News the given values to become a

News is something that is very prominent in
today’s society and something that comes in a variety of ways informing us of
events concerning a broad range of topics. From mass bombings to psychic octopuses,
the vastness of this range leads us to ask the question, what makes an event
newsworthy? When posed, the question is often met by a number of responses;
where one journalist will boil it down to a ‘gut feeling’ (Schultz, 2007),
another will cite a list of values that try to determine what it is about our
news that intrigues an audience, what it is that makes us, as readers, care. This
essay will look into and attempt to answer the question of why certain events
get covered by news media and others do not.

 

Coming up with the perfect definition for
‘news’ is a troublesome task because, as stated earlier, news can manifest
itself in the unlikeliest of places. “News is what a chap who doesn’t care much
about anything wants to read” (Waugh, 1943, p.66) is the definition presented
by Waugh in his novel Scoop, and it’s
one that seems to describe the basic principle of news but fails to explain
exactly what it is about the story that invites this ‘chap’ to read it. Over
the decades, professionals have carried out empirical research and conjured up taxonomies
in an attempt to provide a more satisfactory outline of what makes stories
newsworthy but it remains nigh on impossible to pinpoint one outstanding
factor.

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The 12 factors presented in ‘The Structure of
Foreign News’ (Galtung and Ruge, 1965) marked “the earliest attempt to provide
a systematic definition of newsworthiness” (Palmer, 1998, p.378) and laid down a
foundation to later be challenged in further academic study regarding news
values. One such study is ‘What is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited’ (Harcup
and O’Neill, 2001) which revises the initial factors put forward in ‘The Structure
of Foreign News’ and emerges with a contemporary set of values deemed to be
more complete and relevant to the news media at the time of publication. They
found that generally a story would have to satisfy at least one of the given
values to become a news story.

 

This list of 10 values gives an outline of what
it is about a story that entices journalists to cover it and goes some way to
explain what makes a story likely to be chosen. The set of news values
presented in ‘What is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited’ (Harcup and O’Neill,
2001) is as follows:

 

1.    
“The power elite: Stories
concerning powerful individuals, organisations or institutions.

2.    
Celebrity: Stories
concerning people who are already famous.

3.    
Entertainment: Stories
concerning sex, showbusiness, human interest, animals, an unfolding drama, or
offering opportunities for humorous treatment, entertaining photographs or
witty headlines.

4.    
Surprise: Stories that have
an element of surprise and/or contrast.

5.    
Bad news: Stories with
particularly negative overtones, such as conflict or tragedy.

6.    
Good news: Stories with
particularly positive overtones such as rescues and cures.

7.    
Magnitude: Stories that are
perceived as sufficiently significant either in the numbers of people involved
or in potential impact.

8.    
Relevance: Stories about
issues, groups and nations perceived to be relevant to the audience.

9.    
Follow-up: Stories about
subjects already in the news

10.  Newspaper agenda: Stories that set or fit the news organisation’s own
agenda” (Harcup and O’Neill, 2001, p.279)

 

 

Harcup and O’Neill later revisited their study
in ‘What Is News?’ (Harcup and O’Neill, 2017) where they assessed their
existing set of news values against stories in the media, finding that some
were much more prevalent than others. They looked into the news values present
in 711 newspaper lead news stories in 2014. From their research, they ranked
their ten news values based on how often each was identified in the sample of
stories that they covered:

 

1.    
“Bad news

2.    
Surprise

3.    
Entertainment

4.    
Follow-up

5.    
Power elite

6.    
Relevance

7.    
Magnitude

8.    
Celebrity

9.    
Good news

10.  Newspaper agenda” (Harcup and O’Neill, 2017, p.1478)

 

The ranking indicates that although each value
is common in the news media, some carry more weight than others. Out of the 711
stories in the sample, the ‘bad news’ value was identified 442 times whereas
the ‘good news’ value was only found 137 times, suggesting that a ‘bad’ story
is much more likely to be covered by news media than a ‘good’ story. Due to the
high rankings of ‘bad news’ and ‘surprise’, it seems that the stories that are
most likely to be picked are ones that provoke a negative emotional response
from the reader; stories that induce fear or shock from the reader are most
frequent in the news media.

