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01 February 2002

What makes news?

 

Sick of seeing Paul Holmes preening himself on-screen? Angered that your media release didn't get on the front page of the NZ Herald?

Do you question whether what you are seeing or reading is news anyway?

These are good questions, because the nature of news is changing rapidly. The speed of this change will become apparent if you go to the trouble from time to time to assess what's actually in the news.

Massey media studies professor Judy MacGregor does this regularly. She says news coverage has long been based on values like topicality, unpredictability, elite person and elite nation activities, negative events and so on. (There are actually 12 such values).

In recent years four new values have emerged, driven by TV channels competing for viewers. These are:

  • Visualness: If it can't be depicted on film, it's less likely to make the news. If getting the pictures involves breaching someone's privacy, too bad.
  • Emotion/sentimentality: We get mawkish stories involving weeping interviewees, freaks and bizarre events because of the emotion they evoke among viewers. Extremists are often used as news sources for the same reason.
  • Conflict: Interviewees with different perspectives on an issue are presented as if their views were polar opposites. There's no story without conflict.
  • Celebrification of the journalist: Paul Holmes is presented and paid as if he was a star. Opinion is merged with fact in reports from celebrity journalists who are more important than the stories they cover.

To these new values, WHAM would add one more: Envy. This is the story written by a reporter who has yet to achieve celebrity status. Its focus, the fee earned by an artist, consultant, lawyer, politician or anyone who appears to earn more than the reporter concerned.

In these stories the cost of employing a person to do the same job is never revealed, nor is the value of the work, nor the time or expertise involved. And in case this sounds unduly defensive, WHAM has not been bagged in the media for its fees!


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