Learn what are news values and why this concept is so important to professional journalists.
News values allow editors and journalists to determine whether information and events are worthy of being covered as a news story. Often, journalists and editors consciously or subconsciously evaluate a store using these values before writing or commissioning it. These news values or factors explain why an audience may be interested in certain information and why other facts aren’t quantifiable as news.
Why Are News Values Important?
If you know what you are looking for, then you are much more likely to find it. And as key distributors and gatekeepers of information, journalists need to know what they are looking for in a story.
Having a defined set of news values to look for can save journalists time and increase efficiency within the newsroom. That is because news factors are primarily used to help reporters and news outlets prioritize and determine what media coverage, if any, news items should get. Understanding these values will help you hone your journalism skills.
How Are News Values Used?
In newspaper and magazine journalism, these news factors can be used to determine what page the story appears on or if it appears at all. Meanwhile, in broadcast journalism, values can be used to determine where in the running time the story is placed.
They are the ingredients within a story that engages a publication’s target audience and that separate good and bad news reporting. They are a measurement for news outlets to separate quality news stories from non-stories, press releases and PR. They are a determination used by media outlets to estimate the number of people who will be interested in the story and, thus, how important that story is.
8 Types of News Values
The criteria for news values shift depending on the format, audience, publication and even editorial bias. However, the following are some critical factors in determining the news value of a story.
The more affected by a particular event, the more of a news value that event has, a value especially true when assessing foreign news. For example, an Irish storm isn’t necessarily story-worthy for The New York Times. However, if a hurricane causes chaos and even fatalities across Western Europe, that would likely be a story worth covering.
The Covid-19 pandemic is a recent example. When this story first broke in late 2019, media outlets didn’t give cross-world coverage. However, as more countries were affected, it became a global and local news story. All-in-all, this factor can be broken down into the following – the more people affected, the more important the story.
If you are looking for a domestic example, consider the average income within a country. If one small company cuts the pay of its staff, it’s hardly news. However, if income tax goes up, and millions of people have less disposable income, that’s a big economic news story.
Timeliness is an important news value, especially as we live in an age when the news cycle occurs 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Consider popular sports. If there’s a big game in the NFL, its result is newsworthy. However, a result from last month isn’t a news story and will get virtually no interaction if it is posted as a news story.
This value applies to current affairs and general interest topics too. If there is an election today, the results will be news. However, if there was an election six months ago, those results aren’t interesting to your target audience as an item within your news section.
When a story isn’t timely, it has likely already been covered, and the audience is sick of it. However, in journalism, it is more important that you are right than first. Your stories should still undergo all the relevant fact-checking procedures, and timeliness should not be prioritized over quality reporting.
3. Fame And Prominence
If the person is well known, a piece of information about them is of more value to a news organization than a story about an unknown individual. For instance, there is no public interest in a story about Joe and Joanna Blogs from 123 Nowhereville getting divorced. However, when Brad Pitt and Angelie Jolie announced their split, the world wanted to know about it. The more famous the subjects of a story, the more interested the public will be in that story. Regarding the list of news values, this element can often be paired with others.
If it’s local, it’s more likely to interest people. For instance, how many people California residents would care about a corrupt Norwegian politician? Not many. Whereas, if a senator from California takes bribes, that’s important news for this region.
A fictional example, sure, but people care more about what is happening near them. The proximity of a story to the consumers of the media is essential. However, editors often say, “All news is local news”. This basically means that a good news journalist can spot the local angle and make a story newsworthy.
For example, the regional Irish paper The Clare Echo ran a story on the 2020 US Presidential election. Donald Trump lost the election, hardly a piece of local news. However, because the former US President has connections to a resort in the area, the journalist could connect the story to the locality and ensure this story had a local news value.
5. Conflict And Tragedy
The news has an old saying: If it bleeds, it leads. This saying means that conflict and tragedy are of interest to the general public and valued in the news process. Lead refers to the fact that this type of story takes prominence in news coverage. People want to learn about conflict.
Whether this is to understand what those suffering are going through, to avoid it themselves, or for some other reason, it’s difficult to say. However, it is a news value that is of particular importance. This value also applies to deaths, especially when it is the death of famous or elite people.
The stranger the event, the more likely it will have news value. For instance, it is not news that boats travel within the Suez daily. However, the unexpectedness of a boat getting stuck within the canal and blocking the passageway was so surprising that it made news headlines throughout the globe.
The lack of predictability of this story gave it an abundance of news value. Of course, this story had other news value too. For instance, its impact affected millions of people and businesses, both locally and internationally.
With the advent of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, consumers of news media are more aware of current affairs than ever before. Therefore, many of them are also looking for the next piece of information on an event that has already been covered. These people are eager to see how trending news stories are developing.
Thus, the popularity of an existing story is a news value that can affect how reporters and mass media approach the development of that story. Take the aforementioned Suez Canal event. News audiences wanted to know how that trending story developed after the initial facts were reported. They were keen to see how many people it affected, how it affected them locally, and if any famous companies were involved. They also wanted to know if anybody was hurt in the incident.
If a news story relates to broader ongoing issues, trends, or topics of public concern or conversation, it’s considered newsworthy. Examples include ongoing news stories in the Guardian about the climate crisis.
9. Human Interest
Lastly, people love reading about others, a common reason why human interest stories perform well in the news. This maxim is more effective when you pair one news value with another. For instance, if something odd happens to someone famous and it’s a story people can relate to, the story has value.
A story or topic already in the news attracts more coverage. A follow-up story on a recent topic is easier for editors to commission and readers to digest. Examples include news stories and features that serve as a type of “Where are they now?” article. These articles are particularly popular online and on social media.
Stories illustrating human progress, breakthroughs, or solutions to problems are considered newsworthy. Often stories with this news value come from the scientific realm. Examples include stories about vaccines for COVID-19 or trips to space.
News Values And The Changing Face Of News
Of course, what we perceive as news changes over time. Despite this, the traditional news values listed above appear as important and central as ever. Academic Chae Kwan Jung touches upon this in a research that studies the values present in the most widely shared news stories on social media. He writes, “All ‘traditional’ news values appear to be construed in the shared news corpus”.
However, he discusses the nature of strategic communication on social media. This is where stories find audiences through citizen journalism. In this instance, other news factors lead to stories finding larger audiences. Jung states: “The news values of Eliteness, Superlativeness, Unexpectedness, Negativity and Timeliness seem especially important in the corpus. The findings also indicate that ‘unexpected’ and ‘affective’ news items may be shared more and that negativity is a more important news value than Positivity.”
Whether will change and how journalists evaluate potential stories is up for debate. However, news values change. Consider, for example, the concept of fake news, which has shifted on onus on journalists to become even more accountable. Thus, a good professional journalist understands current values and writes their stories accordingly. If you like this article, check out our guide to the best journalism tools.
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