An old note from my journalist course days…

So years ago I did a journalism course and one of the early lessons in news reporting was just an exercise in trying to collectively define news. It was a pretty heavily-directed effort, and I think it had to be, because like many other things that we’re so used to in our everyday lives, it’s weirdly difficult to explain to people. Anyway, I’m cleaning up my flat and I find the definition that we came up with on a piece of notepaper, and I’m looking at it and I’m thinking: “This is actually quite interesting – and possibly quite useful for people who are setting up subject-based weblogs”. So here it is:

“New information of significance, interest or relevance which affects the lives or interests of a particular group of readers / listeners / viewers”

It’s not perfect by any means, but it gives you some places to start when you’re thinking about what to write. Know your audience, make sure you’re giving them information, and make sure that the information is actually going to matter to them. It’s not exactly revelatory information, but I figured someone out there might find it useful. And now I’ve transcribed it onto the net, it means that I can throw away the piece of paper!

3 replies on “An old note from my journalist course days…”

It’s made an amorphous concept. But it shouldn’t be.
Quite rightly, it should be the first thing taught at journalism school, before anyone commits pen to paper. But, too often, even news organisations themselves either forget or can’t arrive at a decent definition of “news”.
“News” probably originates from the plural of “new” information. That’s a pretty easy definition, but one which isn’t constrained enough to determine the *type* of information.
What I’ve always found interesting is the concept of news values and the interplay of that with what editors think it is right to cover. You become aware of the dichotomy between what editors, proscriptively, think you *should* read and what, commercially, they think you *want* to read.
What’s interesting in your definition is that the audience is defined as a group. I think the importance of the group in defining news values, for certain media, is on the wane. Even the “old” media are undergoing a large-scale fragmentation into niche interests. The scale of, and ability to personalise, online information is producing a critical individuality of news consumption quite different from the notion of *mass* media.

According to Malcolm Muggeridge: “news is old things happening to new people.”
Ecclesiastes: “there is nothing new under the sun.”
News is a social construct designed to influence opinions, behavior, and buying/voting decisions.
News is generally “the bad things happening in the world”, that which induces fear, anxiety, or confusion about previously formed ideas.
News as mainstream journalists exercise and define it is “what I think is newsworthy, based on my employer’s priorities and my personal feelings.”
Thus, reports on American soldiers killed in Iraq each day. No reports on Iraq civilian casualties. No reports on schools, electricity, hospitals, churches up and running again.
F*ck news.

Comments are closed.