– WHAT IS NEWS? –
‘All the news that fits’ is the company motto displayed on the front page of The New York Times.
No form of mass media can carry every newsworthy event. The reason for this is that all are constrained by costs and availability of space and time.
For instance, the average daily newspaper fills approximately 62 percent of its space with advertising, leaving only 38 percent for news accounts, along with human interest stories, and pure entertainment features. Network television news is even more limited. Each half-hour programme contains only twenty-two to twenty-three minutes of news and human interest stories.
Contrary to what many people think, news is not simply out there; it must be picked from a multitude of happenings, only a few of which will ever be covered. What then is news? Perhaps the best explanation is that ‘news is what reporters, editors, and producers decide is news.’
Doris Graber has identified certain criteria most often used in selecting stories. First of all, to be regarded as news, the story must have an effect on the audience, that is, the events told in newspapers or shown on television must be relevant to people’s lives.
Events in the Middle East, for example, are news for American people when they have an effect on American hostages there. Another criterion for newsworthiness is the presence of violence, conflict, disaster or scandal. Violent crime, for example, dominates all contemporary news.
Even non-violent conflict makes news. No one pays attention when one hundred members of the Congress come out of a White House meeting and say that the president’s programme is great. But if one of the members says, “]t is awful.” then that’s news.
Familiarity is also an element of an event to become news. Events are more likely to be dealt with as news when they involve individuals that the public already knows. Approximately 85 per cent of the domestic news stories on television and in news magazines involve well-known people. Unknown people are most newsworthy as victims of crime or natural disasters.
The final criterion is that stories must be novel to attract the attention of the media. They must be what reporters call ‘breaking stories’ and 35 they must also be unusual. The routine is considered unworthy even though it may sometimes have a significant effect on people’s lives. As a former editor of the old New York Sun put it, “When a dog bites a man, that is not news, because it happens so often. But if a man bites a dog, that is news.”
To this list might be added the availability of individuals for interviews. Reporters rely almost exclusively on interviewing and only occasionally on the reading of documents. The dependence on the interview results partly from the need to personalize the news, especially in television journalism, with its demand for visuals.
The fact that most reporters find document analysis dull and boring also increases their dependence on interviews. Whatever the cause, the result is a bias in favour of those willing and able to talk. These criteria have little to do with the importance of news stories. They stress mainly ways of keeping the audience interested. Because media outlets make their profit from the sale of advertising, they must keep their ratings and circulations high.
A. Mark the best choice.
1. Line 19, ‘they’ refers to .
a) American people c) people’s lives b) events in the Middle East d) news
2. Line 26, ‘If refers to .
a) a White House meeting c) non-violent conflict b) the president’s programme d) contemporary news
3. The main idea of the first paragraph of this article is that .
a) the motto of The New York Times is not true
b) newspapers devote 62 percent of their space to advertising
c) media can present only a limited amount of news
d) newspapers share the space for news with entertainment and human interest stories
4. Line 3, ‘constrained’ means .
a) excused b) developed c) limited d) cancelled
5. Line 33, ‘novel’ here means .
a) unusual b) unworthy c) reasonable d) routine
B. 1. According to the author, what is news?
2. Why do reporters depend on interviews?
(Give 2 reasons.)
C. Complete the following:
1. Unknown people are in news only when they are ‘ .
2. According to Doris Graber*s first criterion, events or stories become news when they .