Working on News Judgement

Essay by ImpalerBugz September 2008

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Journalists need many skills. Among the critical ones is news judgment, the ability to recognize why one story is more newsworthy than another or why one element within a story is more newsworthy than another. Acquiring good news judgment is best achieved through experience. But some guidelines have been developed that can help an inexperienced journalist get started.

Stories are said to be newsworthy if they contain one or more of the so-called elements of news; timeliness, proximity, prominence, human interest, conflict. A story with timeliness is about today, not last week. If the story is said to have proximity, it must be about something close to home. The element of prominence involves well-known people, places, or things. Human interest is a catchall category, and it is self-explanatory: Would humans be interested in this? Conflict is present in stories about war and peace, in political stories, in sports stories, and in all stories where people are at odds.

Geography, the calendar and competition play a role, too, in determining newsworthiness. Stories about oil prices are more important in the United States than in Myanmar. Stories about preserving water are more important in Singapore than in Thailand. Stories about taxes take on special meaning around April. A story is better if the opposition newspaper didn't already have it. It loses some news value if the other paper ran it fist or if it was on television first. Morning newspapers especially like stories that break after the late evening news.

Many other elements than those mentioned come into play. They include progress, money, disaster, novelty, oddity, drama, children, animals, change, consequence, impact, rarity, and coincidence. The list probably doesn't help much. Thoughtful examination of a good newspaper might. Most editors try for a blend of stories: Some local, some national, some international,