 

Furthermore, in the wake of the rise of social
media, Harcup and O’Neill found it necessary to also examine the news values
that were most prominent on social media, looking at the top 10 Facebook
stories and the top 15 most tweeted stories in 2014. Like their experiment with
newspaper stories, they presented their results as a ranking of the prevalence
of each news value in the sample:

 

1.    
“Entertainment

2.    
Surprise

3.    
Bad news

4.    
Follow-up

5.    
Relevance

6.    
Magnitude

7.    
Good news

7.    Celebrity

9.    Power elite

10.  Newspaper agenda” (Harcup and O’Neill, 2017,
p.1480)

 

This ranking based on the most shared stories
on social media differs from the newspaper ranking in a couple of interesting
areas. The leading value is ‘entertainment’, suggesting a sizable interest from
the public in “soft news” (Harcup and O’Neill, 2017, p.1474) and a tamer level
of intrigue in news discussing the ‘power elite’ and politics. Stories that tie
into the ‘entertainment’ factor generally cause a feeling of intrigue or laughter.
This top ranking for ‘entertainment’ goes further to suggest that those stories
that provoke an emotional response from its readers are the most popular and
therefore most likely to be picked over harder news that fails to attract
interest from such a wide audience. ‘Surprise’ and ‘bad news’ still rank highly
showing not too much of a change from Harcup and O’Neill’s experiment with
newspaper lead stories, still supporting the idea that the most effective news
stories are those that stimulate negative or shocking emotions in the reader.
With social media being such a powerful tool in the modern age, it is important
for journalists to consider what sparks an interest online. As a result, Harcup
and O’Neill introduced the idea of ‘shareability’ as a news value in a revised
list in ‘What is news?’ (Harcup and O’Neill, 2017, p.1482).

 

However, although useful, news values “probably
cannot constitute a systematic basis for the analysis of news” (Palmer, 2000,
p.31). A set of values provides an outline of what is generally found in
stories that renders them newsworthy but these lists fail to completely justify
the coverage of certain news stories that struggle to meet any of the conditions.
As conveyed by Hartley, these lists tend to explain “how stories are covered”
rather than “why they are chosen” (Hartley, 1982, p.79). Aside from the
journalistic values listed by Galtung and Ruge, and further by Harcup and
O’Neill, external political and economic factors need to be considered, as
addressed by Allern (2002, p.137).

 

“Editorial practices should not be analysed in
purely journalistic terms, but as efforts to combine journalistic norms with
market objectives” (Allern, 2002, p.137). Essentially, the news media are a
business looking to sell stories to the public and make money. Therefore, the
economic effects of covering a story are something to strongly consider when
deciding whether a story is newsworthy. Since making profit is a strong motive
for news companies, “news must be selected and packaged in a format that is
audience-orientated and commercial by being entertaining and reflecting popular
tastes” (O’Neill and Harcup, 2009, p.166). Allern presents three factors that
he considers key in the selection of news: geographical
area of coverage and type of audience, competition between media and news
enterprises and the budget allotted news departments (Allern, 2002, p.142). The area of coverage can determine
whether a story is relevant to its audience and is “the most decisive factor
regarding judgements of newsworthiness” (Allern, 2002, p.142). “Events nearby
are more interesting than distant ones” (Allern, 2002, p.142) and are more
relevant to the local audience. Allern’s second factor, the competition from
other companies in covering a specific story, can sway a journalist’s decision
of whether to cover it and links to the idea of ‘exclusivity’ as a news value,
presented in ‘What is news?’ (Harcup and O’Neill, 2017, p.1482) in Harcup and
O’Neill’s revisited list. Generally, the less competition the more likely a
story is to be covered, but if the event is seen to be critical and the vast majority
of publications are reporting it, a news organisation may feel obliged to cover
it. Finally, the budget is seen as an important factor for the news media as
their primary objective is for their stories to be profitable; even if a story
may satisfy a number of news values, the media may neglect to cover it if it
doesn’t promise a sizable level of profit, and a low budget restricts what can
be reported. “Journalists increasingly are required to be managers, and the
managers focus more and more on budget control and reporters’ productivity than
on winning professional recognition” (Allern, 2002, p.144) meaning journalists
will often cover stories “based on rewrites of press releases, reports from
press conferences and other situations where news sources serve information on
a silver platter” (Allern, 2002, p.144) in order to save money. Time and space
restrictions are also a limiting factor for news companies in the production of
stories, so they are often required to prioritise when there is a lack of room
for stories or they are running low on time. A journalist would then possibly
consider the values identifiable in the stories and assess which ones carry
more weight and so are worthier of coverage. In summary, Allern then produced a
set of “commercial news criteria” (Allern, 2002, p.145):

