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.

Have you ever wondered why only bad news gets reported? Or why some bad news gets more coverage than other bad news? For example – I bet every time there’s a terrorist threat in the US or Western Europe, you’ll find out about it through newsfeeds, television broadcasts, mobile phone notifications and front page splashes. But I’d wager you may not hear about attacks in places like Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria or Somalia. If you were to use only the news media to learn where in the world was most at threat from terrorism, you might well conclude that London, Paris, New York or Washington are constantly under threat of attack. These infographics, known as the Global Terrorism Index and produced by the IEP, might be an illuminating way for you to question how the reality of terrorist activity in the world compares to the ‘reality’ constructed by international media reporting of terrorist activity.

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: a recommended starting point is ‘What Is News?’, an extract from a primer for students of journalism. Then choose one or two more articles to come to a better understanding of newsworthiness:

Class Activity 1 : “Read All About It!”

Look at the front pages of recent newspapers in the UK (or elsewhere) and collate a selection of the stories that you find. Use this resource from PBS to consider major newsworthiness criteria – explain the most recent stories by applying these criteria. Discuss your findings with others in your class.

Class Activity 2 : Hot Off the Press

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.

Form a small group of 3 or 4 people. Imagine you are the editing team working for an IB newspaper. 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.

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:

Learner Portfolio

What stories thrust themselves into your view when you visit the home page of an online news vendor, compared with the stories you have to scroll/click through to find? Which stories are more vividly illustrated? How does a news writer use language to sensationalise or dramatise events that might not be considered ‘newsworthy’?

Write up your understanding of newsworthiness, including some well-chosen examples from the news you have studied in class, in a one-two page learner portfolio entry.

Paper 1 Text Type Focus: newspaper front pages

At the end of your course you will be asked to analyze 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 analyze. 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)

Please find suggestions here; but always be mindful of your own ideas and class discussions and follow the direction of your own programme of study when devising your assessment tasks.

A scene from The Post would make a good choice text to bring into this assessed activity. The named author would be ‘Steven Spielberg’ who directed the movie. You could work within the field of inquiry of Beliefs, Values and Education and a pertinent Global Issue might be ‘the reporting of truth‘. 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. Speak to your teacher about possible choices, or use this list to give you some ideas of likely 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.
  • Selected poems by John Keats – at the end of Ode on a Grecian Urn, Keats writes ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty – that is all ye know on earth and all ye need to know.’ Explaining your ideas about Keats’ works in relation to the theme of truth would make a strong choice to pair with The Post.
  • Broken April by Ismail Kadare – after writing this novel, Kadare lived in exile from his home country Albania. Is that because he exposed the truth about the Kanun, a customary code as powerful as any law, which forced young men into a cycle of violence that persists to this day in the high mountainous regions of the country?
  • 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.
  • Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw – at the time of writing, people held very strong views about the ‘undeserving poor.’ Doolittle discredits those views in Act 2, and the play as a whole reveals the hypocrisy of the middle and upper classes who held others to a dishonest standard of morality. As Higgins says, if everybody went around saying what they really thought, ‘it would break up the whole show.’
  • 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. Another way into this text might be through Portia and the caskets; engraved upon which is the famous legend, ‘All that glisters is not gold.’

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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