Journalists decide which events to report as news based on certain criteria which are referred to as news values. These are yardsticks used to determine what sees the light of the day as news. News values are criteria that influence what is selected and found newsworthy among numerous events that break by the day. News values are very essential in journalism practice as they facilitate the selection and presentation of the most important happenings in the society. Among the news values are as follows;
Journalists give priority to what is happening now, what is current, i.e. more current than competing stories, not what is no longer fresh. Breaking news gets attention in news reporting.
How powerful, popular, famous, connected etc. a person in the news is, determines how important he or she is as a news source. The Royal wedding of England between Prince William and Catherine Middleton drew attention in the international media more than other stories involving less important or popular personalities no matter how serious those other stories were.
Also known as consequence, the number of persons a story affects or is likely to affect gives that story value. An imminent outbreak of diseases that endangers the lives of 700 children would receive attention more than the story of a car crash that killed three persons.
This deals with the nearness of an event to the audience. People are interested in knowing about their immediate neighbourhood before other places. This closeness could be physical or psychological. Physical nearness comes where for instance Nigerian newspapers give priority placement to a story concerning Nigerian president more than that of the President of USA. But if US president makes a comment about Nigeria, Nigerian newspapers could play up that angle. Psychological closeness comes up where a story about gang rape of women in India receives prominence in the local media in Nigeria because it sparked off demonstrations by women in Nigeria and other parts of the world.
Stories about controversies, quarrels, disagreements, friction, challenges, struggles against odds, etc. get attention of reporters as newsworthy events, issues or topics. The bulk of stories in the media have an element of conflict in them. It could be impeachments, crisis in Niger Delta, strikes, crime/arrests, statements by opposition politicians against government, government warning people against something, EFCC activities, sports stories involving one form of competition or the other etc. Positive stories also have element of conflict. For instance, government efforts to fight malaria through public enlightenment programmes in communities, and a story on provision of primary healthcare against odds, have elements of conflict. The fight against COVID-19 through various means is health development news that is not completely negative.
Stories that arouse emotions in the audience have news value. A routine story about a commercial motorcycle operator may not seem newsworthy on face value but when the ban on commercial motorcycle operations in a state affects families, leads to the withdrawal of kids from school because their fathers couldn’t pay their school fees or a woman dies during childbirth because her husband, a former commercial motorcycle operator, could not get the money to take her to a good hospital, this news value (human interest) comes to play.
Events that are unusual or that are different from routine experiences are newsworthy. Some newspapers reserve space for remarkably odd stories – a man with six fingers, conjoined twins, a man who rides a bicycle at the age of 100 etc. Similarly, a story on citizens arresting a policeman would receive more attention than routine arrests of civilians by policemen.
(Source: Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Ecology in the Digital Age – second edition, 2021; written by Nwabueze, C.)