Readers, Writers, Texts

Newsworthiness

“Events don’t get into the news by simply happening. They must fit in with what is already known… They must fulfil a certain number of criteria… must jostle for inclusion in the limited number of slots available.”

Hartley, 1982
What makes a story newsworthy? This video explains something called the TRUTH test used in media training courses to show what journalists look for in a story.

A famous tenet of news reporting is the phrase: ‘If It Bleeds, It Leads’. A basic fact in the news media is that, if a story involves a brutal death or injury of some kind (or the likelihood of it), it is likely to get higher ratings. This mantra is deeply ingrained so, while newsworthiness is determined by several factors, death and destruction fulfils many of them better than news about ordinary people going about their lives in an ordinary way.

The news doesn’t just happen – it is made. The news cycle runs for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every week of the year. Newspeople can’t just sit around waiting for the next big event – they have column inches, newsfeeds and airtime to fill. But they can’t just go around making things up either. This is why the newsworthiness criteria are so important. Anything can be news as long as it is relevant to the right people, infrequent, is of human interest, contains conflict or controversy, or has the potential for continuity.

So, why do some events garner major media coverage and others are all but ignored?  The most famous names in the study of news media are Galthung and Ruge, whose seminal 1973 work provided a collection of criteria by which analysts agree the news is ‘selected’ or chosen.  Study the following materials to find out more about this topic: choose one or two of these sources to come to a better understanding of newsworthiness:

Reading Challenge

This is a longer and more challenging text, but spending time on this piece, and discussing it with your teacher, will help you master this topic:


Class Activity 1 : Global Terrorism

Have you ever wondered why only some news gets reported – or why some news events get more coverage than others? This activity might help you to understand why. Think about the topic of terrorism – according to stories you may or may not have heard about in the news, make a list of the ten countries you think most at risk from terrorist attacks.

Now take a look at this infographic produced by the IEP and published in 2020. (Although this is a couple of years old now, the top ten countries at risk from terrorism in 2020 were the same as in 2019). Compare your list of top ten countries at risk of terrorist attack to the data. How accurate was your list? Discuss whether the choices you made were influenced by the news media.

Class Activity 2 : Read All About It!

This webpage provides all of today’s newspaper front pages for every newspaper published in Britain, every day. Look at the front pages for today’s papers. (Alternatively, you can search for news in your own location or visit the homepage of an online news provider that is relevant to you.) What stories are prominent in today’s news. Use this resource from PBS to consider major newsworthiness criteria – explain the most recent stories by applying these criteria, and any others that you have learned about through your reading. Discuss your findings with others in your class.

Areas of Exploration Guiding Conceptual Question

Why do some texts follow the ‘rules’ of their text type or genre while other texts change form publication to publication or from story to story? How have some genres evolved over time? Learning to recognise the generic conventions of texts will help you understand how – and why – some writers break the rules. Near the end of this resource, you’ll learn why newspaper front pages contain conventional features from which they hardly ever deviate. Learning these features and being able to explain the effects they create will help you with your Paper 1 analyses as well:

Discussion Points

After you’ve got your head around the material in this section, pair up, pick a question, spend five minutes thinking and noting down your thoughts – then discuss your ideas with a friend and report back to the class:

  1. Some people believe that the days of tuning in to the news to be straightforwardly informed about current events are gone. If this is true, what is the purpose of the news? What features of the news tell you that its purpose is not straightforward informative reporting?
  2. What are the implications of ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ on individuals and society? What – if any – do you think is the consequence of filling news time with sensationalist, dramatic, violent or graphic stories and images?
  3. Is news media the only place that people can get the news? How else do you find out about the world? Is the news even relevant to young people like yourselves? Why / why not?

Learner Portfolio

Imagine you are the editing team working for an IB newspaper at your school. The next issue is being released on Monday. Design the front page of your newspaper: what stories and events have recently happened in the school, year group or IB cohort that the community will want to read about? Which stories should you ‘lead’ with and which would you relegate to second or third place – or cut entirely? Present your design to your classmates and explain what newsworthy criteria you used to edit the news.


