centers are hounded by this problem of violence -- indeed they often suggest that all people who live in the inner city belong in gangs or commitviolent crimes. Not only is this absurd, but it also has several economic uses in support of business capital and urban growth. By painting gangs as a violent and dangerous "other" (gangs as represented in the media are never white), the media is able to maintain a public upswell of support for urban development and generally for intervention in inner city areas, such that developers are able to displace inhabitents and "gentrify" neighborhoods in the name of increasing safety and stopping gang violence.

Thus, we see that, depending on the medium and the message, gang members are typically either glorified as rebellious romantic heroes who rage against the system or else are depicted as violent and terrible people who threaten the security of white middle class Americans. The oddity of these depictions is that the sway from one extreme to the other, but in both cases, there is a common theme under the widely divergent representations -- economic exploitation. By selling the rebellious image of gang members, people in the entertainment industry are able to make millions and millions of dollars. Indeed, this streetwise, tough, and rebellious image is used to sell music with increasing force, and more often than not it is the personality and music video of a rapper that does more to sell records than an actual song. On the other hand, developers and businesspeople that have an interest in urban growth and "development" find it useful to portray gang members as dangerous and damaging to any community -- as complete villains. Again, they use this technique because by doing so they can garner greater support with their development projects and be given a freer reign in developing an area because they can claim to be "cleaning up the streets" or gentrifying in area in the interests of the community. Regardless of the image, however, neither of these depictions transgress the stereotypes of gang members.


Herbert J. Gans. Deciding What's News: A Study of CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly

News, Newsweek, and Time. New York: Vintage Books, 1980.

Harvey Molotch. "The City as a Growth Machine." Retrieved at http://nw- ar.com/face/molotch.html.

Martin Sanchez-Jankowski. Islands in the Street: Gangs and Urban American Society. California: U. Cal Press, 1992. [END OF PREVIEW]

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