Wednesday, June 23, 2004

What is news?

If you do media studies, you learn a set of news values that come very close to what we read and see. These don't even refer to the extra set of 'values' that pass for news presentation in the majority of British newspapers.

Here is a proposal for some new values:

Scale: if something bad happens, it's bad wherever it is. Assume that some of your readers have been to all of the places you mention. Prioritise according to numbers of deaths

Humanity: If people are being killed by other people, that's badder still. So is any death that could have been prevented such as starvation and epidemic - whose fault was it? Is that acceptable to us?

Background: Answer the basic question 'Why?' If that involves giving some history, try and do it in a paragraph. All media can now link to a website that could have background material up

Complexity: The world is complicated, it's OK, we know that. You only need to report on what happened today. Keep it simple but don't leave it out because you think we're stupid.

Personal interest: It doesn't need to be a celebrity to grab our attention - look at how quickly we become interested in the Big Brother halfwits. We form new relationships online with all sorts of people. If someone has a story to tell, let's hear it. They don't have to be English, they don't even have to be white. We might just care.

Accountability: The media should be checking that things are working well - so do court reports, but don't just focus on the lurid ones.
Give us decent investigations of political figures, and ask them the questions we actually want to know based on real facts. Don't play their tedious games: loudly tell them to shut up if they use the word 'choice' in that meaningless way

Inform: If crime figures go down, then say so; if there is a spate of crime in a particular area then we might like to know that too, but don't come up with scare-stories just because it's a slow news day. Don't put the interweb on the front page just because you've received one of those forwards from your friend warning you about the teddy bear.

Truth: Reporters should be able to go to the point of a story and from there tell the truth as they have found it. And if they're in a foreign country they should always, always, talk to some ordinary people affected by the story. Really: just say what you see

There's nothing wrong with balancing all this with celebrity gossip, entertainment stories, but perhaps it's time we stopped treating all news as fun.

Could we really cope with this barrage of 'real' news? Do we really want to know all the depressing things that have happened around the world in five minute soundbites or 100 word articles? Perhaps we do really want to know what's going on in the world - perhaps we really want to make up our own minds about things.


1 comment:

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