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News Values and Newsworthinesslocked

  • Helen CapleHelen CapleSchool of the Arts and Media, University of New South Wales, Australia

Summary

How events become news has always been a fundamental question for both journalism practitioners and scholars. For journalism practitioners, news judgments are wrapped up in the moral obligation to hold the powerful to account and to provide the public with the means to participate in democratic governance. For journalism scholars, news selection and construction are wrapped up in investigations of news values and newsworthiness. Scholarship systematically analyzing the processes behind these judgments and selections emerged in the 1960s, and since then, news values research has made a significant contribution to the journalism literature. Assertions have been made regarding the status of news values, including whether they are culture bound or universal, core or standard. Some hold that news values exist in the minds of journalists or are even metaphorically speaking “part of the furniture,” while others see them as being inherent or infused in the events that happen or as discursively constructed through the verbal and visual resources deployed in news storytelling. Like in many other areas of journalism research, systematic analysis of the role that visuals play in the construction of newsworthiness has been neglected. However, recent additions to the scholarship on visual news values analysis have begun to address this shortfall. The convergence and digitization of news production, rolling deadlines, new media platforms, and increasingly active audiences have also impacted on how news values research is conducted and theorized, making this a vibrant and ever-evolving research paradigm.

News, Stories, and Newsworthiness

Throughout the history of journalistic practice, print, broadcast, and now digital news organizations have strived to bring stories to the public. These stories are the news. They are stories about the actions of important people and that hold the powerful to account. They are stories about ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. They are stories about aberrant behavior, or disruptions to the moral order. They tell us of the impact that events and issues have on our everyday lives. They edify and they entertain. In sum, they are stories that are important for people to know in order to participate in democratic governance and to function effectively and knowledgeably in society.

The exceptional events that constitute these stories are continually unfolding, and any one of these “newsworthy” events could be reported as news on any given day. The decisions that govern whether a story is first written and then published as news sit at the core of journalistic practice, and the criteria that are deployed in deciding what to write and publish are the news values that this article examines. Thus, one way of defining newsworthiness is “worthy of being published as news,” and the criteria that are commonly used to determine newsworthiness are known as news values (Caple & Bednarek, 2016, p. 436). The newsworthiness of an event, however, is only one among many factors that determine whether the said event will be published as news, and the concept of “news values” has been applied to a wide range of decisions that determine what gets published, when, and how. As Strömbäck, Karlsson, and Hopmann (2012, p. 721) note, “news selection is shaped by several factors on different levels of analysis, some of which have less to do with the news value of potential stories and more with practical, economic or format considerations. Hence, it cannot be assumed news values equals news selection.” This is a vitally important observation that has been obfuscated in much research on news values. Thus, this article not only reviews key contributions to the field of news values research, but it also explores the very conceptualization of news values and how this has impacted on this body of research.

Much contemporary research investigating the construction and selection of newsworthy events cites Walter Lippmann (1922 [1965], p. 223) as the first person to suggest attributes or conventions for the selection of news items to be published. Vos and Finneman (2017), however, point to the extensive literature (textbooks, trade publications, newspaper columns, and essays) of the 1870s to 1930s that also sought to rationalize newsworthiness and news selection beyond being a faculty that journalists were simply born with (p. 270). According to Vos and Finneman (2017, p. 267), the articulation of newsworthiness and news selection is tied to the professionalization of journalism and the gaining of independence from political and commercial influences during the late 19th century. They suggest that from the 1870s onward, journalists began questioning the basis of their news judgments, finding that “[c]hoosing news was a moral task, requiring sound, professional judgment, and an exclusive, legitimate right of professional journalists” (p. 270). Dating even further back, Westerståhl and Johansson (1994, p. 72) observe commentary on news values by German author Kaspar Stieler, published in 1695. Stieler notes the importance and proximity of events as selection criteria for news, alongside interest in negative events like war and crime.

Despite this extensive history, academic research of newsworthiness did not really take off until the 1960s, when Galtung and Ruge (1965) published their seminal work on the structure of foreign news. Indeed, most of the research since the 1960s has used Galtung and Ruge (1965) as the starting point, and their list of news factors has become the dominant conceptualization of news values in journalism and communications studies (Hoskins & O’Loughlin, 2007, p. 31).1 Since Galtung and Ruge’s news factors have informed so much of the subsequent research on news values, in what follows, their contribution to the field will be examined and critiqued first, before reviewing other research. Overall, the research reviewed in this article is necessarily Western-centric, since Europe, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia have stood at the forefront of this research.

Historical Overview of Key Research on News Values

Galtung and Ruge’s (1965) work has been held up as the “foundation study of news values” (Bell, 1991, p. 155), the earliest attempt to provide a systematic definition of newsworthiness (Palmer, 1998, p. 378), an innovative study (Allan, 1999, p. 63), and as promising to become “a classic social science answer to the question ‘what is news?’” (Tunstall, 1970, p. 20).

The approach to news values posited by Galtung and Ruge is firmly centered on how events become news. Their list of “news factors” comprises a set of selections based on “common-sense perception psychology” (p. 66), created through analogy to radio wave signals. They suggest that 12 factors are at play any time an event is considered worthy of reporting as “news.” These include Frequency, Threshold (absolute intensity, intensity increase), Unambiguity, Meaningfulness (cultural proximity, relevance), Consonance (predictability, demand), Unexpectedness (unpredictability, scarcity), Continuity, Composition. These first eight factors are to be read as “culture-free,” solely based on perception, whereas the remaining four factors are culture bound. These are Reference to elite nations, Reference to elite people, Reference to persons (Personification), Reference to something negative (Negativity).

