How do journalists decide what is news and what is
How do they distinguish between a big news story
and a small one?
The answer is that they do it in exactly the same way
as everybody else.
Everybody makes those same judgments whenever
they decide to talk about one event rather than
What is news?
For example, which do you think is more interesting:
a) A girl going to primary school, to high school, or to
b) A man aged 25 marrying a girl aged 20, or a man
aged 55 marrying a girl aged 15?
c) A car killing a chicken, a pig or a child?
• Every one of these events might be news for the
community in which it happens, but some are more
newsworthy than others.
• You very likely answered that the most interesting
things were a girl going to university, a man aged
55 marrying a girl aged 15, and a car killing a child.
If your answer was different, though, it does not
necessarily mean that you were wrong.
What is news?
What is news?
• The same event can have different levels of interest
in different societies, and will be talked about in
different ways. If a farm wall has collapsed, killing a
cow and a pig, which is more important? Clearly,
the answer will vary from one society to another,
depending upon the relative importance of cows
• For this reason, the content of the news can be
different in different societies. The way in which the
news is judged, though, is the same everywhere.
The criteria by which news is judged are:
• Is it new?
• Is it unusual?
• Is it interesting or signiﬁcant?
• Is it about people?
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In 1965, media researchers Galtung & 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. They came up with the following
list of news values. - a kind of scoring system - a story which
scores highly on each value is certain to come at the start of
a TV news bulletin, or make the front page of a newspaper.
Journalists and editors also draw heavily on their experience
- of what an audience expects, of what stories have had a
major impact on public consciousness in the past, of what is
important - and each news organisation will have their own
system of setting a news agenda.
News Values - Negativity
Bad news - involving death, tragedy, bankruptcy,
violence, damage, natural disasters, political
upheaval or simply extreme weather conditions - is
always rated above 'positive' stories (royal weddings,
News Values - Proximity
aka Closeness to home
Audiences supposedly relate more to stories that are
close to them geographically, or involve people from
their country, or those that are reported that way(eg
'12 Hong Kongers aboard Australia Crash Plane').
News gatekeepers must consider carefully how
meaningful a story will be to their particular audience
News Values - Recency
Newspapers are very competitive about breaking
news - about revealing stories as they happen. 24
hour news channels such as CNN and BBC World
also rate this value very highly. However, as we have
seen with the events of September 11, stories may
take a while to develop, and become coherent, so
recency is not always the best value to rate.
News Values - Currency
This is almost opposite to recency, in that stories that
have been in the public eye for some time already are
deemed valuable. Therefore a story - for instance
about the abduction and murder of a child - may run
for weeks and weeks, even if nothing new really
News Values - Continuity
Events that are likely to have a continuing impact (a
war, a two week sports tournament) have a high value
when the story breaks, as they will develop into an
ongoing narrative which will get audiences to 'tune in
News Values - Uniqueness
'Dog Bites Man' is not a story. 'Man Bites Dog' is. Any
story which covers a unique or unusual event (two-
headed elephant born to Birmingham woman) has
News Values - Simplicity
Obvious, but true. Stories which are easy to explain
('Cat stuck up tree') are preferred over stories which
are not (anything to do with the Balkan or Palestinian
News Values - Personality
Stories that centre around a particular person,
because they can be presented from a 'human
interest' angle, are beloved of newspapers,
particularly if they involve a well-known person. Some
say this news value has become distorted, and that
news organisations over-rate personality stories,
particularly those involving celebrities ('Kate
Middleton Goes Shopping'). What do you think?
News Values - Predictability
Does the event match the expectations of a news
organisation and its audience? Or, has what was
expected to happen (violence at a demonstration,
horriﬁc civilian casualties in a terrorist attack) actually
happened? If a news story conforms to the
preconceived ideas of those covering it, then it has
expectedness as an important news value
News Values - Elite Nations
Any story which covers an important, powerful nation
(or organisation) has greater news values than a story
which covers a less important nation. The same goes
for people. Barack and Michelle Obama are
newsworthy whatever they do.
News Values - Exclusivity
Also a major factor when setting the news agenda. If
a newspaper or news programme is the ﬁrst and only
news organisation breaking a story, then they will rate
that very highly. The UK Sunday papers are very fond
of exclusives, and will often break a story of national
or international importance that no one else has.
News Values - Size
does matter when it comes to news stories. The
bigger impact a story has, the more people it affects,
the more money/resources it involves, the higher its
value. This is also known as threshold.
In pairs, arrange the following news stories from most to least
newsworthy to British audiences. Write down the news values present
to help support your organisation.