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What are News Values and Why are They Important in Constructing News? Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

All media institutions go through a process of deciding what items are news worthy or not before they include them for incorporation in the news. News Values are the various aspects that are generally considered in determining whether an ‘story’ is investigated, and then whether it is included or not.

Galtung and Ruge wrote the best known list of news values. Even though it was written quite a while ago (1965) it is still of great relevance to news researchers today. The list consists of approximately 13 points, although these vary slightly from source to source.

Frequency

This is the time span of an event, and how well it fits into the production schedule. Items such as murders, plane crashes, etc, are of short duration and therefore will fit into the agenda. Background news items though, such as social, economical or political stories that have a longer life span and can take longer to unfold are of much lower priority. It is only if a particular event occurs, that such a topic would appear in the news. It is for this reason that political press conferences are often held to coincide with the media production schedule.

Threshold

This is the importance of a story. How big is it, and it is big enough to include. Depending on the amount of news for a particular day, some stories may be included that wouldn’t normally, if the media institutions are having a poor news day. A story that makes headlines in a local paper will have no significance in a national, and the same applies for broadsheet and tabloid. A story regarding a celebrity may well make the front page of a tabloid, and yet not even so much as have a mention in a broadsheet.

Unambiguity

If a story is unclear, chances are it won’t get included in the news. Preston discovered for the Observer in 2000 that the most regular reason why stories don’t appear in the media is that they are ‘too complicated’. Clear stories such as car crashes, or deaths will easily get into the news as their meaning is easily grasped.

Continuity

Some stories will last for days, weeks, even months if they are big or relevant enough. Often it is the case that a major event has taken place, and it has had repercussions, for example the recent New York Twin Towers situation. Or perhaps, events occur that are slightly related to a previous story, e.g. the fact that the driver of the car in which Princess Diana was killed had still not regained consciousness.

Predictability/Unexpectedness

Annual events still have a life span, for example, The Queen’s birthday, or anniversaries of deaths (e.g. Princess Diana). Predictability also means that if the media expect

an event to happen, it will get coverage. Football matches for example, especially if there has been

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recent trouble with hooligans. Also, if an event is highly unpredictable it is bound to make it into the news. However this unexpectedness should not be ambiguous, it should have a meaning, unless the newspaper can get away with it. Tabloid journalism for example, is more likely to get away with producing a bizarre story than a formal broadsheet. The story regarding the group of lesbians that abseiled into the House of Lords was practically guaranteed media coverage, not because it was a story about lesbians, but because of the paradox of the House of Lords, and lesbians abseiling into it.

Composition

This is the style and general tone of the newspaper, i.e. how it is made up. This almost always comes down to the editor’s judgement. If there are many foreign stories around, a few domestic items will be included to create a balance, or if a major event is seizing all media attention (e.g. the New York tragedy) there will be a ’round up’ of the day’s other less important stories.

Negativity

These days bad news is good news for media moguls. You can always be sure that one catastrophe will take up more space and time than several pieces of small good news. Fiske (1987) talks about an American Journalist on assignment in the Belgian Congo during the war there, who ran to a group of white women yelling “Has anyone here been raped and speaks English?” Humans have an inane desire to hear about bad news, sad news, scandal, destruction and death. It is the media institution’s prerogative to supply them.

Personalisation

Events are seen as the actions of individuals. In a crisis, if children or old people are involved you can guarantee shots of these more vulnerable people will be shown. Personalisation appeals to the sensitive side of the public, making you feel sympathy, sadness, grief, or whatever the situation calls for. An example of this is the use of a photo of a very young child in-between two police officers as a front page headline, during the Northern Ireland feuds. The girl’s striking innocence in contrast to the fierce situation pulls at our heartstrings and makes the whole incident more personal.

Proximity

This is the fact that news items closer to home are more likely to get coverage than the same threshold of news elsewhere. In other words, if a boat capsized off the Channel Islands, killing 60 people, it would no doubt be in the national papers and television. However if the same incident happened off the coast of China, we would not hear about it, unless the death toll was in the hundreds.

So there we have it. Media researchers don’t rigidly stick to these criteria, but it is a rough guideline, and most media researchers would consider all these points anyway, without having to look at a list.

I think one of the most important news values in television broadcasting is Predictability. Because television news is seen by a variety of audiences, it is important to show predictable news. If an event is going on, and the public wants to know about it, they will expect it to be on the television.

Other news values that I think are important on TV are Proximity and Threshold. If something big is happening on the other side of the world, the public demands live news bulletins to inform them of what is happening. They expect camera shots from the scene, and in today’s world, if a TV channel is not broadcasting the event as it happens, we would be surprised. Newspapers will obviously write about it the next day, but as with the New York attacks, it was assumed that the nation had heard about it from the television on the day it happened. The newspapers dealt with the story the next day, but they did break the news. Television, and now, more recently, the Internet, are relied on to bring the public immediate up-to-date news coverage.

Television companies such as BBC, ITV, and Channel 4 have an obligation to bring the public unbiased, impartial news. Newspapers however, have a propensity to influence their readers, which is one of the reasons there are so many different newspapers out there. You have the freedom to choose which newspaper you want to read.

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