Jeremy Clarkson still in the news? Here’s why

50 years is a long time to be relevant in academic debate; even longer to still be right. The names Galtung and Ruge rarely get bandied beyond media studies courses, but their seminal study from 1965 on the reasons why a news story makes it big is as relevant and accurate today as it was when first published.

So with many people wondering why Jeremy Clarkson’s recent fracas has dominated news in TV, red-tops and broadsheets alike, what would Galtung & Ruge analysis say? Taking five of the original 20-strong criteria, here’s why the Clarkson story ran, and ran, and…

Frequency: Events that occur suddenly and fit with the news organisation’s schedule are more likely to be reported than those that occur gradually or at inconvenient times of day or night. Long-term trends are not likely to receive much coverage.

Tick. Although the circumstances of the fracas happened well before it was reported, the Clarkson story “broke” when the BBC released a press statement on the morning of 10 March 2015, allowing the story to be covered across the media. Crucially, Fleet Steet had time to create further coverage of the story in time for the morning papers.

Negativity: Bad news is more newsworthy than good news.

Tick(-ish). The prospect of missing out on the final episodes of Top Gear might be welcome relief to some, but many people were incensed that the Beeb had axed the show before its season finale.

Personalisation: Events presented as the actions of individuals will be more attractive than those lacking such “human interest.”

Tick. For those unfamiliar with the story, Clarkson allegedly punched (then allegedly slapped) a Top Gear producer in a row over a piece of warmed meat.

Reference to elite persons: Stories concerned with the rich, powerful, famous and infamous get more coverage.

Tick. Clarkson is not just rich and famous, but in the media is also a powerful figure – not only does he front the BBC’s most lucrative export, he’s worked as a columnist for several newspapers and uses the opportunity to talk about more than the floorpans of the early Lamborghini Miura (think middle-Britain politics). He has 4.74m followers on Twitter and personal friend David Cameron has even defended his actions.

Consonance: Stories that fit with the media’s expectations receive more coverage than those that defy them (and for which they are thus unprepared).

Big tick. Clarkson’s fracas is, of course, a continuation of the ongoing narrative of the untamed presenter who consistently evades real censure: accusations cast against Clarkson concern gay rights, racism, road safety and mental health.


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