News Value. Criteria of News Value

Introduction

All kinds of events continuously take place all over the world but only some of these events become news. Newspapers and other news media have only limited space and time and hence cannot report every event that takes place in a community, city or country or the world. Hence news editors must filter through all the information they receive and decide to report those which they consider newsworthy. This newsworthiness is decided based on a number of factors which can be collectively called the news value of an event.

News value is a very subjective term and the news value of any event changes from place to place, culture to culture and even from time to time. An event with great news value may be dwarfed if another event with an even greater news value occurs. Hence, a news editor must decide what events would constitute news based on the audience and the relative value of all the different events. The news editor must also decide how much prominence each news which is reported gets in the news medium. The subjective criteria which guide the news editors as they make these decisions may be called news value.

Galtung and Ruge (1965) were among the first to try and list these criteria of news value. They argue that, an event is more likely to be covered if it unfolds completely between two editions of a publication, is big enough to cross the threshold of newsworthiness, and is unambiguous, relevant, unexpected, balanced and continuous. The event must also be in line with what the reader expects and wants. Galtung and Ruge further state that an event is more likely to become news if it is negative and if it is attributed to an elite nation or an elite person or to a specific individual. That is negativity and personification also increases the news value of an event. This list of factors provided by Galtung and Ruge is quite comprehensive. Alan (2004) summarizes this list, adding that a newspaper must appeal to all kinds of readers and hence the newspaper must consist of different kinds of news. In other words, a news item is not just treated in isolation but along with all the other news events available during the day to decide which news item has higher news value. In short, any news story which has “drama, conflict and oddity” is considered to have higher news value (Major and Atwood, 2004).

When deciding the news value of an event, editors’ aim is to reach as wide an audience as possible. Hence a news item with high historical importance may not have high news value because it may not be of interest to a large number of readers. News items with higher news value invariably get published on the front page of a newspaper and help build the circulation of a publication (Hughes, 1980).

While several subjective factors decide the news value of an event, calamities and disasters usually have much higher news value than most other events. A calamity can continue to remain on the front page of newspapers for much longer than most other news types. However, even in this case, the psychological distance between the event and the news recipient can affect the news value (Burdach, 1988). The recent Samoan tsunami has received much coverage in New Zealand media and continues to occupy headlines in major newspapers. This essay will analyze and critically discuss the reporting of the Samoan tsunami in newspapers and other media.

Summary of the News Story

On September 29, 2009, an earthquake of magnitude 8.3 on the Richter Scale occurred about 200 km from Apia, the capital of Samoa, triggering a tsunami in the region. The initial report about the disaster was reported in the online version of National daily NZ Herald, titled “At least seven dead after quake, the tsunami hit Samoa” (September 30). The report was extremely sketchy with reporters still trying to understand the magnitude of the disaster. The same day, the international news site time.com reports the news and covers the impact of the tsunami in different parts of the Pacific including Samoa, Tonga and New Zealand (Lesa and Sagapolutele, September 29). Later that day, the online version of New Zealand’s national daily, nzherald.co.nz, reports of personal losses to some famous people (“Tua, Fatialofa”, September 30). The next day, the online national news site, tvnz.co.nz (“A survival story”, October 1) reports a survival story as it attempts to bring some hope amidst all the gloom.

By October 2, the real magnitude of the devastation starts to become clear as newspapers around New Zealand go into the details of loss to life and property. The front-page news in “The Dominion Post”, titled “Paradise Lost” gives details of the loss and ties to make the news more relevant to the New Zealanders by giving news of New Zealanders who had lost their lives in the tsunami. By this time, news media also starts some introspection and the front page news in the print edition of the local daily “The Harbour News” discusses how the emergency was managed and how it could have been handled better. (“We can do better”, October 2). By October 5th the news at the national level print dailies had moved to how people were coping with the disaster, its impact and its aftermath (Eriksen & Savage, “Tsunami refugees”; Tapaleao, “Samoa prepares mass funeral”). News items in the print edition of The New Zealand Herald time were about how officials were helping find bodies (Eriksen & Savage, “Search for bodies”; Savage, “Sad jobs”, October 5) and of prayer being offered for the departed souls (Thomson, October 5). The national daily, New Zealand Herald, as well as local dailies like “The North Shore Times”, continued to connect the Samoan tragedy to New Zealand by reporting about New Zealanders who had lost loved once in the disaster (Eriksen, “Parents grieve”, October 5; “Shore Samoans”, October 6).