In discussing these news factors, Galtung and Ruge (1965, p. 65) propose a “chain of news communication” that involves processes of selection, distortion, and replication. They hypothesize that the more an event satisfies the criteria/news factors, the more likely that it will be registered as news (selection); once selected, what makes the event newsworthy according to the factors will be accentuated (distortion); and finally, that selection and distortion will be repeated at all steps in the chain from event to reader (replication). This means that the “cumulative effects of the factors should be considerable and produce an image of the world different from ‘what really happened’” (Galtung & Ruge, 1965, p. 71). This idea suggests that the image of the world in the news is one that has been selected, distorted, and replicated through discursive construction and by many different voices; however, rather than focus on this discursive potential, Galtung and Ruge direct their focus onto how to relate the news factors to each other in quantifying the newsworthiness of the event per se. Thus, they present two further hypotheses: the first being the Additivity Hypothesis that “The higher the total score of an event, the higher the probability that it will become news, and even make headlines” (Galtung & Ruge, 1965, p. 71). They do not test this hypothesis since, as they claim, it is “almost too simple to mention” (p. 71). The second is the Complementarity Hypothesis, wherein an event low on one dimension or news factor will have to be high on another “complementary” dimension to make it into the news.

To test their assumptions, Galtung and Ruge carry out content analysis on press cuttings in the form of “news story, editorial, article (reportage, interview) or letter to the editor” (p. 74). This analysis of the text involved the coding of a unit (press clipping) according to the presence or absence of various items. These included the presence or absence of elites (nations and people) and whether the “mode” was “negative,” “positive,” or “neutral” (p. 74). The focus of the coding was on things and contexts, that is, what was reported on and where? For example, they coded each cutting for “whether it reports something ‘negative’ (something is destroyed, disrupted, torn down) or something ‘positive’ (something is built up, constructed, put together)” and for people “whether they are seen in a context that is negative or positive” (Galtung & Ruge, 1965, p. 77). From their analysis, Galtung and Ruge tentatively concluded that “There is probably such a phenomenon as complementarity of news factors” (1965, p. 80, italics in original), although they felt that more research was needed.

Given that most of the research since the 1960s has used Galtung and Ruge as the starting point, it is worth making a few initial observations in relation to this classic research at this point (more specific criticisms of this research are introduced in discussion of relevant studies below). Galtung and Ruge squarely focus on events, as they seem to suggest that an event “either possesses them [news factors] or does not possess them” (Galtung & Ruge, 1965, p. 71). Thus, it appears that the events themselves are somehow invested with newsworthiness or that news factors are inherent in events. Galtung and Ruge have in fact been criticized for focusing on events as if they were endowed with epistemological qualities that infuse them with newsworthiness (e.g., Harcup & O’Neill, 2001, p. 265).

From their discussion of the data, however, it is clear that the analysis concerns not just the press clipping itself (where events are discursively constructed) but also depends on a range of other external factors (e.g., what is on the news agenda, the political leanings of the newspaper, radical vs. conservative). For instance, the news factor “threshold” relates to the scope or scale of an event, whereas the news factor “composition” relates to the mix of different types of news stories in a news publication (a newspaper, a bulletin), and the news factor “continuity” relates to the news agenda. Thus, one would assume that analysis of the press cuttings alone was not enough to be able to assess whether certain news factors were satisfied. This raises the question of whether content analysis of published stories is sufficiently able to detect whether all of these news factors are in play or not and whether other methods (e.g., ethnography) might be more suitable in assessing news factors that focus on other stages in the process of producing news (e.g., observation of editorial meetings where the fit of a story with the current news agenda would be discussed). This brings Strömbäck et al.’s (2012, p. 721) claims regarding news selection (noted above) into focus, which will be further addressed in the next section. Further criticism leveled at Galtung and Ruge includes the fact that they ignored the visual aspect of news reporting (Tunstall, 1971), a point that will be taken up in the section “News Values and Images.” For now, attention turns to other research on news values that succeeded this foundational study.

Another Norwegian researcher publishing at the same time as Galtung and Ruge, in fact in the same volume of the Journal of Peace Research (1965, 2 [1]), is Einar Østgaard.2 He suggested a connection between news factors and political and socioeconomic conditions, by positing that the “free flow of news” is influenced by conditions that apply both within the news production process and by factors external to it. These include political and economic factors, such as news sources, cost of production, editorial policy, and market orientation (p. 44), and which have a hampering effect (p. 45) on the flow of news. Internal factors, which are explained by Østgaard (1965, pp. 45–51) as necessary in making the news “newsworthy,” “interesting,” or “palatable” to the public, are Simplification, Identification, Sensationalism, and The News Barrier. Presented as discussion points only, Østgaard does not provide for the systematic analysis of the factors he suggests influence news flow.

Most research following on from these studies either used or added to Galtung and Ruge’s original list or proposed entirely new sets of news values. Golding and Elliott (1979, p. 114) described news values variously as “criteria of selection,” “guidelines for the presentation of items,” and “qualities of events or of their journalistic construction” that determine inclusion of an item in a bulletin by their “absence or presence.” They rename a number of Galtung and Ruge’s news factors, as well as add Importance, Entertainment, and Recency into the mix of news values. Since their research focused on broadcast news, they also suggest Visual Attractiveness as a news value, claiming that the mere availability of film or the “dramatic qualities of the film” (p. 116) are likely to increase the chances of a story being included. Given the technological and logistical limitations of film capture in the 1970s, such a claim for the mere availability of film constituting a news value is understandable. However, in the image-saturated 21st century where image availability is no longer an issue in almost all news contexts, different arguments need to be made in relation to the newsworthiness of visuals (see Caple, 2013; Caple & Bednarek, 2016).

