This is the News

matrix anim‘News values’ make up the criteria that decides the ‘news’ we see. It is very much a part of our Western democratic way. Our cultural norms have dictated the view of the world we expect and this is reflected in the values of mainstream news, which revolve mainly around qualities of drama, conflict and scenes of visual impact.

Media theorists such as Galtang and Ruge describe further the values that dictate the ‘newsworthiness’ of our mainstream news:

Frequency: Events that occur suddenly and fit well with the news organization’s schedule are more likely to be reported than those that occur gradually or at inconvenient times of day or night. Long-term trends are not likely to receive much coverage.

Negativity: Bad news is more newsworthy than good news.

Unexpectedness: If an event is out of the ordinary it will have a greater effect than something that is an everyday occurrence.

Unambiguity: Events whose implications are clear make for better copy than those that are open to more than one interpretation, or where any understanding of the implications depends on first understanding the complex background in which the events take place.

Personalization: Events that can be portrayed as the actions of individuals will be more attractive than one in which there is no such “human interest.”

Meaningfulness: This relates to the sense of identification the audience has with the topic. “Cultural proximity” is a factor here — stories concerned with people who speak the same language, look the same, and share the preoccupations as the audience receive more coverage than those concerned with people who speak different languages, look different and have different preoccupations.

Reference to elite nations: Stories concerned with global powers receive more attention than those concerned with less influential nations.

Reference to elite persons: Stories concerned with the rich, powerful, famous and infamous get more coverage.

Conflict: Opposition of people or forces resulting in a dramatic effect. Stories with conflict are often quite newsworthy.

Consonance: Stories that fit with the media’s expectations receive more coverage than those that defy them (and for which they are thus unprepared). Note this appears to conflict with unexpectedness above. However, consonance really refers to the media’s readiness to report an item.

Continuity: A story that is already in the news gathers a kind of inertia. This is partly because the media organizations are already in place to report the story, and partly because previous reportage may have made the story more accessible to the public (making it less ambiguous).

Composition: Stories must compete with one another for space in the media. For instance, editors may seek to provide a balance of different types of coverage, so that if there is an excess of foreign news for instance, the least important foreign story may have to make way for an item concerned with the domestic news. In this way the prominence given to a story depends not only on its own news values but also on those of competing stories. (Galtung and Ruge, 1965)

Competition: Commercial or professional competition between media may lead journalists to endorse the news value given to a story by a rival.

Co-optation: A story that is only marginally newsworthy in its own right may be covered if it is related to a major running story.

Prefabrication: A story that is marginal in news terms but written and available may be selected ahead of a much more newsworthy story that must be researched and written from the ground up.

Predictability: An event is more likely to be covered if it has been pre-scheduled. (Bell, 1991)

Time constraints: Traditional news media such as radio, television and daily newspapers have strict deadlines and a short production cycle, which selects for items that can be researched and covered quickly.

Logistics: Although eased by the availability of global communications even from remote regions, the ability to deploy and control production and reporting staff, and functionality of technical resources can determine whether a story is covered. (Schlesinger, 1987)

(From Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_values )

This means that the news we see from mass media sources is very specifically selected to maintain a ‘status quo’. It conforms to a set of expectations that enforce a certain set of values. I find that the things that often matter to me, like news on indigenous peoples or the slower effects of climate change just don’t enter into the above set of criteria for choosing news.

We often choose to be fed a media stream, for example ‘The Daily Mail’, that most endorses our view of the world. These differing views of newspapers were perfectly satirised by Bernard Woolley in a 1987 version of the TV show ‘Yes Prime minister’:

“The Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country;
The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country;
The Times is read by people who actually do run the country;
The Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country;
The Financial Times is read by people who own the country;
The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country;
And the Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it already is”.

Sir Humphrey: “Prime Minister, what about the people who read the Sun?”

Bernard Woolley: “Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as she’s got big tits”.

As postmodernism and new technologies collide, our news sources are becoming more fragmented and we are often free to choose not just the ‘values’ we prefer but also the news streams focused in specific interest zones. For example right now my ‘Google Alerts’ settings bring me news streams showing info. on British Government Solar PV Tarrif and info. on Codex Alimentarius. My Facebook ‘friends’ are limited to those who see the world in a positive light. I am more likely to read a blog than a newspaper and generally pick up news of world import from Yahoo headlines.

It seems to me that part of the transition process from the ‘industrial growth society’ we have now to a ‘life sustaining civilisation’ depends on us changing our news values through changes our news sources. News from the ‘industrial growth society’ tells us stories of gloom, doom and despondency whereas news articles focused onto a ‘life sustaining civilisation’ are frequently more upbeat, exciting and enjoyable.

It is very easy for those of us visioning and working for the latter be demotivated by the fallout from the first. Examine how news reaches you, what effect it has and how you might re-source this to empower your journey.

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