News values

"Newsworthy" redirects here. For the New Zealand television programme, see Newsworthy (TV programme).

News values, sometimes called news criteria, determine how much prominence a news story is given by a media outlet, and the attention it is given by the audience. A. Boyd states that: "News journalism has a broadly agreed set of values, often referred to as 'newsworthiness'..."[1] News values are not universal and can vary widely between different cultures. In Western practice, decisions on the selection and prioritization of news are made by editors on the basis of their experience and intuition, although analysis by J. Galtung and M. Ruge showed that several factors are consistently applied across a range of news organizations.[2] Some of these factors are listed below, together with others put forward by Schlesinger[3] and Bell.[4] According to Ryan, "there is no end to lists of news criteria".[5] Among the many lists of news values that have been drawn up by scholars and journalists, some, like Galtung and Ruge's, attempt to describe news practices across cultures, while others have become remarkably specific to the press of certain (often Western) nations.

Galtung and Ruge, in their seminal study in the area put forward a system of twelve factors describing events that together are used as a definition of 'newsworthiness'. Focusing on newspapers and broadcast news, Galtung and Ruge devised a list describing what they believed were significant contributing factors as to how the news is constructed. Their theory argues that the more an event accessed these criteria the more likely it was to be reported on in a newspaper. Furthermore, three basic hypotheses are presented by Galtung and Ruge: the additivity hypothesis that the more factors an event satisfies, the higher the probability that it becomes news; the complementarity hypothesis that the factors will tend to exclude each other; and the exclusion hypothesis that events that satisfy none or very few factors will not become news.

In 2001, this 1965 study was updated by Tony Harcup and Deirdre O'Neill, in a study of the British press. The findings of a content analysis of three major national newspapers in the UK were used were used to evaluate critically Galtung and Ruge's original criteria and to propose a contemporary set of news values. Forty years on, they found some notable differences, including the rise of celebrity news values and that good news (as well as bad news) was a significant news value, as well as the newspaper's own agenda.

A variety of external and internal pressures influence journalists' decisions on which stories are covered, how issues are interpreted and the emphasis given to them. These pressures can sometimes lead to bias or unethical reporting. Achieving relevance, giving audiences the news they want and find interesting, is an increasingly important goal for media outlets seeking to maintain market share in a rapidly evolving market. This has made news organizations more open to audience input and feedback, and forced them to adopt and apply news values that attract and keep audiences. Given these changes and the rapid rise of digital technology in recent years, Harcup and O’Neill updated their own study in 2016.[6] The growth of interactive media and citizen journalism is fast altering the traditional distinction between news producer and passive audience and may in future lead to a deep-ploughing redefinition of what 'news' means and the role of the news industry.[7]

Conditions for News

Harcup and O'Neill

Harcup and O'Neill (2016) proposed the following news values, after examining news stories in a wide variety of British newspapers and the top stories on Twitter and Facebook in 2015:

The authors also stressed that that the above criteria are not written in tablets of stone, and can be contested since these factors are in themselves 'governed by practical considerations, such as the availability of resources and time, and subjective, often unconscious, influences, such as a mix of the social, educational, ideological and cultural influences on journalists, as well as the environment in which they work, their position in the workplace hierarchy, and the type of audience for whom journalists are producing news....In other words, who is selecting news, for whom, in what medium and by what means (and available resources), may well be as important as whatever news values may or may not be inherent in any potential story.'.[8]

Audience perceptions of news

Conventional models concentrate on what the journalist perceives as news. But the news process is a two-way transaction, involving both news producer (the journalist) and the news receiver (the audience), although boundary between the two is rapidly blurring with the growth of citizen journalism and interactive media.

Little has been done to define equivalent factors that determine audience perception of news. This is largely because it would appear impossible to define a common factor, or factors, that generate interest in a mass audience.

Basing his judgement on many years as a newspaper journalist Hetherington (1985) states that: “…anything which threatens people’s peace, prosperity and well being is news and likely to make headlines”.