On October 7th, tsunami-related news dealt with the state of tsunami victims and the nature of the relief being provided to them (Tapaleao, “Homeless villagers”). And after a week of nothing but negative news, on 8th October the front-page headline in the print edition of the local daily, The North Shore Times, is about how a young twelve-year-old boy helped save families by warning them about the tsunami (Vickers, “Run!”). Thus a week full of negative news tries to ends on a relatively positive note by alluding to a young boy as the hope for a better future.

News Value Table

  1. News Title:At least seven dead after quake, tsunami hit Samoa

(Source from: National, Online)

Key news value: Magnitude/timeliness/unambiguity/personalize/meaningfulness/unexpectedness/negativity
    • The magnitude of the event is big enough to become news
    • Since the tsunami strikes early morning, it is too soon to make it to the print edition, but is reported in the online version.
    • An event as big as a tsunami with certain deaths is unambiguous enough to become news.
    • Quotes are used to personalize the story
    • The proximity of the Samoan tsunami to New Zealand increases its meaningfulness for New Zealand newspapers
    • A tsunami is an unexpected event.
    • The negativity of the event increases its news value
  1. News Title:Scores dead in Tsunami in Pacific Islands

(Source from: international, online)

Key news value:
Magnitude/timeliness/unambiguity/personalize/unexpectedness/reference to elite people/reference to elite nation/negativity
  • The magnitude of the event is big enough to make it news.
  • The timing means that it gets reported first in the online edition of the magazine
  • There is no ambiguity about its news value
  • Quotes are used to personalize the story
  • The event is unexpected enough to become news
  • Reference to US President Obama, acting Prime Minister of New Zealand, Bill English, Samoan Prime Minister and some other important people increases the news value.
  • Reference to the impact of the tsunami in United States and Australia increases its news value
  • The negativity of the event gives it its main news value
  1. News Title:Tua, Fatialofa lose family in Samoa tsunami

(Source from: national, online)

