Robert Rotberg does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above. The closer the story to home, the more newsworthy it is. For someone living in France, a major plane crash in the USA has a similar news value to a small plane crash near Paris. Television news programs often place a humorous or quirky story at the end of the show to finish on a feel-good note. It is, therefore, not surprising that those receiving news online are generally better educated than the average American.
For example, this week a reader wondered why he could not find news about the Princess Patricia’s Regiment anniversary celebrations in the Star. The Oxford Canadian Dictionary defines news as information about important or interesting recent events.” There’s broad scope in that for judgment about what is important” — information you need to know — and what is interesting” — stuff you might want to know. Clearly, on any given day, their news judgment won’t be in accord with that of all readers — or even all Star journalists. Consider how those universal elements figure in many important and interesting news stories.
Textbook definitions of news that aim to teach aspiring journalists how to develop news judgment” are of little practical use in the daily, and increasingly online, hourly, fray of deciding what’s news. For example, few editors ever consciously consider what one text tells us: News is information about a break from the normal flow of events, an interruption in the unexpected” (practical translation: Dog bites man: not news. Stanley Walker, the famous editor of the now-defunct New York HeraldTribune defined news as the three W’s — women, wampum and wrongdoing” (practical translation: sex, money and crime).
For most journalists, deciding what’s news is instinctive, rooted in experience and their perceptions of what readers want. Practical factors such as space, reporting resources, the mix of hard news and softer features, the number of events competing for attention, as well as the availability of compelling photos to illustrate the news, are also at play. The analysis above of the Maas media environments and news is not a simple matter that can be glossed-over.
All these theories aside, there is one overriding consideration that helps explain the daily puzzle of what is news: What’s newsworthy on a slow news day” is far different than what you’ll read when a natural disaster happens or a parliamentary scandal breaks. It’s a safe bet that Céline Dion’s water-park would not have made such a splash on the day a tsunami struck or there was a tidal wave of earth-shaking news.