Paper 1 Text Type Focus: newspaper front pages

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyse unseen texts (1 at Standard Level and 2 at Higher Level) in an examination. You will be given a guiding question that will focus your attention on formal or stylistic elements of the text(s), and help you decode the text(s)’ purpose(s). Newspaper front pages, whether broadsheet or tabloid, have clear conventions that you can learn and analyse. Use these practice texts to familiarise yourself with the different features of newspaper front pages and add them to your Learner Portfolio; you will want to revise text types thoroughly before your Paper 1 exam. You can find more information – including text type features and sample Paper 1 analysis – by visiting 20/20. Read through one or two of the exemplars, then choose a new paper and have a go at writing your own Paper 1 analysis response:

key features of newspaper front pages
  • Masthead: a strip across the top of a newspaper front page containing the name of the newspaper, the date of publication and the price. Tabloid papers from the UK are called ‘red-tops’ because of the red colour of the masthead.
  • Newsworthiness: the front page carries the main and most important story of the day, likely to appeal to the widest demographic.
  • Headline: the choice of words in a headline is essential to the tone and angle of the story. There are many techniques involved in creating headlines and you should definitely learn: slammer; pun; alliteration; elliptical headlines (which only include the keywords).
  • Typography: large and bold fonts are used for headlines in order to catch the attention of someone browsing a news-stand.
  • Visuals: all newspapers make use of photographs to accompany stories. Tabloid papers are dominated by images while broadsheet papers tend to use smaller photographs. Look out for pictures of people’s faces, which reveal emotion and create bias.
  • Ears: smaller columns or boxes at the top left and top right of the page, previewing other stories inside the paper.

Body of Work: The Post (directed by Steven Spielberg)

The Post is a 2018 film set in 1971, as the truth about the US government’s prosecution of the war in Vietnam was leaked in a seven-thousand page document called the Pentagon Papers. The courts ruled that the New York Times couldn’t publish the documents or what they learned from them – but the Washington Post found themselves involved as well. Katharine Graham, owner of the newspaper after her husband’s death, will have to make the decision of whether to risk the institution by publishing the classified papers that call into question the responsibility of the USA in the bloody conflict. If they run the story, not only could they go out of business, they could be arrested and tried for treason.

As well as being a dramatic thriller based on true events, The Post reveals pressing issues that face journalists and editors in the past and today: The Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) is seeking the best story, one that will make them nationally relevant. As the editor of a family-owned local newspaper in the 1970s, Bradlee is committed to the truth and to the universal values that underpin the news. Meryl Streep plays Katherine Graham who, as the owner of the Post, is trying to find her footing in a male-dominated world. The film depicts the disappointment and envy of being beaten to an exclusive, the determination to chase the follow-up story, and the pull-no-punches attitude of those who work to relentless deadlines. As reporter Ben Bagdikian says, it’s all about getting the scoop.

Towards Assessment: Individual Oral

Supported by an extract from one non-literary text and one from a literary work, students will offer a prepared response of 10 minutes, followed by 5 minutes of questions by the teacher, to the following prompt: Examine the ways in which the global issue of your choice is presented through the content and form of two of the texts that you have studied. (40 marks)

A scene from The Post would make a good choice text to bring into this assessed activity. Here are suggestions as to how you might use this Body of Work to create a Global Issue. You can use one of these ideas, or develop your own. You should always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own thoughts, discussions and programme of study when devising your assessment tasks:

  • Field of Inquiry:  Beliefs, Values and Education
  • Global Issue: The Reporting of Truth
  • Rationale:

As the editor of a family-owned local newspaper in the 1970s, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee is committed to the truth and to the universal values that underpin the news. This Body of Work can be paired with any literary text that explores the theme of truth, or is committed to exposing the truth about a place, culture, person, tradition or institution.