Key news value:
Magnitude/personalize/reference to elite people/negativity
  • The magnitude of the event gives it its news value
  • Quotes are used to personalize the event
  • The tragedy is linked to important people to give it its news value
  • The negativity of the event gives it its news vale
4. News Title: A survival story among devastation
(Source from: National, online)
Key news value:
Magnitude/personalization/reference to elite people/negativity
  • The magnitude of the event makes it news
  • Quotes are used to personalize the event
  • Reference to former Miss Samoa increases the news value
  • Negativity increases the news value
5. News Title:Paradise Lost
(Source from: Local, print)
Key News Value:
Magnitude/personalization/meaningfulness/negativity
  • The magnitude of the event makes it news
  • Quotes are used to personalize the story
  • Linking to news to loss of life among new Zealanders makes it more meaningful to the local readers
  • Negativity increases the news value
6. News Title:We can do Better
(Source from: Local, print)
Key News Value:
Magnitude/personalization/negativity/continuity/demand/balance
  • The magnitude of the event makes its news
  • Quotes are used to personalize the story
  • Negativity increases news value
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be demand for more news related to the tsunami
  • All sides of the story are reported to give a balanced news
7. News Title: Bringing light and comfort in dark times
(Source from: national, print)
Key News Value:
Personalization/reference to elite people/continuity/demand/negativity
  • Quotes are used to personalize the story
  • Reference to Archbishop increases news value
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be a demand for more news related to the tsunami
8. News Title: Tsunami refugees too scared to leave safety of high ground.
(News Source: National, print)
Key News Value:
Magnitude/negativity/personalization/continuity/demand
  • Magnitude of the disaster increases news value
  • Negativity is the main news value
  • Quotes and personal accounts are used to increase the news value of the story
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be a demand for more news related to the tsunami
9. News Title: Search for bodies continues.
(News Source: National, print)
Key News Value:
Negativity/continuity/demand
  • Negativity is the main news value of this news item
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be a demand for more news related to the tsunami
10. News Title: Samoa prepares mass funeral for victims of disaster
(News Source: national, print)
Key News Value:
Negativity/continuity/demand/personalization
  • Negativity is the main news value of this news item
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be demand for more news related to the tsunami
  • A quote is used to personalize the story
11. News Title: Sad job means families can get loved ones back.
(News Source: National, print)
Key News Value:
Negativity/continuity/demand/personalization
  • Negativity is the main news value of this news item
  • Being big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be a demand for more news related to the tsunami
  • Personal experiences are used for personalization
12. News Title: Parents grieve for lost daughters.
(News Source: National, print)
Key News Value:
Negativity/continuity/demand/personalization/meaningfulness
  • Negativity is the main news value of this news item
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be demand for more news related to the tsunami
  • Quotes and personal experiences are used for personalization
  • Linking the tragedy to New Zealanders makes it more meaningful.
13. News Title: Shore Samoans Mourn
(News Source: Print, local)
Key News Value:
Negativity/continuity/demand/personalization/meaningfulness
  • Negativity is the main news value of this news item
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be a demand for more news related to the tsunami
  • Quotes and personal experiences are used for personalization
  • Linking the tragedy to New Zealanders makes it more meaningful for its intended
14. News Title: Homeless villagers welcome food aid.
(News Source: online, national)
Key News Value:
Negativity/continuity/demand/personalization
  • Negativity is the main news value of this news item
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be demand for more news related to the tsunami
  • Quotes and personal experiences are used for personalization
15. News Title:Run! It’s a tsunami
(News Source: print, local)
Key News Value:
Continuity/demand/personalization
  • Being a big news, issues related to the event also become news
  • There is likely to be a demand for more news related to the tsunami
  • Quotes and personal experiences are used for personalization

Analysis and Critical Discussion

As we have seen, the news value of any disaster is in its unexpectedness, negativity, timeliness, personalization and unambiguity (Allen, 2004). In case of disaster news, the initial reporting is done by news agencies since it takes time for the major newspaper reporters to get the news and reach the place of news origination. At this stage, the news value is provided mainly by its unexpectedness, negativity and timeliness. Also, despite journalists trying their best to try and make the news as error-free as possible, in the initial stages of a disaster, information is difficult to come by and hence news is often inaccurate. Newspapers quickly revise their initial reports and more and more information becomes available. In this case, the initial report in The New Zealand Herald, immediately after the disaster had struck reported only seven deaths. However, aware that the death toll may go up, the news is qualified with the words “At least”. So eventually, when the actual death toll turns out to be around 150, this initial news continues to remain accurate. Also, despite the story having a lot of news value on its own, quotes and personal experiences are used to enhance its news value of personalization.

Despite the news of a disaster having huge news value on its own, the editors further increase the news value by linking the disaster to important persons. The death of family members of a boxer and a rugby player and the death of a beauty queen are reported to enhance the news value. Also, many news items have news value because they link the disaster to New Zealand residents.

Most of the news coverage related to the disaster tries to exploit the negativity of the situation. Since this is extremely unambiguous news, there is not much scope to report any conflicts. However, on the issue of disaster management, the editors report both the sides of the storytelling to the readers both the areas where the system was successful as well as those areas which could be improved. Most of the subsequent coverage about the disaster uses its negativity to build news value and depends on personalization, using quotes and personal experiences.

It is extremely important for the commercial success of a newspaper that all the news items reported have high news value. Hence when editors find an event with a huge news value, like a tsunami, they try to get as much commercial mileage out of it as possible. In the case of the news story under analysis, this is apparent from the fact the news continued to occupy the front page of most national and local newspapers for over a week. Even as late as October 8, the entire front page of a local newspaper was devoted to reporting a survival story related to the tsunami. The story derived its news value from the fact it was related to a local family and hence was meaningful to the local readers of the daily.

