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Communication scholars have been concerned with issues related to the role of mass media in constructing social reality. To examine the media's function in the news process, news studies need to link communicator analysis with audience analysis. The purpose of this article is to explain the concept of "actuality (Aktualitat)" and K. Merten's integrated model of total news process (Aktualitat Modell), and to discuss the relation of "actuality" with the construction of reality. The concept of "actuality" has been referred to as one of the essential features of the news message in the traditional mass media studies of West Germany. Merten, however, insists that it is defined as the motivation-scale of communication. According to his definition, "actuality" consists of two interacting factors: "surprise" (Uberrassung) as information-value and "relevance" (Relevanz). In other words, the more an event is surprising to the communicator as well as to the audience, and the more both of them are interested in it, the more likely it is to be transmitted and received as news. In the mass cornmunication process, Merten argues, the audience's reconstruction" of reality is performed by receiving the news selected by mass media, i. e. , the communicator's "construction" of reality. On the other hand, news actuality results in creating, more or less, a shared reality which is based on common "actllality" in the various social processes; more concretely, as illustrated by Merton, through "imaginary communication" (virtuelle Kommunikation) and the three dimensions of "reflexivity" (Reflexivitat). This means that the mass media provide social members with an image of "real-reality". In sum, "actuality" is regarded as a fundamental criterion of news selection that governs both the mass media's and the individuals' construction of reality. The shared "actuality" among social members, I suppose, would create a feeling of being present and a moment of participating in a common reality, and, therefore, function as the basis for making up that common reality.
Japanese journalism review : devoted to studies in journalism and mass communication (37), 181-195, 312, 1988-04-30 [Table of Contents]
The Japan Society for Studies in Journalism and Mass Communication