News Values are general criteria such as ‘extraordinariness’, ‘negativity’ and ‘elite persons’ which journalists use to determine whether an event is newsworthy (‘worthy of inclusion in the news’).
The existence of news values is one of the reasons why many sociologists view the news as a social construction – in other words the news is not simply an unbiased reflection of the objectively most important events ‘out there’ in society; rather the news is the end result of selective processes through which gatekeepers such as owners, editors and journalists make choices about what events are important enough to be covered, and how they should be covered.
Spencer-Thomas (2008) defines News values as general guidelines or criteria that determine the worth of a news story and how much prominence it is given by newspapers or broadcast media. Brighton and Foy (2007) suggest that news values are ‘often intangible, informal, almost unconscious elements’. News values define what journalists, editors and broadcasters consider as newsworthy.
The best known list of news values was supplied by Galtung and Rouge (1970). They analysed international news across a group of newspapers in Norway in 1965 and identified a number of News Values shared by Norwegian journalists (1)
Galtung and Rouge (1970) identified several news values inlcuding:
- Reference to elite persons
- Reference to elite nations.
Rare, unpredictable and surprising events have more newsworthiness than routine events.
The September 11th 2001 attacks on the Twin Towers remain probably the best example of an event that was extraordinary!
The more people that are affected by an event and the more dramatically their lives are impacted, then more likely an event is to be reported.
Examples of events which fit the threshold criteria include the London Riots, the War in Ukraine, the Cost of Living Crisis and large natural disasters.
The simpler the event, the more likely it is to be reported.
Natural disasters are good examples of events which are unambiguous. There is no complex politics which needs explaining, at least not in terms of the disaster itself.
Reference to elite persons
Events surrounding the famous and the powerful are often seen as more newsworthy. Probably the best example of this from 2022 was the death of Queen Elizabeth when there was a week of rolling news coverage about nothing really that interesting.
Reference to elite nations
Events in nations perceived to be ‘culturally similar’ to the United Kingdom are more likely to reported on – for example, disasters in America are more likely to be reported on than disasters in African countries.
if events can be personalised easily they are more likely to get into the news.
You will see this in the reporting of responses to natural disasters, with several reports focusing in on individual families and there is always a ‘toddler pulled from the wreckage’ story!
bad news is regarded as more newsworthy than good news.
According to Galtung and Rouge, journalists use News-Values to select-out certain events as less newsworthy than others, and they thus act as gate-keepers – they quite literally shut out certain events, and let other events into the news-agenda, thus narrowing our window on the world.
There are some contemporary critiques of the concept of News Values, but I’ll come back to those later!
This material is mainly relevant to students opting for the media module as part of second year sociology.
(1) Chapman 2106, Sociology for AQA A-Level, Collins.
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