Field of Inquiry:  Culture, Community and Identity
Global Issue: It’s a Man’s World
Rationale:

By focusing on Meryl Streep’s character, Katherine Graham, you could create an interesting talk about the difficulties of work when you’re a woman in a male-dominated field. Issues such as unequal pay, harassment and having to work twice for recognition continue to dog women in the workplace, despite more light being shone on this issue in recent times. Some of these challenges are alluded to in this Body of Work; despite her position, Graham encounters challenges that are linked to her being a woman in a man’s world.

possible literary pairings
  • The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy – in this collection of poetry, Duffy rewrites history, mythology and literature to give voice to those who were excluded first time around. Her work asks us to consider the importance of voice in the reporting of events, and what consequences this has for the ‘truths’ we learn about the world.
  • The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter – the Marquis is a powerful and influential figure; wealthy, respected and aristocratic. But through this short story, Carter reveals that the power men like the Marquis exert over others is built on very shaky foundations indeed.
  • The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare – known as a ‘problem play’ because of the depiction of the Jewish characters, you might disagree that Shakespeare’s play is inherently racist. Rather, you might argue that it holds a mirror up to society at the time, revealing the double standards of the Christian characters. Looking closely at Salario and Salarino’s ‘reporting’ of Jessica’s running away in Act 3 Scene 3 might be a good scene to focus on. For those interested in the role of women in a man’s world, look no further than Portia – a perfect companion character to Katherine Graham.
  • The Vegtarian by Han Kang – this novel tells Yeong-hye’s story, through the eyes of three members of her family. But how reliable are these narrators? Do you think their account of events reveals the ‘truth’ about Yeong-hye’s actions and situation? Or, perhaps more obviously, Han Kang writes about the struggles Yeong-hye has as a young woman trying to assert an independent identity in a very traditional, patriarchal society.
  • Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet – in this scathing play, characters rarely say what they mean and ‘truth’ is a slippery concept. There are also conspicuously no female characters in Mamet’s hyper-masculine office-set play – but that doesn’t mean that women have no part to play in the events that unfold onstage.
  • The Visit by Friedrich Durrenmatt – in Act 3 of this tragicomic play, a group of reporters visit Guellen to report on the town’s sudden upturn in fortunes. How do they interact with the people of the town? Do they ever get to the ‘truth’ of the story? Are they even bothered about reporting the truth? This could be a perfect pair with The Post if you want to discuss a Global Issue like this.
  • Waiting for the Barbarians by J.M.Coetzee – in the first chapter of this novel, an old man dies at the hands of Colonel Joll during a routine ‘interrogation’ in a remote fort settlement at risk of attack by nomadic barbarian invaders. Joll files a report to his superiors in the capital – but the report is not exactly clear about what really happened to the old man. This scene would make an ideal paired text to talk about alongside The Post.
  • Border Town by Shen Congwen – set in early twentieth century China, this short novel provides a wealth of information about what it is like for Cuicui to grow into a woman in a patriarchal society. And although she doesn’t seem to mind so much, remember the author was a man.

Wider Reading and Research

  • The Newsroom by Aaron Sorkin – starring Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer, this show from 2012 chronicles the behind-the-scenes events at a fictional cable news channel with an anchor (Daniels), who, together with his staff, set out to put on a news show in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles and their own personal entanglements (caution: strong language)
  • The News: Gates, Agendas and Values – this textbook extract may be tough, but it fully explains concepts such as gatekeeping, agenda-setting and ideology in the news.
  • How journalism became one of the most dangerous jobs in the world – in this powerful Tedtalk, former correspondent and political prisoner Peter Greste describes increasing violence and antagonism towards journalists and offers a passionate argument for press freedom everywhere.
  • Think Like a Journalist – in this amusing-but-serious Tedtalk, reporter Kelsey Samuels discusses how journalists tell what news is real and what is fake – and the importance of getting her reporting right.

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