17 Factors Impacting a Story's Newsworthiness
Although news is all around us, we often give little thought into what actual makes news news. We simply open up the latest newspaper, turn on the TV/radio or surf the internet to get up to speed on the days stories. Lesser known, is that the news we see is rigorously moulded into a format that is suited for the target audience. The media serves as a gatekeeper that controls what stories are printed and what are not, which gives rise to a very powerful position. This position can often be influenced by a number of direct and indirect factors including:
- Insufficient or unsubstantiated information regarding a story
- How much coverage is the story currently getting from competitors or is it an exclusive
- Competing stories
- Fast & slow news days
- Budget & time constraints
- Instinct that a story will not be well received or is incomplete
- Influence from a publisher or advertiser
Newsworthiness is not as straight forward as when, where, what, why, who, how. Ultimately, journalism holds itself to a well-tested criterion of news values to determine a story’s newsworthiness.
It’s all about location, location, location. Generally speaking, the closer an event occurs the more important it is to readers. If the same event happened in two different places, the result can be significantly different depending on proximity. To look at this from a different perspective, above, is a number of word clouds based on media outputs from USA, UK and Australia on a single day. The real story for the day was the UK voting for Scottish independence. This is clearly a heavy focus across Europe as it may significantly impact economic and political structure in the future. In the US, this story barely gets a mention as it will not significantly affect the country but more indirectly and as such the country is more focus on the US president. Australia has partially covered this story given its close ties to the UK but is more focused of covering a new allied lead offensive in the Middle East which has a direct impact on the country.
How recent is the story? Put simply, if it is not new it can’t be classified as news. One day is a long time in the media and the newsworthiness of a story diminishes greatly the older it gets. A long running story can still be news provided something news has occurred which readers will be interested in. In the internet age, people’s attention span is short and are always looking at the now and give little weight to the past.
The magnitude of importance, scale or consequence associated with a story has a large bearing on the media coverage and longevity of the story. If the news story contains information that is life changing, it is obviously going more meaningful than a trivial piece of material. It all comes down to does it matter for the audience? The answer to this question will determine the position the news item will sit within the news value criterion.
For news to be classed as news it must be distinct from the norm. A story must have a unique set of facts the makes the story unique. Over time, if an event or news story does not evolve to incorporate a new set of outcomes, the value of the news diminishes and essentially the story becomes the norm. Hence, although the real activities or movement behind the story may not have change, lack of change causes the new to be old. Below is an example of the recent Ukraine conflict over time. No real change in circumstance has occurred over a period of time; however the threat is still as high as of the start of the conflict. When the reading public have become aware of the situation, the media coverage diminishes over time as the story becomes less distinct.
Ordinary people gain entertainment through the lives of the rich and famous. For this reason, regularly big names make big news. Unfortunately, the average person does not spark much interest with the mass majority because they simply have no direct connection to the individual. Although, the public don’t necessarily know the aforementioned person of interest, they often feel a connection with them because they have shaped part of their life or admired them, hence they tend to hold the individual in a higher regard to ordinary people.
Relevance is a consequence of the audience base. A whole raft of things influence relevance such are media type, age, gender, demographics and interests etc. Main stream media coverers a vast amount of categories and may not see a new computer product release as newsworthy given it is more concerned about the domestic and international stories. Vice-versa, IT news companies have little concern with the conflict in Syria. One way the mainstream media handles is to control newsworthiness through sub-categories whereby allowing the new values criteria to be more applicable to the relevant genre and to determine whether it is news at all.
For better or for worse, conflict often gains significant attention in the mainstream media. It is often conflict based stories that sell papers. Whether this is from wars, revolutions, politics or differing opinions, conflicts can cover a immense amount of news. Normally, these are also long lasting stories that evolve over time as the situation matures and given the complexity of the situations. For a peacetime era, there is still a surprising amount of conflict going on in most regions of the world. I suppose it can be said; where there are people, you will always have differing’s of opinions which can often escalate into conflict.
At the heart of every story there is some degree of controversy and in many ways give basis for the story to become newsworthy. Controversy sells papers, provokes discussion points and typically inspires emotional responses from the public causing readers to become more interested in the issue at hand. Controversy can come in many forms but always involves public disagreement or discussion.
News typically becomes news because everyone is interested in it. For example, if an extended weather event occurs which is affecting people’s livelihood or the major sporting event has started i.e. Soccer world cup, the general public has a vested interest. People want to know what has changed recently and how it will impact them which typically rates well on the news worthiness scale. The key point is it has to be in the now and build on something that was happening yesterday. For a time it assumes momentum in the media landscape during the short term.
People normally love live streaming media since it is unscripted and you are in the moment. Typically this will only occur for very unique circumstance or a media company had received and unplanned exclusive of the story i.e. car chase. Outside of this medium, news of this calibre would often find it challenging to even make news but given the unexpected circumstance it has been put in the spot light and been given its 15 seconds of fame.
Mainstream media often provides guidance to the general public in a number of ways which often rates high on the newsworthiness scale i.e. Weather forecast, Raise awareness of disaster victims or charities and often provide the means for contact for the various affiliates. This type of material often relates closely with localised domestic issues and thus the reader base generally has a close connection.
Often people have a lot of time to look at the lighter side of the news whereby something extraordinary or unexpected has occurred causing bizarre outcomes. Although this typically falls low on the newsworthiness scale it often forms part of news in order to break the constant negativity created throughout the news cycle. People often like to have a laugh to read something unexpected.
Human beings are inquisitive by nature and as such are often drawn to the events in someone else’s life. Human interest is commonly regarded as soft news and often have more of an entertainment factor associated. These types of stories are normally suited for slower news days or more local or regional news where people can have a direct connection with the people in the story. Human interest stories normally sit well down in the news value criterion.
News stories don’t necessarily need to be associated with what has happened, investigative journalism can be used to look at the “what if” questions surrounding an issue. Often it is the case of looking forwards at different scenarios finding out what are the potential impacts that can arise from a certain event. This can cover a broad range of topics from politics, economies to conflicts normally in the form of opinion pieces.
Whether it is the best, worst, largest or smallest, it will increase the newsworthiness of a story. Superlatives make great headlines and habitually attract the inquisitiveness of the users. It is often the case that marketing is half the battle and content is often optional. Particularly in today’s internet era, there are a large number of news providers that are competing for the reader’s attention. As a result, creating strategies are often used to create headlines and sound bites that will provoke curiosity from the audience. At the end of the day, news is business and as such media houses are always trying to increase the market share from the competition in smarter ways.
Everyone loves a scandal. They often make great headlines and are guaranteed to spark interest with the wider public. Scandal stories often evolve over time which is great for media houses as they the release the story over time and increase the overall longevity and return on a story. From the public’s perceptions, these types of stories of spark deep set emotions of disbelief and anger.
Who doesn’t like the little guys coming from behind and winning? Often the public is very responsive to this type of news and repeatedly root for the underdog. The main stream media also plays it part in this, often giving greater exposure to these types of stories. In many ways, it allows the media to compensate the balance of power within the media landscape.