German researchers (e.g., Eilders, 1997; Schulz, 1982; Staab, 1990) investigating news factors also drew on Galtung and Ruge (1965) as their “theoretical and methodological backbone” (Eilders, 2006, p. 6). Schulz (1982) was interested in the relationship between the structure of news and people’s awareness of events. Thus, while he regarded news factors as “those features of an event that determine its newsworthiness” (1982, p. 145), he was more interested in their cognitive dimensions (see also Eilders, 2006, for a cognitive approach). Examining the correlation between political reporting on television in a southwestern German town and the “image of politics” held by viewers, Schulz concluded that “news factors” may be conceptualized as “organizational criteria of collective perception which govern the media’s as well as the individual’s construction of reality” (Schulz, 1982, p. 149). He proposed six dimensions of news selection that are measured by frequency, position, length, and presentation (p. 146).3 These six dimensions are Status, Valence, Relevance, Identification, Consonance, and Dynamics, which overlap to a large degree with the news factors suggested by Østgaard and Galtung and Ruge (demonstrated in the tabulated summaries of news values in Caple & Bednarek, 2013).

Another German researcher, Staab (1990), saw the value in distinguishing more clearly between events and stories. Rather than approaching news factors as “qualities” inherent in an event, Staab suggested that journalists may “ascribe news factors to a news story” (p. 429). He explained that in writing news stories, the journalist can “stress aspects of the actual event and therefore stress different news factors and, as a consequence give a different meaning and emphasis to the event and the corresponding news story” (1990, p. 429). In testing his functional model, he advises a multi-method approach including content analysis, surveys among journalists, and observation of journalistic practice in the newsroom.

Examining the North American news media context, Shoemaker, Danielian, and Brendlinger (1991) use dimensions such as deviance and social/political/cultural significance to measure the newsworthiness of an event (see also Chang, Shoemaker, & Brendlinger, 1987, for earlier work in this area). They take the “event” as their unit of analysis and test hypotheses such as “the more deviant a world event is, the more prominently it will be covered by U.S. media” (p. 786), using a four-point scale to measure deviance. More recent studies investigating news values in sporting events (see Lee & Choi, 2009) have also applied this method of assessing newsworthiness. Taking a radically different conceptualization of news values, also in the North American context, is the work of Fuller (1996). He focuses on standards and guidelines by which journalists work, and his set of news values include Objectivity, Accuracy, Fairness, Neutrality, Intellectual Honesty, and Degrees of Proof.

Another prominent news values scholar who sits somewhat on the periphery of journalism studies is New Zealand sociolinguist Allan Bell. His work on news values is included here since he is widely cited and applied by both linguistics and journalism scholars, and his categorization of news values is useful in identifying key issues in news values research, as discussed in the final section. Bell’s (1991) approach to news values draws on his professional background as a journalist in describing news values as “the—often unconscious—criteria by which newsworkers make their professional judgements as they process stories” (Bell, 1991, p. 155). Building on but also modifying Galtung and Ruge, Bell categorizes news values into three groups. The first group relates to news content (values in news actors and events) and includes values such as Recency, Unexpectedness, and Superlativeness. The second group concerns news gathering and processing (values in the news process) and includes values such as Continuity, Competition, and Prefabrication. The third group concerns three values (in the news text) that have to do with “the quality or style of the news text” (p. 160)—Clarity, Brevity, and Color—which Bell also talks about as “goals” or “aims” of news writing and editing (Bell, 1991, p. 160, 1995, p. 306, 319). For detailed critique of Bell’s (1991) approach, see Caple and Bednarek (2013) and Bednarek and Caple (2017).

The literature discussed up to this point largely ignores the visual news storytelling that also occurred during this period and the fact that photography also contributes to the newsworthiness of an event. In fact, only a few researchers have considered news values, photography, and other visuals, as summarized in the next section.

News Values and Images

Photographs have been an integral part of news storytelling since their inception. However, the body of research investigating press photography does not appear to match this longevity (see Caple, 2013) and is severely lacking with respect to the relationship between news values and images. This has been noted by only a few researchers (e.g., Rössler, Bomhoff, Haschke, Kersten, & Müller, 2011) and Tunstall (1971, p. 21) is the only researcher to criticize Galtung and Ruge for ignoring the visual aspect of news presentation altogether.

An early semiotic approach is evident in Hall’s (1973) writing on press photography. For him, there are two levels of signification of news. In relation to images, this involves the formal news value of the photographic sign—that is, the elaboration of the photograph and text in terms of the professional ideology of news (Hall, 1973, p. 179). Formal news values as expressed in the press photograph include the unexpected, dramatic, recent event concerning a person of high status. The second level of signification is the ideological level of connoted themes and interpretations and thus resonates with Barthes’s (1977) conceptualization of denotation and connotation.

