What makes something news?

Ever wonder why something was put in the paper? Why did the reporter go spend the time to shoot that TV news spot? Why is one story done while another was ignored? What makes editors consider a story newsworthy? There are a variety of criteria, and no story perfectly meets all of them. Newspapers like the Gazette want to publish stories that are interesting to our readers, but not all readers are interested in the same things, so a system had to be developed.

While news-judgement will always be somewhat subjective, there are a few qualities that editors and reporters judge potential stories on before undertaking the work of writing and publishing them.

Seven categories are generally accepted in the industry and considered for each story, though often very informally. The more of these categories that a story has strong elements of, the more likely a reporter is to follow-through on it, or an editor to assign a reporter to it.

Impact- Is this topic going to affect readers’ lives? Will it affect a lot of people a little, or a few people but by a lot? For instance, a handful of people traveling overseas for work may not be that interesting — it’s ordinary and planned. A handful of local people being evicted from an apartment building so it can be sold or remodeled could be, depending on how it was handled.

Immediacy- Did something just happen, or is it about to happen? Is this something new that not many people have heard about? How soon does the average person need to know about this? If there was a cool event today or yesterday(and we can get photos), that’s more likely news than something that was weeks ago.

Proximity- Local events and issues matter more to readers than events in other cities or states (usually). Something distant could still be a story if it has other elements of newsworthiness.

Prominence- Does this story involve a well-known public figure or celebrity? (or landmark or major business) An elected official’s arrest or misbehavior is a big story, but the average person’s usually isn’t unless public safety is involved.

Novelty- Readers enjoy news that’s unexpected or unusual. Cute animals, new businesses, profiles of interesting people, and other features often are written because they’re strong in this category.

Conflict- Is there a rivalry or political battle? Readers enjoy stories about dramatic confrontation, and if a vote or other decision might happen in the future they need to be informed, too.

Emotion- All of us respond to stories with emotion. An emotional story doesn’t have to be sad, either. It could be a tragic story, or it could be a triumphant one, a funny one, or a story about love. Having emotion in stories is important to creating a publication that resonates with readers.

There are always more stories to write than time in the day for a reporter, so these criteria are used every day to do a kind of triage on story ideas. Those that don’t score well get sidelined, perhaps indefinitely. The highest-scoring get pursued and published.

Joshua Vissers holds a B.A. in multimedia journalism and is associate editor at the Daily Mining Gazette. He can be reached at jvissers@mininggazette.com.


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