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What is News? Traditional Journalism Basics

What is news, anyway? This introductory lecture takes a look at the key criteria for determining news value in traditional journalism.

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What is News? Traditional Journalism Basics

  1. 1. What is Newsworthy? Presented by Brett Atwood Washington State University More at:
  2. 2. What News Is • Relevance • Usefulness • Interest
  3. 3. Relevance • What is Newsworthy? • Some factors to consider: – Who is your audience? – Who is the publisher? – What type of media are you writing for?
  4. 4. What is Newsworthy? • Proximity • Timeliness • Human Interest/Novelty • Conflict • Eminence and Prominence • Consequence and Impact • Visuals (TV)
  5. 5. Proximity • How close is the event to you? – Example: Car accident in Miami vs. Pullman
  6. 6. Timeliness • How recently did (or will) the event happen? • Live event? • The more time that passes, the less newsworthy a story is
  7. 7. Human Interest/Novelty • What is the emotional impact of the story? • If it is “interesting,” then it may be newsworthy to your audience
  8. 8. Eminence and Prominence • How well known is the subject matter? – Example: Sex scandal with a neighbor less newsworthy than with a president or congressman • Privacy – Who has a right to privacy? – Celebrities and politicians are “fair game” in today’s media
  9. 9. Conflict • Conflict and tension is more interesting than peace • Example: Two countries at war is more newsworthy than two regions without conflict
  10. 10. Consequence and Impact • How does the event impact the audience? – Example: Change in WSU tuition may be of great interest to you since it impacts you directly – Example: Pullman to Moscow road closure effects our commute
  11. 11. Visuals (TV) • An exciting event captured on video becomes newsworthy – The same event undocumented may not even make the news
  12. 12. Other Factors • “News holes” • Influence from publishers/advertisers • Instinct • Competition
  13. 13. The Role of the Journalist • Questions to Consider: – Do we serve the will of the audience? • What if the audience doesn’t want to hear what we have to report? – What is truth, anyway? • Who defines the standard of “truth”? • Isn’t it subjective?
  14. 14. Civic vs. Traditional Journalism • Civic Journalism: – In a democratic society, reporting that seeks to strengthen democracy/citizenship • Traditional Journalism: – Remain neutral at any cost
  15. 15. “Agenda-Setting” • The placement of a specific issue on the public agenda – Numerous academic studies on how individuals and media decide what is important – Postulated by Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw in the 1970s (based on earlier studies by Walter Lippmann in 1922) – May originate in many legitimate and illegitimate ways
  16. 16. Agenda-Setting Theory • It predicts that if people are exposed to the same media, they will place importance on the same issues. • It has explanatory power because it explains why most people prioritize the same issues as important. • It has predictive power because it predicts that if people are exposed to the same media, they will feel the same issues are important.
  17. 17. Examples • The O.J. Simpson case • The Clinton scandal • The Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo. – During these historic events, there was media placement of full page, color articles and top stories on news programming – While the public was deeply divided on both of these issues, the media also played the role of communicating to the American public that these events were important for an extended period of time.
  18. 18. Agenda-Setting • Can you think of any other recent examples? – What if the media distorts what is worthy of front page coverage? – Why might they do that?
  19. 19. The Media Circus
  20. 20. Gatekeeping • The media serves as a gatekeeper that lets in certain stories and keeps out others • A very powerful position • Internet is weakening the traditional mass media gatekeepers
  21. 21. The Gold Standard • A journalist aims to be fair and accurate • We strive for “the best obtainable version of the truth”
  22. 22. Reality Check • Absolute “truth” may be difficult (if not impossible) to put into words • What if there are no words in the English language to explain a concept? • What if there is a deadline that prevents you from telling the whole story? • What if a source refuses to talk? • What if… What if… What if…
  23. 23. Limitations • One of the biggest challenges is telling a story with the inherent limitations of time and money • How do you convey the complexity when you are limited to a two-minute newscast or only 500 words? • How do you know that the piece won’t get edited incorrectly after you file it?
  24. 24. Discussion • Use the Internet to examine several news sites. • Compare and contrast the differences between “news judgment” and style for three sites • Things to consider: – What type of stories get the most prominent placement? – Do you think that the site adheres to the “Murrow standard” of being “fair and balanced”? – Who is the site’s primary audience? – Which site would you read? Why?
  25. 25. Newspapers • New York Times –
  26. 26. Newspapers • Wall Street Journal –
  27. 27. Newspapers • USA Today –
  28. 28. TV News • CNN –
  29. 29. TV News • Fox News Channel –
  30. 30. Internet News • The Drudge Report –
  31. 31. Internet News • Google News –
  32. 32. Accuracy and Fairness • Do the best you can to be: – Accurate – Fair
  33. 33. Accuracy • Spell names correctly • Quote correctly – Some debate about whether bad grammar should be corrected – Most publications/broadcasts do not let the subject review their quote before it goes public – Never misrepresent the context of the quote
  34. 34. Context • You can change the meaning of a quote if you use it incorrectly (or use only a portion of a longer quote)
  35. 35. Example • Movie Ad: Seven • (New Line Cinema, 1995) • Ad copy: "A masterpiece." -- Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly
  36. 36. Example • What Gleiberman really said: "The deadly sins actually rather corny; it's like something out of a Clive Barker potboiler.... The credits sequence, with its jumpy frames and near-subliminal flashes of psycho-paraphernalia, is a small masterpiece of dementia."
  37. 37. Objectivity • An ideal that journalists strive for • Presenting the observable factors without biases from the source, writer or reader • Is true objectivity achievable?
  38. 38. Hard News/Soft News • Hard News – Event that is important because it has impact for the audience – Example: World Trade Center destruction • Soft News – “Feature” news – Enjoyable to know about, but not essential
  39. 39. Differences Among Media • The medium is the message • Each form of media offers different opportunities for telling a story
  40. 40. Differences • TV News – Visually driven – Soundbite heavy – Often superficial by design – “Emotions” emphasized – Coverage subject to censorship of violence and sexual content to meet TV broadcast standards
  41. 41. Differences • Newspapers – Offers more detail than TV – More room for coverage beyond the “30 minute format” of TV News – Slowest to deliver the news
  42. 42. Differences • Internet News – Readers can often post “comments” or feedback on the stories for others to see – Personalization technologies can change the “front page” according to interests of readers – No “gatekeepers” to prevent access to alternative-leaning viewpoints – Infinite amount of space to publish
  43. 43. Know Your Audience • Who is the readership? • Should that influence what you publish or report?
  44. 44. More at