Some researchers apply “traditional” news values to press photography, as in Singletary and Lamb’s (1984) analysis of award-winning press photography in the United States, which found that the photos “typically focused on a narrow range of those values.” These were Timeliness, Proximity, and Conflict in the case of news photos, and Proximity and Human Interest in feature photos (p. 108). Only a few researchers have attempted to compile a list of news values that specifically relate to press photography. Craig’s (1994) study of the use of images in two Australian publications detects five news values at work in press photographs: Reference to Elite Persons, Composition, Personalization, Negativity, and Conflict/Dramatization. More recently, researchers have proposed a set of “image-inherent news factors” (Rössler et al., 2011, p. 417). Their catalogue of photo news factors includes Damage, Violence/Aggression, Controversy, Celebrities, Unexpectedness, Emotions, Execution and Technique, and Sexuality/Eroticism. These photo news factors are defined as “selection criteria” and are said to determine whether the images are “worth publishing” (p. 417).

Taking a discursive approach to news values analysis and news photography, Caple (2013), Caple and Bednarek (2016), and Bednarek and Caple (2017) suggest that newsworthiness is constructed in images through a range of visual devices. To give just one example, the news value Negativity may be constructed in the content of a photograph through the depiction of negative events and their effects (e.g., the aftermath of accidents, natural disasters, the injured/wounded, the wreckage/damage done to property); or by including people experiencing negative emotions; or by showing people engaging in norm-breaking behavior, for example, fighting, vandalizing (Bednarek & Caple, 2017, p. 269). Negativity can also be reinforced through image capture, for example, in the movement/blurring of (moving) images where the camera operator may be running or moving erratically because of the dangerous situation they may be in.4 Image quality in terms of noise/graininess or lack of focus/depth of field may further heighten or dramatize negative content and thus reinforce the construction of news values in the image content. Other news values constructed in images include Aesthetic Appeal, Consonance, Eliteness, Impact, Positivity, and Proximity (Bednarek & Caple, 2017, pp. 53–67).

Other researchers have been less specific in their assessment of news values and press photography, with the concept of visualization and the availability of images still being listed as selection criteria (see Rössler et al., 2011, p. 417). For instance, Harcup and O’Neill (2001) comment that “if a story provided a good picture opportunity then it was often included even when there was little obvious intrinsic newsworthiness” (p. 274). In their updated list of news values, Harcup and O’Neill (2016, p. 13) offer Audiovisuals as a news value, where “[s]tories that have arresting photographs” are a requirement for selection. What constitutes an “arresting photograph,” however, remains underdetermined.

In relation to other types of visuals, Dick (2014, p. 503) finds that a combination of “conventional journalistic values” (e.g., accuracy, fairness, objectivity) and “organisational values” drive the selection of newsworthy data for presentation as infographics in the news media. Ahva and Pantti (2014) examine the use of amateur visuals by the news media and relate this specifically to the concept of proximity. Through interviews with journalism professionals and audience members, interpretations of proximity revolve around its spatiotemporal, emotional, and strategic function (p. 331), moving this concept significantly beyond its traditional conceptualization as a news value. In a study regarding television news, Pantti (2010) argues for the newsworthiness of emotional display. While not strictly labeling emotion as news value per se, Pantti (2010, p. 174) explores the function of emotion within a news story in terms of its relevance and meaningfulness in facilitating understanding of a story.

While the literature examining the newsworthiness of images remains somewhat limited, there are numerous attempts at updating news values in relation to other aspects of contemporary news storytelling, particularly in relation to shifts in the digital ecology of journalism as a social practice.

News Values in the Digital Age

Notwithstanding the massive transformation that has taken place in the news media arena in recent decades, few have questioned whether news values have also transformed over this time. Hoskins and O’Loughlin (2007, p. 31) lament the failing of the media and communications discipline to “think outside of [Galtung & Ruge’s] framework or to comprehensively challenge it.” Their own challenge centers on the news factor of “frequency” in relation to time in television. They argue for the “mediatisation of time” (p. 34) through the massive transformations that have occurred in live and continuous television news coverage. For them, television news modulates between the compression and decompression of time, speeding up and slowing down the pace of events through its technological connectivity and its different modes of representation (p. 34). The pervasive culture across broadcast media today, they argue, is one of “liveness,” which accounts for the nature and impact of television news.

Other researchers have focused on whether it is possible to talk about global or core news values that apply throughout the world. Conley and Lamble (2006), for example, differentiate between core and standard news values, taking the notion of core values from Masterton (e.g., 2005), who, in the 1980s, conducted interviews with senior journalists and journalism educators in 63 countries. Masterton was interested in discovering whether there was a difference between journalism values in the West and in Asia and where there was common ground in their conceptualizations. His interview results showed that “journalists around the world accept that there is a three-element core of newsworthiness without which no information can become news” (Masterton, 2005, p. 42). These three core values are Interest, Timeliness, and Clarity. Masterton also suggests that there is a further set of internationally recognized criteria that are valid “regardless of race, nationality, culture, politics or religion” (2005, p. 42). These are Consequence, Proximity, Conflict, Human Interest, Novelty, and Prominence. Following on from this, Conley and Lamble (2006) identify eight of their own standard news-value criteria: Impact, Conflict, Timeliness, Proximity, Prominence, Currency, Human Interest, and The Unusual.

