News Values

Regular readers will know that I am in my first year of college, and for 2 hours each week I have a journalism lesson. Yesterday, the topic was ‘news values’, and its a topic I found quite interesting; I thought I’d share it with you.

The ‘news values’ came up as a result of some research by 2 Americans: Galtung & Ruge. They found that news stories have many things in common and came up with a list of them, which many journalists (in newspapers, TV and radio) use in deciding whether a story has value. Basically, the more “boxes” it ticks, the more likely it is to be included.

  1. Frequency/Timing/Deadlines – Does the story match your deadline(s)? If a newspaper has a deadline of 00:00 then something which happens at 00:30 won’t be covered; another newspaper with a deadline of 02:30 will be able to cover it.
  2. Threshold – How big an impact does the story have? How many people does it effect? A story about something that’s happened in the remotest areas of China probably won’t be of interest to someone in Cirencester unless someone from Cirencester is involved.
  3. Unambiguity – How clear/simple is it? Can you explain it easily to the audience/reader?
  4. Relevance – Can you relate to it?
  5. Consonance
  6. Unexpectedness“Man bites dog” is a story whilst “dog bites man” is not.
  7. Continuity/Series – Can an event run as a series (eg. “read more tomorrow”)? Some might loose their impact; some will have more impact as the coverage goes up.
  8. Composition/Balance – My local radio station is called BBC Radio Gloucestershire, not BBC Radio Gloucester and the stories covered should reflect this! The trouble with this is that lazy journalists will rewrite their stories to say: “A local man has died…” instead of: “A Gloucester man has died…”
  9. Reference to Elite Nations – Stories about countries with a global influence (eg. the USA) will be covered more than those that don’t, because their actions affect ours.
  10. Reference to Elite People – Stories about celebrities/the famous will be covered more.
  11. Personalisation – Bring a person/people into the story to help explain something, because saying: “3 million people will loose their jobs” means nothing. Saying: “Everyone in this family will loose their job” does.
  12. Negativity – Stories which involve death/violence have value, as do stories which are controversial (eg. a political decision).

There are also 3 more, which, in the view of my teacher, have come more relvent in the last 20 years or so:

  1. Cost – Can your newspaper/radio station/televison channel afford to send a reporter to China for a week to cover an Earthquake? Can you afford to pay overtime to a reporter who has to get up and cover something at 4 in the morning?
  2. Luck – Some stories have been found accidently, when reporters have been working on another an accidently found a second story in the process.
  3. Fatigue

As I mentioned earlier, the more boxes a story ticks, the more likely it is to be covered.

You may be wondering why I’ve decided to share with you what I have been doing in lessons. There are 2 reasons: 1) Its interesting!  2) Outside of lesson time, we are expected to re-read notes to make sure we understand… typing them onto the Internet is a much more interesting way of revising 🙂

Whilst on the subject of subjects at college, there was an interesting topic discussed in my geography lesson on Thursday… maybe I should share that with you? 😉

Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer

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