The News Manual Chapter 1: What is News?

HERE we consider what makes one thing worth reporting, while another thing is not. We offer a test for news which can work in all societies.

We consider what makes some news stories stronger than others. Finally, we look at how news comes to journalists and the areas of life where we most often find it.

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Life appears to be a shapeless jumble of events, falling over each other, elbowing and jostling each other.

Journalists each day structure this chaos, so that the public receives it sorted out and neatly packaged into stories, the same day on the radio, television, or online and the next day in newspapers.

It will have been evaluated. The biggest news will be given first in the bulletin or on Page One of the paper, in detail; lesser news will be given in less detail later in the bulletin or on an inside page, and the rubbish will have been thrown away.

How do journalists decide what is the news and what is not? How do they distinguish between a big news story and a small one?

The answer is that they do it in exactly the same way as everybody else. Everybody makes those same judgments whenever they decide to talk about one event rather than another.

For example, which do you think is more interesting:
a) A girl going to primary school, to high school, or to university?
b) A man aged 25 marrying a girl aged 20, or a man aged 55 marrying a girl aged 15?
c) A car killing a chicken, a pig, or a child?

Every one of these events might be news for the community in which it happens, but some are more newsworthy than others. You very likely answered that the most interesting things were a girl going to university, a man aged 55 marrying a girl aged 15, and a car killing a child.

If your answer was different, though, it does not necessarily mean that you were wrong.

The same event can have different levels of interest in different societies and will be talked about in different ways. If a farm wall has collapsed, killing a cow and a pig, which is more important?

Clearly, the answer will vary from one society to another, depending upon the relative importance of cows and pigs.

For this reason, the content of the news can be different in different societies. The way in which the news is judged, though, is the same everywhere.

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