Takeaway: September 23rd, 2014

The Definition Of News

Our teacher Robert Washburn asked us for our definition of news to start the class. The following was my definition: News is information regarding the happenings, either in the world, or in your local area. It could be breaking news (very current) or updates on ongoing important events.

Following this he gave us a lecture regarding what news is. Here are what I saw to be the main points of that lecture.

-Most importantly of everything we learned today, news is not arbitrary. Just because some people feel that it isn’t vital or important, doesn’t mean there aren’t people in the world who would enjoy to consume this information. At the same time as a journalist you are a gatekeeper. Due to this you must truly train your instincts regarding news judgment.

-There exists a paradigm that all news stories should base themselves off of. This paradigm is: Inform, Explain, Interpret. And while this paradigm isn’t wrong by any means, it can lead to a journalist believing he is above the people he is informing; believing he has become part of the elite. Therefore a need for a new paradigm arose. And not so surprisingly this new paradigm originated from the very school I attend now. This new, “better” paradigm is as follows: Educate, Engage, Empower. In my view, the reason that this paradigm is superior to the original is that it encourages the reader to take part, or take action, in the subject they have just read about. For example if the piece had something to do with an upcoming election, it would engage the reader to make their own mind up on the issue, and then take action with what they have decided.

-In mostly all news agencies, be that newspapers or television broadcasters, you will find hard news and soft news. Hard news is what many people would call breaking news. While on the other hand, soft news is what you would describe as interest pieces. Such things as profiles on people in the community, or clubs that are operating in your area. While hard news could debatably be defined as more important, it is all news, and should be treated as such.

-All news must meet certain criteria. While it may not meet all these criteria, there must be enough to satisfy the reader. First up we have timeliness. This concerns how current the news is, because the more current it is, the more interest it will pique. While this one may seem obvious it is still noteworthy, and that is importance. There must be significance to the news you are providing. Ask yourself, “What does this mean to me?” If it means nothing to you, why do you think many other people will find meaning in it? On a similar vein, we find our next criteria, prominence. While this changes based on the audience, you must really gauge the prominence of the subject you are covering. For example a piece on Barack Obama would probably be seen as prominent by a vast majority of the world. And while some pieces may find interest globally, some stories may not be so universal. Which brings us to our next criteria, proximity. The relevance of a story will change, depending on how close geographically the story is to the audience you are presenting it to. The population of Belleville are not going to want to read about a rodeo in Kansas, and vice versa. And last, but definitely not least, comes oddity. If you want people to read what you have to say, to care about what you’ve written, you must write something that hasn’t been already written. You must find something strays from the norm. No one wants to hear about what they know to be a fact of everyday life. They want to hear about that fact changing, and why it changed.

-Objectivity is something we hold very highly in journalism, but this has not always been the case. When newspapers first originated they were very different from what we see today. They were partisan organizations; supporting only what they believed in, and ignoring the rest. Examples of this would be pro-slavery newspapers, or

pro-conservative newspapers. This all changed in the late 19th century when advertisement became a factor. Once these agencies were having their bills paid by these businesses, they realized they couldn’t offend them. In other words, they couldn’t bite the hand that fed them. Thus, objectivity in news arose. And while certain factors, like the Washington Witch-hunts, almost took objectivity back out of journalism, it still strives. What these factors did do was give us a blend of personal opinion and simply providing information. And this is where I see news today. At a happy medium; right where it should be.

So what do I think is news now? While I wouldn’t stray far from my original answer, this lecture definitely gave me a broader view of news. If there is even one person in the world that would want to know the information you possess, it could be seen as news. Anything that happens is news.

Life is news.