In an attempt to widen the scope of news values to be more inclusive of the 21st century news landscape, Brighton and Foy (2007, pp. 25–29) propose a set of “new news values.” They see their updated list as responding to the “cultural shift” in the relation between providers and consumers of news (p. 6), as being “flexible” (p. 5), and as “more appropriate for this digital age of converged media forms” (p. 5). Like many other approaches to news values in the journalism studies discipline, Brighton and Foy align themselves with the idea that news values are selection criteria (a set of rules) applied to news stories as a means of prioritizing items. They also view news values as “pure” (p. 3), while the story is “already corrupted” (p. 3) as it has been through a mediation process. Other corrupting influences include pressure from outside the industry (e.g., a proprietor, advertiser, politician) and are encapsulated in their new news value of “External influences” (p. 29). Interestingly, for Brighton and Foy (2007, p. 15), the introduction of television and in particular the live television news broadcast is both evidence of the need to update Galtung and Ruge’s list of news factors and an example of one of the purest forms of unmediated news. To justify this claim, they use the example of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center in New York, stating that:

the reportage, in whatever form it took, was instinctive on the part of the reporters, who knew that this was an event which needed no time to transform into news—and those who watched or listened around the globe as events unfolded knew with equal instinctiveness that there was no need for any mediation; what they were seeing was pure, unfiltered news.

(Brighton & Foy, 2007, p. 15)

Brighton and Foy’s (2007) list of new news values includes Relevance, Topicality, Composition, Expectation, Unusualness, Worth, and External Factors. However, there is considerable overlap between the explanations for their new news values and for those that have come before them (Caple & Bednarek, 2013, pp. 18–29).

Harcup and O’Neill (2016, p. 1) revisit and update their list of news values (originally published in Harcup & O’Neill, 2001) and continue to stress that “[n]ews values are worth studying because they inform the mediated world that is presented to news audiences, providing a shared shorthand operational understanding of what working journalists are required to produce to deadlines.” In their new study, news items shared on Facebook and Twitter are included in their content analysis of published news stories. Doing so, they argue, allows for “preliminary comparisons of notions of newsworthiness as decided by journalists and audiences, respectively” (Harcup & O’Neill, 2016, p. 10). Their updated list of news values introduces the following new news values: Exclusivity, Conflict, Audio Visuals, Shareability, and Drama.5 These complement the old list that includes Bad News, Surprise, Entertainment, Relevance, Follow-up, the Power Elite, Celebrity, Good News, Magnitude, and, News Organization’s Agenda (p. 13). For Harcup and O’Neill (2016), news values continue to operate as selection criteria, as being “intrinsic” (p. 14) in events, “inherent” (p. 14) in news stories, and they contend that “potential news stories must generally satisfy one and preferably more of [these] requirements to be selected.”

Bednarek and Caple (2017, p. 43) offer a complementary approach to news values research by suggesting a more systematic analysis of how news values are established in discourse. They use a very focused definition of news values, which excludes moral-ethical and commercial values as well as news writing objectives and news selection factors such as availability of reporters, audience analytics, or commercial pressures. News values in this sense concern “the newsworthiness of events—their potential newsworthiness in a given community, their newsworthiness as evaluated and determined by newsworkers in news practice, or their newsworthiness as constructed through discourse” (p. 42). Their approach, discursive news values analysis (DNVA), focuses on the last aspect and examines how specific events are constructed as newsworthy in any published news story. Thus, they do not ask why an event is selected as news, but how it is constructed as news, and the focus is on presentation or treatment rather than selection. Their DNVA framework deals with news as discourse, as semiotic practice. As Bednarek (2016, p. 31) states, “examining how events are endowed with newsworthiness by the news media shows which aspects of the event are emphasized, and reveals the shape in which events are packaged for news consumption by audiences.” This means that DNVA can be an additional tool for critical discourse analysis (Bednarek & Caple, 2014), since many researchers have argued that new values are themselves an ideological system (e.g., Bell, 1991; Cotter, 2010; van Dijk, 1988; Hall, 1973). DNVA can also be used to examine newsworthiness in news items that are widely shared through social media, thus telling researchers whether stories with particular configurations of news values are shared more than others (see Bednarek & Caple, 2017, ch. 8, for a DNVA of most-shared news items on Facebook).

Crucially, DNVA provides a unified framework for examining how events are both linguistically and visually constructed as news.6 For Bednarek and Caple (2017, p. 71), both visual and verbal semiotic resources play an important role in constituting and reinforcing news values. They contend that their DNVA framework allows researchers to identify when and where in a story specific news values are emphasized, and when they are absent. DNVA can also provide insights into the packaging of news—how news values are integrated and structured in the form of consumable news products and the role that different components (headlines, visuals, frames, layout, etc.) play. Semiotic resources construe the reported event as newsworthy, both to attract a particular target audience and to justify to that audience how this event constitutes news. In analyzing news as semiotic practice in this way, one can see how skillfully the “discourse of news values” is used by newsworkers to “sell” events to their audiences as news through verbal and visual resources.7

By way of concluding this section, a number of observations can be made: First, it is clear that there has been a proliferation of lists of news values, many of which overlap with each other in terms of the aspects of newsworthiness they deal with and only differ in their labeling/naming practices. Likewise, new news values have been added into the mix, some of which point to vastly different aspects of the news production process. The need for such changes or additions are rarely explained or justified. Another problematic issue concerns the nature or status of news values. Are news values the values that journalists hold, the selection criteria that they apply, the perceived qualities of material events, or values that can be discovered in published news stories? What is at stake here is the ontological status of news values, which is a point that will be taken up in the next section.

Evaluating Research on News Values

The formalization of news identification and selection has been an ongoing process that both journalists and academics have struggled to conceptualize since the idea of news values was first conceived. In the 1870s, journalists began discussions that sought to legitimize their role in selecting news. These included viewing news judgment as a “special skill that journalists possessed,” the rationalization of this judgement in terms of the “external qualities of events,” and the explanation of news judgment in terms of the “social and economic values of the information provided” (Vos & Finneman, 2017, p. 270). That such discussion continues to this day is testimony to the myriad of factors that influence news selection and points to the difficulty for researchers in distinguishing between them for analytical purposes.

