News is an account of events or developments that are significant enough to be worth telling. In most societies, there is a lot of news that could be reported, but what actually makes it into print or on TV or radio depends on what the gatekeepers of the news value. They look for certain characteristics of a story: timeliness, drama, interest, significance and proximity. These are all the things that make a story worth talking about and worth being included in a newspaper, magazine or news broadcast.
It is generally accepted that the main function of news media – newspapers, magazines and radio – is to inform and educate its readers, listeners or viewers. It is not usually the role of news to entertain, though some news stories do have an element of humour. Entertainment comes from other areas of the media – music and drama programmes on radio; cartoons and crosswords in newspapers and magazines.
The first and most basic characteristic of a news story is that it has to be recent. It doesn’t do much good to tell about something that happened 10 years ago, unless it is an anniversary of some major event that was widely felt to be important at the time. This is why we say that newspapers are not history books; they are about the day-to-day happenings of today.
People are interested in other people, and that is why most news stories are about the lives of famous or well-known people. Whether they are doing something remarkable or just ordinary, if they are going through a dramatic change in their life, that is news. Examples include marriages, divorces and other personal affairs that involve emotion and are of public interest; big business deals, and sports achievements, especially when they are against the odds.
People like to know about things that are significant, which is why a story about an invention or discovery is interesting. People also like to hear about the achievements of other people, so a story about someone who has succeeded at something is of interest, especially if it is done in a way that shows determination or ingenuity.
News is mainly about things that happen nearby. This can be geographical, such as a fire, cyclone or earthquake, but it could also be political, such as a coup in another country. In any case, the closer a story is to home, the more likely it is to be reported.
Obviously, different societies are interested in different things and their news stories will differ from one to the next. But the criteria by which they decide what is newsworthy is essentially the same everywhere. A news story has to be new, unusual, interesting, significant and about people. The more that a story meets all of these requirements, the stronger it is and the greater its news value. This is why it pays to read a variety of newspapers, watch several different TV and radio broadcasts and use the Internet as a source of information.