Think about the last story you read or saw on the news. If it was a “big” story, it’s likely you saw it in multiple locations.
You know this information because someone, somewhere decided it was news and others followed suit. It became the news of the day.
A journalist determined that the news item you saw was newsworthy, so it was. To some extent, news is whatever reporters and/or editors identify as having value.
Determining News Value
Although it may sound arbitrary, journalists have a systematic approach to determining news value.
The single most important attribute of news is that it is new information.
News is the absolute newest thing you can tell someone. You want to provide the news in a timely manner that allows the public to get involved. This is the role of information in a democratic society; to provide people with the information they need to be free and self-governing. It is what I personally view as the news media’s overwhelming purpose.
When it comes to news, yesterday’s news is done. It’s at the bottom of the birdcage or in the recycling bin. Your readers don’t care what happened in the past. They only want to know what’s happening now. In today’s fast-paced news environment, we have come to expect news to be reported online literally as it is happening.
Aside from being current, news also must fit these three criteria:
How does the information apply to the viewer or reader? If the information is not applicable to the reader, it lacks news value.
How can audience members use this information in their day-to-day lives? If the news is useful to the audience, you don’t have to convince them to read it or watch it. In other words, the “What’s In It for Me?” question is addressed or implied.
Does the audience care? This should not be confused with whether the journalist cares. Journalists write plenty of stories about things they don’t care about at all. But the news must be deemed as interesting to the audience or it will be ignored.
Other factors that determine news value:
How many people are affected and how seriously? The greater the impact of an event, the more likely it will receive wide scale and prominent coverage.
For example, the upcoming 10-year anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The event impacted many people and changed our nation. Therefore, it will receive a large amount of coverage.
Is there an issue? News is when things turn out differently than expected, when systems fail or business errs. When people make mistakes that impact others.
Journalists should not create issues where they don’t exist. Journalists also should not ignore issues where they’re obviously present.
Things that are unusual or bizarre are inherently newsworthy.
For example, I once read a story about a man who broke into women’s homes while they were showering and stole their shoes. When police caught him, he had hundreds of pairs of women’s shoes hidden in his home. I’ll never forget that crazy story.
We don’t know why we care about the lives of prominent people like musicians, movie stars and politicians, but we do.
We are more interested in news that occurs close to our home.
For example, you are more likely to pay attention to a story about a teacher shortage in your children’s school district than a story about the same issue in another state. You’re more interested about a water problem in your neighborhood than you are on the other side of town.
News that happens close to our home impacts and interests us.
News is about whatever people want to hide. There’s a reason they want to hide it. That reason probably impacts others.
The many ways in which an item may be identified as having news value means nearly any subject with an affect or effect can be newsworthy. There are literally millions of stories to report each day, it is up to the journalists to determine which ones should be covered and how.
Journalists must understand that there is always something to report. It’s a lazy reporter who doesn’t bother developing these ideas.