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News values

Posted by: | October 1, 2009 | No Comment |

On page 26 of A History of News: Third Edition,” Mitchell Stephens lists seven traits that journalists use to measure the value of a news story. They are: impact, emotional appeal, conflict, prominence, timeliness, proximity and the unusual.

Audiences will follow a story if the people think it has an impact on their lives. The economic downturn has impacted many in the form of job losses. The ongoing health care debate is stirring emotions this year because everyone has a stake in the issue.

The health care debate also carries emotional appeal for many. Stories about people who have no insurance attempt to put a face to a statistic.  On the other hand, some stories have attempted to report on the heightened emotions and fears displayed at the town hall meetings.

Conflicts are like car crashes. They may be ugly but impossible to take one’s eyes away from. From celebrity divorces to lawsuits and even televised fisticuffs, audiences consistently tune in to see conflict. Sometimes, conflicts that are resolved also make news.

Prominence is often given greater value than the other news values. When the First Family brings home a dog, it makes news. During the fall and winter months, football takes prominence in Washington, D.C. as people follow the trials and tribulations of the Redskins.

In today’s 24-hour news cycle, timeliness has become even more important than in previous years. When Lewis and Clark reached the Pacific Ocean in Sept., 1806, the Boston newspapers published the journey two months later (Stephens, xviii). Events that are happening now take precedence over events that happened a month ago.

The proximity of an event affects whether people think they should pay attention or not. A train derailment is news because disaster is always news. If it happens in the local region as it did in June with the Metrorail disaster, then the community will care.

The last value but by no means least is the unusual. News events that grab attention must be different from ordinary, everyday experiences. New York Sun editor John B. Bogart said “When a dog bites a man, that is not news. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”

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