The criteria by which news is judged are:
- Is it new?
Is it unusual?
Is it interesting or significant?
Is it about people?
These elements make up what we call the "news value" of information. The stronger the elements are, the higher the news value.
Is it new?
If it is not new, it cannot be news. The assassination of Mrs Gandhi is unusual, interesting, significant and about people, but it cannot possibly be reported in tomorrow's papers, because it is not new.
If some facts about that assassination became known for the first time, however, that would be news. The assassination would not be new, but the information would be.
Events which happened days or even weeks earlier can still be news, as long as they have not been reported before. If you are telling a story for the first time, it is new to your readers or listeners and therefore it can be news.
News of the death of Mao Tse-tung, for instance, was not released to the world by the Chinese government for several days; when they did release it, however, it was still very definitely news.Is it unusual?
Things are happening all the time, but not all of them are news, even when they are new. A man wakes up, eats breakfast and goes to work on a bus; it has only just happened, but nobody wants to read about it because it is not unusual. Ordinary and everyday things do not make news.
Of course, if that same man was 90 years old and was still catching the bus to work every day, it would be unusual!
The classic definition of news is this: "Dog bites man" is not news; "Man bites dog" is news.
This definition, though, is not universal. If dogs are eaten in your society (at feasts, for instance) then it will not be news when a man bites a dog - so long as it has been cooked.
What is usual in one society may be unusual in another. Again, we will expect the content of the news to vary from society to society. In every society, though, whatever is unusual is likely to be news.Is it interesting?
Events which are new and unusual may still not be of general interest. Scientists may report that an insect has just been found living on a plant which it did not previously inhabit. The discovery is new, and the event is unusual, but it is unlikely to interest anybody other than a specialist or enthusiast.
In a specialist publication this could be big news, but in a general news broadcast or paper it would merit at most a few words.Is it significant?
However, if that same insect was one which had a huge appetite, and which had previously lived on and eaten bush grass and if the new plant on which it had been found was rice, then the story becomes news, because it is significant.
People may not be interested in bugs, but they are interested in food. If this insect is now threatening their crops, it becomes a matter of concern to them. It is news because it is significant.
Similarly, if a peasant farmer says that the Roman Catholic Church should ordain women priests, that is not news. If an archbishop says it, it is news, because what he says on the subject is significant. It is the views of people such as the archbishop which help to form the policy of the Church.
Once again, what is interesting or significant in one society may not be interesting or significant in another. The content of the news may be different, therefore, in different societies, but the way it is identified will be the same.Is it about people?
Most news is automatically about people, because it is the things people do to change the world which makes news.
However, news can also be made by non-human sources, such as a cyclone, a bush fire, a drought, a volcanic eruption or an earthquake. It is when reporting these stories that it is important to make sure that the story is centred on people.
The cyclone would not matter if it blew itself out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, away from any inhabited islands; the fire could burn for as long as it likes in bush where nobody lives; the Sahara Desert has a near-permanent drought, but in most of it nobody is there to rely on rains; a volcanic eruption or an earthquake which damages nobody's property and injures nobody is really not news.
All these natural disasters only become news when they affect people's lives. Every story can be told in terms of people. Always start by asking yourself the question: "How does this affect my readers', listeners' or viewers’ lives?"
Whenever you have a story which tells of how something has happened which affects both people and property, always put the people first.