This final section aims to tease out the conceptualization of and differentiation between professional journalistic values more generally and news values more specifically. This is because there has been a proliferation of news values since Galtung and Ruge’s (1965) seminal study that relate to vastly different aspects of journalism as a social practice to the extent that the term news values has become so diffuse and potentially confusing that it is in danger of losing some of its worth as a theoretical concept (Bednarek & Caple, 2017, p. 32).

Conceptualizing Values in the News

At any given moment in the production of news, there are a number of “values” at play that are likely to influence story selection (Bednarek & Caple, 2017, pp. 41–42). These include the professional moral/ethical values that newsworkers adhere to and that are enshrined in codes of practice. Commercial values relating to business models or economic conditions influence the selection of news. The rhetorical goals of news writing and editing, values in the news text, are also said to influence story selection. A well-written story is more likely to be selected for publication than one that is lacking in clarity or linguistic competence. Other values in the news process, for example, the mix of different kinds of stories, the availability of reporters and photographers, or access to prefabricated press releases, all influence story selection. In addition, there are the values in the news actors and events that influence the likelihood that they will register as newsworthy and therefore result in their selection for consideration for publication. For some researchers, all of these values fall under the remit of news values, while others delimit the scope of the term news values depending on which aspect of the news process they are focusing on. This section attempts to offer some clarity around these conceptualizations of values and suggests that differentiation between them may assist both in deciding research methods and analytical frameworks to be applied. This, in turn, should allow researchers to offer robust (or more qualified) answers to the critical question of why a particular event (and not another) has been published as news.

Professional Values

In contexts such as the news media, professional values form the basis of standards, ethics, and principles that newsworkers apply in their daily routines. Such values or standards include the following:

trust, independence, impartiality, honesty, focus on audience, quality and value for money, creativity, respect, diversity, team spirit (BBC);

truth, speed, accuracy, preciseness, honesty, integrity, fairness, independence, transparency, ethical behavior, careful/unbiased/unaltered, transmitted in many ways (Associated Press);

truth, fairness, impartiality, transparency, integrity, accuracy, independence (New York Times);

truth, factuality, accuracy, clarity, honesty, courage, fairness, impartiality, balance, independence, credibility, diversity, respect of audience, transparency, diversity, support of colleagues (Al Jazeera).

News organizations refer to these ideals as “our values” (BBC) or “news values & principles” (Associated Press), or as “standards and ethics” (New York Times), or present them in a code of practice (Al Jazeera).8 Encapsulated in this moral philosophical perspective on value creation in journalism (Picard, 2010) are the traditional fourth-estate ideals that the public needs information in order to be able to participate in democratic governance and to be engaged in society. News organizations facilitate this by presenting themselves as the “trusted advisor, respected interpreter, providing leadership, clarity, knowledge” (Picard, 2010, p. 120). Like in other industries, these are values that constitute workplace culture: They are the ethical standards and aspirational goals of the newsroom.

For some researchers, these professional/moral/philosophical values fall within the remit of news values (Fuller, 1996; Johnson & Kelly, 2003). Other researchers view concepts such as fairness, audience interest, and public service as separate to newsworthiness, instead figuring among a wide range of criteria that determine what will be published (Bednarek & Caple, 2017; Waisbord, 2009, p. 374), and their influence on story selection is most likely to be revealed through interviews with newsworkers and observations of professional practice.

Commercial Values

In addition to professional/moral/ethical values are the commercial values associated with quality, value for money, and convenience (transmitted in many ways). Circulation and readership, organizational structure, and competition between news organizations are all commercial pressures that influence story selection. A story may also be corrupted by other external influences such as a proprietor, advertiser, or politician. For some researchers, these are also news values: for example, Competition, Organizational Requirements, and External Factors (Bell, 1991, p. 159; Brighton & Foy, 2007, p. 29; Gans, 2004, pp. 78–79). Commercial imperatives do influence story selection, and if news values are the criteria applied in story selection, it is not surprising that commercial values also figure in the analysis of news values.

However, the news media industry is in a constant state of evolution and is prone to sudden change. The 2010s, for example, has brought unprecedented upheaval to job security and stability among editorial staff, especially in relation to photojournalism. Entire photography departments have been dismissed (e.g., Chicago Sun-Times, United States) or depleted to skeletal levels (e.g., Sydney Morning Herald, Australia), and this has had an impact on the availability of news photography. The influence of such monumental change on story selection would require longitudinal study, and it would be difficult to generalize beyond the specific context in which such change has been implemented.

Therefore, some researchers see the value in separating out commercial values as worthy of attention in their own right and in specific contexts and do not include them in their lists of news values. O’Neill and Harcup (2008), for example, see “occupational routines, budgets, the market, and ideology, as well as wider global cultural, economic and political considerations” (p. 171) as other factors at play in the news process that are also worthy of attention (see also Tunstall, 1971, p. 23), while Bednarek and Caple (2017, p. 41) place commercial values in the category of “news selection factors” and exclude them from their discursive approach to news values analysis.

