News Media – Introductory Lecture: News Values

What is the News? It grew out of gossip and special events. People needed to know things about births, marriages, deaths, disasters and crimes. However, not all news is shown, gatekeepers decide what we see. News is no longer about informing the public about events in the real world but about mediating those events. News is a commodity. Stories are published that people are willing to purchase.

News Values

Either news values are defined by how much a story is worth compared to other stories or are defined by a set of values that the news industry uses to regulate itself.

‘Hard’ news: a story judged to have important implications for the general reading public.

‘Soft’ news: less serious subjects about lifestyle, human interest, celebrities, entertainment, sport or the arts. ‘Infortainment’.

Spot news: gathered through contact with organisations and sites of recurring news interest (e.g. the police).

Diary news: anticipated and expected (e.g. film premieres, political conferences).

Breaking news: new and unanticipated.

Investigative journalism: in depth coverage of one specific issue/story. It requires extensive research and financial outlay.

Other factors: 

Space – news is limited by time (TV) and column length (paper).

International Networks of Nations – political alliances.

Social Media – stories that are trending can provoke interest.

Market-Driven News

Demographic – audience based on categorisations (age, gender).

Psychographic – audience targeted according to personality (values, attitudes, interests, lifestyles).


Galtung and Ruge

They explored global news stories and came up with a set of news values. What they came up with states that news is structured and not discovered, news is mediated, filtered and prioritised and news is told from certain angles. By recognising these things we can think critically about the news acknowledging that the news is not the whole truth.

Their list consisted of:

  • frequency (think of time frame)
  • threshold (scale of story)
  • unambiguity (straightforward)
  • meaningfulness (close to home)
  • consonance (meets expectations of media)
  • unexpectedness (shocking, bizarre)
  • continuity (already prominent)
  • composition (stories selected to create balance)
  • reference to elite nations (large, powerful countries)
  • reference to elite peoples
  • personification (news related to individuals)
  • negativity (bad news is more newsworthy than good news)

Galtung and Ruge looked for evidence of bias in favour of the status quo:

  ‘terrorist’ or ‘freedom fighter’;

  ‘benefits scroungers’ or ‘the underprivileged’

  ‘migrant’ or ‘refugee‘.

News Values and Cultural Contexts

Herbert J. Gans (1980): there is a functional relationship between the news and its social context. Altruistic democracy – democracy is good for everyone. Responsible capitalism – making lots of money is always a good thing for everyone. Individualism – The American Dream: working your way out of poverty.

Stuart Hall et al. (1978): News portrayals are always subject to a process of ‘primary definition’. Maintaining the status quo perhaps?

Harcup and O’Neill’s News Values

  • the power elite
  • celebrity
  • entertainment
  • surprise
  • bad news
  • good news
  • magnitude
  • relevance
  • follow up
  • newspaper agenda
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