News Values

What is news?

The cliche is, when dog bites man, it's not news. When man bites dog, that's news. Critics say, why is the newspaper always full of bad news? Because bad news is unusual, and no one wants to read about ordinary events. "The Monitor adviser arrived on campus this morning and found things much as he left them the night before." Who cares? If the adviser finds a mountain lion waiting for the elevator in Building 5, then there's a story. With photos.

News usually has at least one of these elements:

Impact. Impact is determined by the number of people affected, the number of boats that sink, the number of cars wrecked, etc. The more people affected, the more boats sunk, the bigger the impact of the story.

Proximity. The closer your audience is to the event, the greater its news value. If a train hits a bus in Bangladesh, it may receive three column inches behind the sports section. If a train hits a bus on Niles Canyon Road, the Argus will play it on page one.

Timeliness. "New" is a big part of news. If it happened just before deadline, it's bigger news than if it happened last week. Even "big" stories last only a week or so. News, like fish, is better fresh.

Prominence. If it happens to the mayor, it is bigger news than if it happens to the Monitor adviser. The public cares more about celebrities than they do about people they don't know. If President Clinton goes jogging, reporters take pictures. If the Monitor adviser goes jogging, dogs bark, but no one else notices. (This is fine with the adviser.)

Novelty. If an event is unusual, bizarre, the first, the last, or once-in-a-lifetime, it is has more news value than if it is something that happens all the time.

Conflict. War, politics and crime are the most common news events of all. If everyone got along, there wouldn't be much news.

Relevance. How does the story affect the reader? If there's no effect at all, maybe there's no news.

Usefulness. How can I use this information? Home, business and leisure news sections have sprouted in newspapers in an attempt to give readers news they can really use.

Human interest. A story may be weak on the other news values, but be interesting anyway. It can be as simple as an interview with a fascinating person who does unusual things. If people are talking about it, it's news, even if it doesn't meet the criteria of our other news values.