”News’ on television and in the press is not self-defining. News is not ‘found’ or even ‘gathered’ as much as made. It is a creation of journalistic process, an artefact, a commodity even.’
– Greg Philo, 1983
We Media teachers have a little joke about the news, and it’s that it’s not really ‘the news’ but ‘the olds’. Or, as one old comedy skit put it: ‘The news was pretty much the same today, only it happened to different people’. Hahahahah! Okay, sorry, I’m done…What that means is news reports today offer pretty much the same sort of content that they always have: namely, crime stories, disaster stories, some politics, scandal, human interest, etc, and always with a large dose of commentary from community leaders and the usual suspects recognised as in authority. This is largely because, to select their stories, the news media still uses criteria known as ‘news values’ that have been around for a long time.
Media researchers Johan Galtung and Mari Ruge suggested twelve factors that contribute to whether a news event is considered newsworthy. Over time, other researchers have added more. Some of the more obvious factors, or criteria, are as follows:
Familiarity: Any story that features a local angle, or to do with people and places close to home. Extreme examples would be some earthquake in South America where thousands of people die, and a couple of them are Australians.
Negativity: The media loves conflict because it knows that’s what gets our interest. Thus, bad news is more newsworthy than good news. We don’t care about the thousands of instances each day where people were kind to each other and we managed to get along. That’s boring.
Unexpectedness: When things happen that are out of the ordinary they tend to get a mention. Of course, just what ‘out of the ordinary’ means can be somewhat debatable.
Personalisation: The actions of individuals, as opposed to events where ‘characters’ can’t be singled out are more likely to be featured. The news loves its heroes (and villains).
Consonance: The more an event fits in with a media outlet’s perception of itself and its audience, its views or style, the more likely it will be seen as news. Thus, anti-union or anti-Labour stories tend to get a run in the Murdoch papers, which often will twist them into anti-union or anti-Labour stories, whether they are or not.
Reference to Elite Nations: Pretty obvious. Stories concerned with global powers, like the US, receive more attention than, say, those that feature third world countries.
Reference to Elite Persons: The rich, the powerful, the famous get more coverage than the average Joe. The average Joe gets to briefly narrate his or her witnessing of events, and that’s about it.
Conflict: Similar to Negativity. People or societies in conflict and opposition make for more interesting stories.
Continuity: Stories that are ongoing have an appeal or kinetic energy for the simple reason of their familiarity and they usually mean the media have people in place to report on it.
Competition: Stories being run by competing news rivals, especially if they become popular, are likely to be taken up by other news media.
Predictability: An interesting event that is predicted to happen is likely to get taken up simply for its convenience. Legal cases and demonstrations are good examples here, with the news media in hot expectation of ‘conflict’.
Time Constraints/Logistics: Stories need to fit the news schedule and be available for reportage fairly quickly. Earthquakes in Katmandu can be a headache for news organisations that don’t have reporters in field, which is why so-called ‘citizen reporter’ are becoming popular.
As can be surmised by this list, news values and the stories they support (and by their sheer repetition) tend to present a fairly distorted view of society and the world. They are a textbook example of McLuhan’s ‘medium is the message’ in action. Think of the news stories you’ve seen or read recently. Do they fit into any of these news values?