Whyte-Venables (2012) suggests audiences may interpret news as a risk signal. Psychologists and primatologists have shown that apes and humans constantly monitor the environment for information that may signal the possibility of physical danger or threat to the individual’s social position. This receptiveness to risk signals is a powerful and virtually universal survival mechanism.

A 'risk signal' is characterized by two factors, an element of change (or uncertainty) and the relevance of that change to the security of the individual.

The same two conditions are observed to be characteristic of news. The news value of a story, if defined in terms of the interest it carries for an audience, is determined by the degree of change it contains and the relevance that change has for the individual or group. Analysis shows that journalists and publicists manipulate both the element of change and relevance (‘security concern’) to maximize, or some cases play down, the strength of a story.

Security concern is proportional to the relevance of the story for the individual, his or her family, social group and societal group, in declining order. At some point there is a Boundary of Relevance, beyond which the change is no longer perceived to be relevant, or newsworthy. This boundary may be manipulated by journalists, power elites and communicators seeking to encourage audiences to exclude, or embrace, certain groups: for instance, to distance a home audience from the enemy in time of war, or conversely, to highlight the plight of a distant culture so as to encourage support for aid programs.[9]

Evolutionary perspectives

An evolutionary psychology explanation for why negative news have a higher news value than positive news starts with the empirical observation that the human perceptive system and lower level brain functions have difficulty distinguishing between media stimuli and real stimuli. These lower level brain mechanisms which function on a subconscious level make basic evaluations of perceptive stimuli, focus attention on important stimuli, and start basic emotional reactions. Research has also found that the brain differentiates between negative and positive stimuli and reacts quicker and more automatically to negative stimuli which are also better remembered. This likely has evolutionary explanations with it often being important to quickly focus attention on, evaluate, and quickly respond to threats. While the reaction to a strong negative stimulus is to avoid, a moderately negative stimulus instead causes curiosity and further examination. Negative media news is argued to fall into the latter category which explains their popularity. Lifelike audiovisual media are argued to have a particularly strong effects compared to reading.[10]

Women have on average stronger avoidance reactions to moderately negative stimuli. They point to negative news as the main reason for avoiding international news. The stronger avoidance reaction to moderately negative stimuli can be explained evolutionary as it being the role of men to investigate and potentially respond aggressively to the threat while women and children withdraw. Men and women also differ on average on how they enjoy, evaluate, remember, comprehend, and identify with the people in negative news depending on if the news are negatively or positively framed. One explanation may that the negative news are framed according to male preferences by the often male journalists who cover such news and that a more positive framing may attract a larger female audience.[10]

See also


  1. Boyd, A. (1994) Broadcast Journalism,Techniques of Radio and TV News. Oxford: Focal.
  2. Galtung, J; Ruge, M. Holmboe (1965). "The Structure of Foreign News. The Presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus Crises in Four Norwegian Newspapers". Journal of Peace Research. 2: 64–91. JSTOR 423011.(subscription required)
  3. Schlesinger P. (1987). Putting 'Reality' Together (2nd ed.). London: Methuen.
  4. Bell A. (1991). The Language of News Media. Oxford: Blackwell.
  5. Ryan, C (1991). Prime Time Activism: Media Strategies for Grassroots Organizing. Boston: South End Press. p. 31.
  7. News values. IT and citizen journalism. URL accessed March 27, 2011.
  8. (
  9. Landau, Joel (2016). Source Journalism and News Values. p. 1. ASIN B01LXSGES2. ISBN 9781365446894.
  10. 1 2 Grabe, Maria Elizabeth (2011). News as reality-inducing, survival-relevant, and gender-specific stimuli. In S. Craig Roberts (Ed.), Applied Evolutionary Psychology (Chapter 22). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199586073.


Harcup T. and O'Neill, D (2001) 'What is news? Galtung and Ruge revisited', Journalism Studies, 2 (2), pp. 261–280

Harcup T. and O'Neill, D (2016) 'What is news? News values revisited (again) Journalism Studies

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