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Objectives

After completing this lesson you should be able to:

  • Identify the traditional news values in mainstream and specialty publications
  • Identify the “so what” elements of news stories
  • Propose news stories that meet an “economics” text

For decades, journalists have classified the stories they write in one or more of the following categories regarding the readers or viewers they serve:

  • Impact
  • Timeliness
  • Prominence
  • Novelty
  • Conflict
  • Proximity

You will find that these categories are not mutually exclusive. Some stories could be put in one of several categories or more than one category. They do, however, provide a way to begin to think about what a reporter might develop into a story. Think for a moment about the almost infinite number and variety of activities that we humans are engaged in at any moment in time. What makes some of those activities suitable for reporting while others are not. These categories can help us organize our thinking about those events and activities that we become aware of.

Those categories are applied within the context of a particular audience. For example, those words have a different definition if the reporter plans to publish in a national broadcast service than if the reporter is on the staff of a community newspaper. They are different still if the reporter is working for a specialty publication. e.g. bee-keeping, carpet installation. In those situations the readers may be widely dispersed geographically and still have a sense of community built around the topic and common activities.

The first consideration for a reporter is to identify who his or her audience will be for a particular story. "Whom am I writing for?" then the categories can be applied in the audience group.

The next question can be: "Which of these categories is most important to interesting to that audience with the facts I have at this time?"

Recently journalists have begun to consider three other concepts in deciding what is news for their audiences:

  • Important
  • Useful
  • Entertaining

These values can often be tested by the single, abrupt question about a proposed story:

  • So what? Stories presented from this perspective often have explicit statements to the audience about the impact or value.

This approach to understanding what makes news suggests you look at the relationship between journalists and audience as an economic relationship. It is an exchange of effort (of reading a newspaper) for benefit (what reader gets from buying the paper and reading the story). In effect, readers or audience members make and economic decision about their attention to news content. They ask, in effect, is the effort, time and money that I spend to consume (read, view, listen) the story worth it? To the extent a reader finds the effort worth it, he or she is likely to read or watch the entire story or return to that medium and become a subscriber, a regular listener or viewer.

There are many advantages of focusing on the readers as news customer -- not the least of which is building an audience -- "selling newspapers."

It often is harder to present stories that deal with issues that are important in the larger community but not directly in an individual news consumer. In those situations it is necessary for the reporter to answer the "so what" question explicitly in the body of the story. A story about revision in a city's master land-use plan may require more work on the reporter's part to make it clear to the reader why it is important, useful and interesting than a story on job hunting tips.


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