What’s the value of news?

26 03 2010
Katie Price

Is this news?

By Louisa Hannah

News sense is a vital skill for trainee journalists – but not always as easy to pin down as contempt of court or the structure of local government. Deciding whether a story is news worthy becomes second nature after a while on the news desk, but doesn’t always come naturally for trainees.

Editor of the Argus, Michael Beard, told students at Brighton’s Journalist Works that stories for his newspaper should be selected primarily for their human interest value. Mr Beard said students should think about news selection in terms of what impact issues have on readers: how much it will hurt, cost or affect them. Journalists often select stories and angles intuitively.

They know that news is a commodity to be sold but may be unaware they are adhering to a common set of news values followed by journalists for decades.

One of the best known set of news values was first recorded more than 40 years ago by media researchers John Galtung and Marie Ruge. They made their list in 1965 and it is still the subject of debate by journalists and academics alike. Gultang and Ruge analysed international news stories to find out what factors they had in common, and what factors placed them at the top of the news agenda worldwide.

A story which scores highly on each value is likely to make the front page of a newspaper or tv news bulletin. Many of these values are relevant to trainees once they are sourcing stories, for example; negativity (bad news is more newsworthy than good news), unexpectedness (if an event is out of the ordinary it will have a greater effect than something that is an everyday occurrence) and conflict (opposition of people or forces resulting in a dramatic effect, stories with conflict are often newsworthy).

Some of Gultang and Ruge’s other news values worth looking up are: frequency, threshold, un-ambiguity, meaningfulness, consonance, continuity, reference to unique nations, reference to elite people, composition and personalisation.

A more recent set of news values were published by Harcup and O’Neill in 2001 after they studied the UK National Press They found the following values to be important for the British press (in no particular order):

The power elite: stories concerning powerful individuals, organisations or institutions

Celebrity: stories concerning people who are already famous

Entertainment: stories concerning sex, show-business, human interest, animals and unfolding drama, or offering opportunities for humourous treatment, entertaining photographs or witty headlines

Surprise: stories with an element or surprise and/ or contrast

Bad news: stories with negative overtones such as conflict or tragedy

Good news: stories with positive overtones such as rescues and cures

Magnitude: stories perceived as sufficiently significant either in the numbers of people involved or in potential impact

Relevance: stories about issues, groups and nations perceived to be relevant to the audience

Follow-ups: stories about subjects already in the news

Media agenda: stories that set or fit the news organisation’s own agenda

There is no doubt that news values are evolving. The popularity of reality shows, the blurring of news and celebrity news, the phenomenal rise of citizen journalism – all impact on traditional news values and news processes.

Some people question whether traditional news values are still relevant today. But as future gatekeepers of the news, trainee journalists would do well to at least consider them, if not actively join the debate.




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