Even in the initial stages, the report in the online version of the international news magazine, Time, was full of references to important people in an attempt to make the news more meaningful and hence have higher news value for its intended international readers. At the national level, the news regarding the deaths in the families of famous personalities reported in the online edition of the New Zealand Herald is another attempt to increase the news value of the disaster. Since the news was reported in the online version of a national daily, linking the tragedy to people of national fame made it more important to the intended readers.

The commercial imperative of such events is so much for editors that they try to get as much mileage out of it as possible. Most events no longer remain “news” after a day or two. However, a natural disaster and the huge destruction it causes mean is news values remain stories for several days. In the case of the present story, the initial story had a huge news value in its magnitude, timeliness, negativity, meaningfulness and unexpectedness and hence the news became extremely commercially viable. The news as reported immediately after the disaster in the online editions has the strongest commercial value. This commercial imperative kept becoming weaker with each passing day. However, the news that survivors were getting aid had a strong commercial imperative, even though it was reported almost one week after the event. On the other hand, most of the news items, such as a prayer meeting, did not have very high news value, but they were reported to obtain some more commercial mileage out of the main event.

Finally, there is also something almost sinister about the way editors exploit the negativity of such news events. The gory details of the process of searching for the dead bodies as written in the news titled “Search for bodies continues”, is one example of such exploitation. The news does not have much news value but its commercial imperative is big enough to get printed in a major daily.

Conclusion

The news story analyzed in this essay is one of extremely high news value. Although the event lasted only a few seconds, it continued to remain in the newspapers for well over a week with the news editors exploiting every possible angle of the news to get as many commercial benefits out of it as possible. In this sense, the event continued to get reported on the front pages of newspapers long after it had exhausted its news value.

References

Allan, S. (2004). News culture (2nd ed.). Maidenhead: Open University Press.

A survival story amongst devastation. (2009). Tvnz.co.nz. Web.

At least seven dead after quake, tsunami hit Samoa. (2009). Web. 

Burdach, K.J. (1988). Reporting on deaths: The perspective coverage of accident news in German Tabloid. European Journal of Communication. 3, 81-89. Web.

Eriksen, A.M. and Savage, J. (2009). Tsunami refugees too scared to leave safety of high ground. The New Zealand Herald, p. A1

Eriksen, A.M. and Savage, J. (2009). Search for bodies continues. The New Zealand Herald, p. A5.

Eriksen, A.M. (2009). Parents grieve for lost daughters. The New Zealand Herald, p. A4

Galtung, J. and Ruge, M.H. (1965). The structure of foreign news. Journal of Peace research. 2(1), 64-91. Web.

Hughes, H.M. (1980). News and human interest story. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers.

Lesa, K. and Sagapolutele, F. (2009). Scores Dead in Tsunami in Pacific islands. Time. [online]. Web.

Major, A.M. and Atwood, L.E. (2004). Environmental risks in the news: issues, sources, problems, and values. Public Understanding of Science. 13, 295-308. Web.

Paradise Lost. (2009). The Dominion Post, p. A1.

Savage, J. (2009). Sad job means families can get loved ones back. The New Zealand Herald, p. A1.

Shore Samoans Mourn (2009). North Shore Times, pp. 1, 2.

Tapaleao, V. (2009). Homeless villagers welcome food aid. nzherald.co.nz. Web.

Tapaleao, V. (2009). Samoa prepares mass funeral for victims of disaster. The New Zealand Herald, p. A1.

Thomson, W. (2009) Bringing light and comfort in dark times. The New Zealand Herald, p. A1.

Tua, Fatialofa lose family in Samoa tsunami. (2009). nzherald.co.nz. Web.

Vickers, L. (2009). Run! It’s a tsunami. North Shore Times, p. 1

We can do better. (2009) The Harbor News, p. 1.

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