 

–       
“The more resources – time,
personnel and budget – it costs to cover, follow up or expose an event, etc.,
the less likely it will become a news story.

–       
The more journalistically a
news source or sender has prepared a story for publication (the costs for such
treatment being borne by the sender), the greater the likelihood that it will
become news.

–       
The more selectively a news
story is distributed, e.g., in a manner that allows a journalist to present the
story as his or her own work, under a personal byline, the more likely it will
become news.

–       
The more a news medium’s
strategy is based on arousing sensations to catch public attention, the greater
the likelihood of a ‘media twist’, where entertaining elements count more than
criteria like relevance, truth and accuracy.” (Allern, 2002, p.145)

 

These commercial factors put forth by Allern
all concern the financial considerations made by news organisations and explain
their need to prioritise. They also help to describe what makes a story most
likely to be picked where another is ignored.

 

 

The answer to the question of why some stories
get covered in news media when others don’t and what makes a story newsworthy
remains elusive. Despite this, studies of news values and economic factors help
us to understand what it is that journalists look for when looking to write a
story and help to explain why certain stories are covered. Through empirical
research carried out by Harcup and O’Neill, we are given a better understanding
of which news values are most prevalent in today’s media, where online forms
and social media are an especially powerful source of news. Their findings
indicate that the stories that are most covered are those concerning ‘bad news’
and ‘surprise’, which by no coincidence, are ones that cause fear or shock in
the reader. Additionally, their study of the identifiable values in the most
shared stories on social media show a highly invested interest in stories
regarding ‘entertainment’ as a pose to harder news on elite and political
powers. The heavy focus on ‘bad news’, ‘surprise’ and ‘entertainment’ lead to
the conclusion that stories with these elements are more likely to be picked
over those that don’t. Aside from these journalistic values, there are some
important economic factors to be considered by news media when choosing whether
to cover a story, as discussed by Allern. A news company’s primary aim is to
run a profitable business and so they will only decide to report on an event if
they see it to meet that end. The area of coverage, the competition from other
organisations and the company’s allocated budget are all factors that can hold an
influence over this decision. Allern’s set of commercial factors, combined with
Harcup and O’Neill’s set of news values, give us an understanding of why it is
necessary to prioritise and how journalists do so.

 

Although it remains difficult to succinctly
explain why certain stories get covered and others don’t, we can identify a
number of reasons why this is the case. News media have to prioritise based on
their time, space and budget allocations and empirical research seems to
suggest that these stories that are picked are the ones that invite more of an
interest from readers both of newspapers and on social media. These stories
tend to be those that establish an emotional connection with the reader,
causing feelings of fear, shock or laughter, and generally regarding bad news,
surprising news or entertainment. Therefore, in conclusion, some stories get
covered by news media and others don’t because news organisations are under the
pressure to run a profitable organisation and so are required to be selective
adhering to economic restrictions. The location of the event and the
competition from rivals for a certain story are factors that can affect this
decision along with the news values present. The more ‘heavily weighted’ the news
values are that are present i.e. ‘bad news’, ‘surprise’, ‘entertainment’, the
more likely a story is to be covered.

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