Human beings are inherently subjective. Because of this, all the supposedly objective coverage of news events is, in fact, biased in some way. Even newspapers, which are sometimes thought to be an objective source of news, are biased in what they emphasize or don’t. Production variables in newspapers include typeface, font size, the use of italics/bold, and placement of the text on the page. Most people who consume this media are completely unaware of these aspects at work. Meyrowitz writes in his article that these usually invisible elements of media are “used to attempt to shape perceptions and response to mediated communications”, such as news stories (Meyrowitz, 99).
For example, the UK newspaper “The Telegraph” featured an enormous color photo of Will and Kate after the 2011 royal wedding. Underneath the photo is an article entitled “Osama Bin Laden is Dead”. While the newspaper did not share any false information, the “manipulation of production variables may be subtly reflecting and influencing the public’s perception of people, places, and events” (Meyrowitz, 101). In this case, it was manipulating the size and placement of a photo to draw the reader’s attention to it, framing it to be just as, if not more, important as the assassination of Osama Bin Laden.
In this example, the concept of grammar and production variables can relate to the theory of agenda setting. This theory describes the power media has to shape what stories are featured more prominently, thus influencing what the public regards as most important. By using the production elements of font size, boldness, picture size, placement, etc. newspapers are able to set the agenda of what is most important for their readers.
Another example of this comes from the newspaper The New York Post. While this newspaper is not the most professional production, it is a perfect example of how media “grammar” can set an agenda for the public. When Tiger Woods’s career was tarnished by a sex scandal in 2009, The New York Post kept the story on their cover for 19 consecutive issues. By using large typeface and placing the story on the majority of the front page, the newspaper was using the grammar of this medium to set the agenda to Tiger Woods, keeping him relevant and in the spotlight. The only other story to get 19 consecutive covers on The New York post was the terrorist attacks of September 11th.
Lastly, the photograph of someone a newspaper chooses to include in their publication can be a huge influence on the perception the audience has. Meyrowitz mentions in his article that “grammar is most visible when a content element is held constant” (pg. 102), like a photo of the same person. For example, one of the most blatant examples of this would be the variety of photos of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman different news outlets chose to include.
While these are all pictures of the two individuals, each picture tells a completely different story. If a newspaper wanted to paint Martin in a negative light, they may choose the latter picture of him and the professional one of Zimmerman. This influence over the grammar of this medium can subsequently influence the perception readers have on the issue.
McCombs, M; Reynolds, A (2002). “News influence on our pictures of the world”. Media effects: Advances in theory and research.