Rhetorical Values

Considerations of style, the structure of the story, and the clarity of the construction of information are glossed by a number of researchers as the news values of Unambiguity, Simplification, Brevity, and Clarity (Bell, 1991, p. 78; Conley & Lamble, 2006, p. 42; Galtung & Ruge, 1965, p. 66; Golding & Elliott, 1979, p. 120; Johnson-Cartee, 2005, p. 129; Østgaard, 1965, p. 45). Such “values in the news text” (Bell, 1991, p. 160, italics in original) are similar to the values that Cameron finds in style books (correctness, consistency, clarity, and concision) and explains as defining “good writing” (Cameron, 1996, p. 319). One could argue that an articulate, clearly argued story is much more likely to be selected for publication than one with multiple linguistic errors and factual ambiguities and thus consider rhetorical values as news values. Alternatively, one might consider clarity, brevity, etc., as “general linguistic characteristics expected of a news story” and categorize these “values” as “news writing objectives” and not as news values (Bednarek & Caple, 2017, p. 41). Similarly, Cotter (1999) mentions brevity and clarity alongside other values as examples of “[r]hetorical goals in newswriting” (p. 174).

Values in the News Process

A number of other routines impact on journalism as a social practice, and these may be glossed as “values in the news process” (Bell, 1991, p. 158, italics in original). These include balance in content provision and factors relating to the news agenda and news cycle. For example, a concern for how news items fit with the other items around them ensures a balanced spread of items with minimal duplication (Brighton & Foy, 2007, p. 26). Thus, a news organization may choose to cover only one of several very similar events that have occurred on the same day, simply to ensure their “fit” within a balanced program or edition. A number of researchers label this “fit” as the news values of Composition, Co-option, and Story Balance (Bell, 1991, p. 159; Brighton & Foy, 2007, p. 26; Galtung & Ruge, 1965, p. 67; Gans, 2004, pp. 78–79). In relation to the news agenda/cycle, a number of researchers have proposed the news values of Frequency, Continuity, The News Barrier, Predictability, Follow-up, and News Agenda among others (Bell, 1991, p. 15, 151; Galtung & Ruge, 1965, pp. 66–67; Harcup & O’Neill, 2001, p. 279; Østgaard, 1965, p. 51; Schulz, 1982, p. 151). Such values are neatly summed up by Bell’s (1991, p. 15) explanation that “once something is in the news, it tends to stay there.” Again, there are researchers who argue that factors such as space, content mix, deadlines, and others are best treated as “factors other than newsworthiness” (Cotter, 2010, p. 80). To these, one might add other factors that influence news selection and production, such as the availability of a reporter, material and sources, news cycles, or information gleaned from audience analytics (e.g., perceived shareability).

The routines, practices, and conditions thus far described exist no matter the event that is unfolding in the world and all influence news story selection to some degree. Research into these practices helps the analyst to answer the question why certain stories have been published and not others, and their impact on story selection is most likely to be gleaned from ethnographic studies of newsroom practice; or in the case of rhetorical values, through linguistic analysis of lexical choice, generic structure, and cohesion. Most researchers, however, use content analysis of published news stories to hypothesize why one story and not another has been chosen for publication, a method that has been widely acknowledged as more suited to revealing news treatment rather than news selection (O’Neill & Harcup, 2008, p. 171; see also Bednarek & Caple, 2017, p. 33; Harrison, 2006; Hartley, 1982, p. 79; Staab, 1990). However, this is as much a conceptual issue as it is a methodological issue, and the ever-broadening inclusion of disparate practices in the production of news under the term “news values” has exacerbated this problem. The triangulation of methods (e.g., ethnographic with content and [multimodal] discourse analysis) and the delimiting of the point of focus to a particular stage in the production process may help alleviate such problems. For example, some researchers focus squarely on news treatment and thus aim to only answer the question of how an event has been constructed as newsworthy (e.g., Bednarek & Caple, 2017).

Values in Events and News Actors

If newsworthiness is defined according to whether an event is worthy of being reported as news, there must be something about events that initially attracts the attention of journalists. Herein one may detect another set of values, values that are associated with particular news actors and the events that they are involved in. These include Eliteness, Personalization, Impact, Recency, Consonance, Negativity, and Proximity among others (Bednarek & Caple, 2017; Bell, 1991; Galtung & Ruge, 1965; Golding & Elliott, 1979; Harcup & O’Neill, 2001; Masterton, 2005; Schulz, 1982).

Most researchers talk about news values and newsworthiness as characteristics of events, that the events themselves are somehow invested or infused with newsworthiness (Cotter, 2010; Galtung & Ruge, 1965; Harcup & O’Neill, 2001; Machin & Niblock, 2006, p. 27; Rössler et al., 2011, p. 417). However, such conflation of events or information with newsworthiness has not gone unchallenged. As Bednarek and Caple (2017, p. 31) note, talking about an event’s news value or its newsworthy properties is problematic in that “(i) it treats events as monolithic; (ii) it assumes newsworthiness can easily be objectively determined and that events are either newsworthy or not; and (iii) it seemingly ignores human intervention (social cognition and discursive mediation).”

One method of exploring how news values relate to events and news actors is by adopting a discursive perspective. This approach aligns with Galtung and Ruge’s (1965, p. 71) notion of “distortion,” which suggests that the image of the world in the news is one that has been constructed (or “distorted”) through discourse. Thus, while there is no denying the material reality of an event, it is in the narration of this event that it is discursively constructed as newsworthy (Bednarek & Caple, 2017). This is a point also noted by Vos and Finneman (2017, p. 277) when they state, “events do not possess drama, they are narrated dramatically.”

