Dr. Drissia CHOUIT
Moulay Ismail University
Potter, Beborah. Handbook of Independent Journalism.U.S. Department of State: Bureau of International Information Programs, 2006.
WHAT IS NEWS?
The answer to the question “What is news?” may seem obvious. News is what is new; it’s what’s happening. Look it up in the dictionary, and you’ll find news described as “a report of recent events
or previously unknown information.” It is also defined as "information about recent and important events" and "the quality of being sufficiently interesting to be reported in news bulletins".
But most of the things that happen in the world every day don’t find their way into the newspaper or onto the air in a newscast. In fact,
journalists decide what news to cover based on many of the following “news values”.
Did something happen recently or did we just learn about it? If so, that could make it newsworthy. The meaning of “recently” varies depending on the medium. For a weekly news
magazine, anything that happened since the previous edition the week before may be considered timely. For a 24-hour cable news channel, the timeliest news may be “breaking news,” or something that is happening this very minute and can be covered
by a reporter live at the scene.
Generally speaking, news is information that is of broad interest to the intended audience, so what is big news in Paris may not be news at all in Washington.
Are many people affected or just a few? Contamination in the water system that serves your town’s 20,000 people has impact because it affects your audience directly. A report that 10 children were killed from drinking polluted water at a summer
camp in a distant city has impact too, because the audience is likely to have a strong emotional response to the story.
Did something happen close to home, or did it involve people from here? A plane crash in Chad will make headlines in N’Djamena,
but it is unlikely to be front-page news in Chile unless the plane was carrying Chilean passengers.
Are people in disagreement about this? It’s human nature to be interested in stories that involve conflict, tension,
or public debate. People like to take sides, and see whose position will prevail.
Is a well-known person involved? Ordinary activities or mishaps can become news if they involve a prominent person like a prime minister
or a film star.
Are people here talking about this? A government meeting about bus safety might not draw much attention, unless it happens to be scheduled soon after a terrible bus accident. An incident at a football match may be in
the news for several days because it is the main topic of conversation in town.
Is what happened unusual? As the saying goes, “If a dog bites a man, that is not news. But if a man bites a dog, it’s news!” The extraordinary and the unexpected appeal
to our natural human curiosity.
What makes news also depends on the makeup of the intended audience, not just where they live but who they are. Different groups of people have different lifestyles and concerns, which make
them interested in different types of news. A radio news program targeted at younger listeners might include stories about music or sports stars that would not be featured in a business newspaper aimed at older, wealthier readers. A weekly magazine that covers
medical news would report on the testing of an experimental drug because the doctors who read the publication presumably would be interested. But unless the drug is believed to cure a well-known disease, most general-interest local newspapers would ignore
the story; the exception might be the newspaper in the community where the research is being conducted.
News Organization Agenda
News organizations see their work as a public service, so news is made up of information that people need to know in order
to go about their daily lives and to be productive citizens in a democracy. But most news organizations are also businesses that have to make a profit to survive, so the news also includes items that will draw an audience: stories people may want to know about
just because they are interesting. But it is fairly common for news organizations to divide stories into two basic categories: hard news and soft news, also called features.
Types of News
Hard news is essentially the news of the day. It is what you see on
the front page of the newspaper or the top of the Web page, and what you hear at the start of a broadcast news report. For example, war, politics, business, and crime are frequent hard news topics. A strike announced today by the city’s bus drivers that
leaves thousands of commuters unable to get to work is hard news. It’s timely, controversial, and has a wide impact close to home. The community needs the information right away because it affects people’s daily lives.
By contrast, a story about a world-famous athlete who grew up in an orphanage would fit the definition of soft news.
It is a human-interest story involving a prominent person and it is an unusual story that people likely would discuss with their friends. But there is no compelling reason why it has to be published or broadcast on any particular day. By definition, that makes
it a feature story. Many newspapers and online-news sites have separate feature sections for stories about lifestyles, home and family, the arts, and entertainment. Larger newspapers even may have weekly sections for specific kinds of features on food, health,
education, and so forth.