News values

From Academic Kids

News values determine how much prominence a news story is given by a media outlet. In practice such decisions are made informally by editors on the basis of their experience and intuition, however analysis shows that several factors are consistently applied across a range of news organizations. In 1965, Galtung and Ruge enumerated these factors. The following list is based on their analysis which remains influential today.



  • Threshold: A big story is one that has an extreme effect on a large number of people. Where the immediate effect of an event is more subtle, the threshold may be determined by the amount of money involved.
  • Frequency: Events that occur suddenly and fit well with the news organizations 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 exciting than good news.
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For media organizations in the Western Hemisphere, the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001 scored highly on all factors related to impact
  • Unexpectedness: If an event is out of the ordinary it will have a greater impact than something which is an everyday occurrence. As Charles A. Dana famously put it: "if a dog bites a man, that's not news. But if a man bites a dog, that's news!"
  • Unambiguity: Events whose implications are clear make for better copy than those which 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.

Audience Identification

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The arrest of Michael Jackson scores highly on factors related to Audience Identification
  • Personalisation: 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.

Pragmatics of Media Coverage

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Political speeches, inquiries and court cases lend themselves to media coverage because they are predictable and provide an ongoing narrative with which the audience becomes familiar. Here, Senator Joe McCarthy holds up a list of alleged communist sympathizers.
  • Consonance: Stories which fit with the media's expectations receive more coverage than those which 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. The story may still violate the audience's expectations, although today's media savvy audiences are not easily impressed by pre-prepared cliches.
  • 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, J. & Ruge, M. Holmboe (1965): The Structure of Foreign News. The Presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus Crises in Four Norwegian Newspapers, Journal of Peace Research, vol. 2, pp. 64-91; online edition ( (JSTOR access required)

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