Vox pops. The content, Selection and Influence of Vox Pops in News Coverage
30 augustus 2017
Stadscampus, Klooster van de Grauwzusters, Promotiezaal - Lange St-Annastraat 7 - 2000 Antwerpen (route: UAntwerpen, Stadscampus
Prof. dr. Hilde Van den Bulck en prof. dr. Stefaan Walgrave
Doctoraatsverdediging Kathleen Beckers - Faculteit Sociale Wetenschappen, Departement Communicatiewetenschappen
Abstract (in English)
Interviews with the ordinary man or woman on the street are omnipresent in television news. Interviews like these in which ordinary citizens express a personal statement are probably recognizable for anyone who has ever consumed news and are called 'vox pops'. These vox pops are often seen as evidence of the increasing commercialization of the news, where entertainment and personal stories become central. As they are often perceived as ‘trivial’ news sources, vox pops have received limited attention in academic research and journalism practice.
However, vox pops are one of the most direct representations of the public in the news. Depictions of the public in the media are important, as they can contribute to what audiences perceive as being public opinion. This way, they become more than meaningless additions to a news item. Since little is known about vox pops, this PhD dissertation focuses on three main research questions: what are the characteristics and roles of vox pops in the news, what are the motivations of journalists to use them and how do vox pop characteristics influence audience judgments? This dissertation takes a broad focus and explores different aspects of vox pop practice. As such, a variety of methods are combined to answer the research questions: content analyses, a journalist survey and experimental research.
If anything, results of the separate studies prove that vox pops matter. Almost all findings are bad news for the inclusion of vox pops in the news. Although vox pops are a representation of the public in the news, they are not representative and rather stereotypical. Vox pops are frequently used as a public opinion tool and even more in political news, where the opinions displayed matter the most. What is more, most news items show only one point of view through vox pops. Regardless of the context given in a news item, vox pop statements have a powerful influence on the perceptions and opinions of audiences. On top of all of this, journalists do not seem to be fully aware of this vox pop influence and include them in their news items for rather commercial reasons.
To conclude, vox pops should be taken more seriously in academic research and in journalism practice. I hope this PhD dissertation plays a role in creating awareness about the potential impact and power of vox pops in the news among journalists as well as audiences.
Contact e-mail: Kathleen.Beckers2@uantwerpen.be