In its simplest conceptualization within mass communication, gatekeeping is the process by which the vast array of potential news messages are winnowed, shaped, and prodded into those few that are actually transmitted by the news media. It is often defined as a series of decision points at which news items are either continued or halted as they pass along news channels from source to reporter to a series of editors.
Lewin’s original “theory of channels and gate keepers” was used to explain how social change might occur by affecting food consumption. He proposed a model that illustrated how food items that came from varying ”channels” (e.g., the grocery or garden) had to pass through several “gates” before being available for consumption at the family table. The term ”gate keeper” was used to refer to the person or persons buying, transporting, and preparing the food items. Channels were divided into “sections“ in which the food items would be manipulated.
In the context of the mass media, channels refer to communication linkages, whether they are passages in the source-journalist relationship or within media organizations themselves. Sections are events or states of being that occur within each channel, e.g., the editing process, and a channel may have multiple sections, such as multiple editing points. Gates are decision points at which items may be stopped or moved from section to section or channel to channel. Gatekeepers are either the individuals or the sets of routine procedures that determine whether items pass through the gates.