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News values for the Modern Age: Shaping news in a digital-fuelled media world

It’s widely known that ‘earned’ media coverage, ie that which appears in the news pages rather than as an advertisement, is a very valuable brand and reputation strategy.

However, finding a place for your message within the news landscape can be a challenging task. Sometimes it’s difficult to know how your interests can align with a journalist’s current priorities and areas of focus.

While it may seem hard to pin down just what makes the difference between a successful media release and one that goes into a journalist’s trash folder, there is a good place to start when trying to understand what journalists and editors care about.

It’s a concept called news values.

News values aren’t a hard and fast thing, and not all stories conform to these values in every way and all of the time. However, having knowledge of news values can provide an excellent starting point for media engagement. News values point us towards just what an editor or journalist may think is good copy, even if these choices may sometimes be unconscious. News values are the principles which guide editors and journalists towards the stories that resonate most with their audiences.

In 1965, a pioneering study by Galtung and Ruge identified 12 distinct values that publishd news articles seem to exhibit. These were threshold, frequency, negativity, unexpectedness, unambiguity, personalisation, meaningfulness, reference to elite nations, reference to elite persons, consonance, continuity, and composition.

Today, the picture is a little different but there are noticeable parallels. In 2016 Harcup and O’Neill identified 15 news values from a selection 711 page lead articles from 10 British newspapers. They found were a great number of similarities to the original study but also a number of new values that reflect the contemporary digital and social media-fuelled news environment.

These are the news values for the modern age:

  • Exclusivity: Stories exclusive to the organisation
  • Bad News: Stories with negative overtones
  • Conflict: Stories with conflict, controversies, arguments etc
  • Surprise: Stories that are surprising or unusual
  • Audio-visuals: stories with interesting visuals, audio or video
  • Shareability: Stories thought likely to be shared on social media
  • Entertainment: Softer stories about sex, sport and light human interest, etc
  • Drama: Stories with a dramatic element such as court cases, rescues, accidents, etc
  • Follow-up: Stories about subjects already in the news
  • Power Elite: Stories about powerful individuals, corporations or organisations
  • Relevance: Stories about groups or countries close in culture or geography
  • Magnitude: Stories involving large numbers of people or extreme occurrences
  • Celebrity: Stories about famous people
  • Good News: Stories that are particularly positive such as recoveries or wins
  • News organisation’s agenda: Stories that fit the news organisation’s own agenda

Taking some time to stop and assess your message against these categories can provide an insight into its newsworthiness, and reshaping it to reflect these values could be the difference between a successful release and a failure.