Dimensions of Newsworthiness

The foundation of journalistic practice is to promote public accountability of the powerful and to encourage a well-informed citizenry. This is achieved through the telling of stories. How these stories become news can be investigated through the lens of news values analysis. As this article has revealed, the concept of news values has been applied to a wide range of practices and conditions that impact on the routines of journalistic practice. Important for researchers moving forward with news values analysis is to assess where in the process of news gathering and production their attention is directed and whether the methods chosen are best suited to analyzing newsworthiness. One way of achieving this is to recognize that news values have material, cognitive, social, and discursive dimensions (Bednarek, 2016; Bednarek & Caple, 2017): An event in its material reality holds potential news value for a given community (material); newsworkers and audience members have beliefs about news values and newsworthiness (cognitive); news values are applied as selection criteria in journalistic practice (social); and news values can be communicated through discourse (discursive). Recognizing these four dimensions allows the researcher to explore connections and interactions between them in a more transparent, replicable, and reliable manner, which is ultimately the foundation of scholarly practice.

Additional Resources

Discursive News Value Analysis (DNVA) is a website dedicated providing example analyses, ideas for research projects, data visualization, and references to select publications applying DNVA. Available at https://www.newsvaluesanalysis.com/.

Galtung-Institut. An update on Galtung and Ruge’s approach to news values given by Prof. Galtung in 2014. Available at https://www.galtung-institut.de/en/2015/galtung-and-ruge-news-values-an-update-by-prof-galtung-october-2014/.

Further Reading

  • Bednarek, M. (2016). Voices and values in the news: News media talk, news values and attribution. Discourse, Context & Media, 11, 27–37.
  • Bednarek, M., & Caple, H. (2017). The discourse of news values: How news organizations create newsworthiness. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
  • Bell, A. (1991). The language of news media. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
  • Brighton, P., & Foy, D. (2007). News values. London, UK: SAGE.
  • Caple, H., & Bednarek, M. (2013). Delving into the discourse: Approaches to news values in journalism studies and beyond. Working Paper. Oxford, UK: The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, The University of Oxford.
  • Caple, H., & Bednarek, M. (2016). Rethinking news values: What a discursive approach can tell us about the construction of news discourse and news photography. Journalism, 17(4), 435–455.
  • Galtung, J., & Ruge, M. (1965). The structure of foreign news: The presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus crises in four Norwegian newspapers. Journal of Peace Research, 2(1), 64–90.
  • Harcup, T., & O’Neill, D. (2016). What is news? News values revisited (again). Journalism Studies. Advance online publication.
  • Strömbäck, J., Karlsson, M., & Hopmann, D. N. (2012). Determinants of news content: Comparing journalists’ perceptions of the normative and actual impact of different event properties when deciding what’s news. Journalism Studies, 13(5–6), 718–728.
  • Vos, T. P., & Finneman, T. (2017). The early historical construction of journalism’s gatekeeping role. Journalism, 18(3), 265–280.

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Notes

  • 1. While Galtung and Ruge (1965) use the term news factors, subsequent research has interchangeably used both news factors and news values to the point that the two are now synonymous for most researchers. Some, however, do maintain a distinction between the two. Kepplinger and Ehmig (2006, p. 28), for example, propose a two-component theory of news selection comprising the basic elements of news factors and the news value of news factors. According to this approach, the relative impact of characteristics of news stories—the news factors—on the selection of news stories is called news value. News values are not qualities of news stories, but characteristics of journalists—their judgments about the relevance of news factors (p. 27), while news factors are by definition “qualities of news stories” (p. 27), which “might be the degree of damage reported, the status of people involved, the geographical distance between the event and the place where the recipients of the news stories live” (p. 27).

  • 2. Staab (1990, p. 425) suggests that Østgaard was the founding researcher of news factors and that Galtung and Ruge further developed his theory into their 12 news factors.

  • 3. More recent research applying approaches to news values analysis pioneered by these German scholars can be found in Maier and Ruhrmann (2008) who use Schulz’s higher-order dimensions of news selection, and in Wendelin, Engelmann, and Neubarth (2015) who use 19 news factor variables to explore how user rankings may be used to reveal audience news selection preferences.

  • 4. Bednarek and Caple (2017, p. 109) stress the importance of being sensitive to the ways in which image content and image capture interact, and advise against using their list of visual devices for constructing news values as an automatic check list for the construction of a particular news value. This is because the same visual device may construct or enhance a range of news values depending on the content/subject matter of the image. For example, it is not the case that any and all blurry images/excessive camera movement construct Negativity. A camera operator may immerse herself in a crowd at a party or a street parade and capture the celebrations of people while being jostled, thus producing images with a lot of movement and less than perfect quality. Such camera technique would construct Superlativeness (not Negativity), as it captures the scope and scale of the celebrations.

  • 5. Shareability or shareworthiness are concepts that have emerged very recently in relation to reception studies, and they examine the extent to which audiences make use of the same news values as journalists in deciding which stories they share via social media (see e.g., Trilling, Tolochko, & Burscher, 2017; Wendelin et al., 2015).

  • 6. However, their news value Aesthetic Appeal (concerning the “beauty” of news visuals) is only postulated for visuals, and not for language, as explained in Bednarek and Caple (2017, pp. 66–67).

  • 7. DNVA has been applied by a number of researchers examining the construction of newsworthiness in relation to climate change and environmental disaster reporting; popular science journalism; marriage equality; and reporting in other languages (Chinese and Iranian). A full list of publications can be viewed at the DNVA website.

  • 8. These codes/principles are available at the following websites: http://www.bbc.co.uk/aboutthebbc/insidethebbc/whoweare/mission_and_values; http://www.ap.org/company/news-values; http://www.nytco.com/who-we-are/culture/standards-and-ethics/; http://www.aljazeera.com/aboutus/2006/11/2008525185733692771.html.