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Journalism Studies

ISSN: 1461-670X (Print) 1469-9699 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rjos20

What Is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited

Tony Harcup & Deirdre O'Neill

To cite this article: Tony Harcup & Deirdre O'Neill (2001) What Is News? Galtung and Ruge
revisited, Journalism Studies, 2:2, 261-280

To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14616700118449

Published online: 12 Dec 2010.

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Journalism Studies, Volume 2, Number 2, 2001, pp. 261280

What Is News? Galtung and Ruge revisited

TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL


Trinity and All Saints University College, UK

ABSTRACT This study aims to shed light on the news selection process by examining the news
values currently operational in British newspapers. The study takes as its starting point Galtung
and Ruges widely cited taxonomy of news values established in their 1965 study and puts these
criteria to the test in an empirical analysis of news published in three national daily UK
newspapers. A review of Galtung and Ruges original study as well as a wider review of related
literature is provided. The ndings of the news content analysis are used to evaluate critically
Galtung and Ruges original criteria and to propose a contemporary set of news values.

KEY WORDS: Galtung and Ruge, News Selection, News Values, UK Newspapers, Content
Analysis

Introduction days news in the news media. (Hall,


1973, p. 181)
News is what a chap who doesnt care
much about anything wants to read, Our personal experience as working
explains Corker, the hard-bitten hack in journalists on newspapers and
Scoop, adding: And its only news until magazines suggests that journalists
hes read it. After that its dead have ground rules that inform their an-
(Waugh, 1943, p. 66). This observation swers to the question What is news?
provides one answer to the apparently Such ground rules may not be written
simple question, What is news?a down or codi ed by news organisa-
question that continues to exercise the tions, but they exist in daily practice
minds of practitioners and students of and in knowledge gained on the job,
journalism alike. albeit mediated by subjectivity on the
part of individual journalists. A more
academic approach to understanding
Journalists speak of the news as if the process of news selection attempts
events select themselves. Further, they to identify and de ne the news values
speak as if which is the most signi cant
informing the ground rules that come
news story, and which news angles are
most salient are divinely inspired. Yet of into operation when journalists select
the millions of events which occur daily in stories. Norwegians Johan Galtung
the world, only a tiny proportion ever and Mari Ruge went some way towards
become visible as potential news sto- establishing these when they published
ries: and of this proportion, only a small their paper on The structure of foreign
fraction are actually produced as the news in the Journal of International
ISSN 1461-670X print/ISSN 1469-9699 online/01/020261-20 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/14616700120042114
262 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

Peace Research in 1965. Extracts sub- cussing their study in particular and
sequently appeared in in uential books news values in general. We conclude
on news production, such as Cohen by providing a contemporary set of
and Youngs The Manufacture of News news values based on the ndings of
(1973), and Galtung and Ruges paper our empirical research. While we can-
has long been regarded as a landmark not explain why so many events and
study of news values and news selec- issues are excluded from the news
tion (Watson, 1998, p. 117). The fac- agenda (even when ful lling some of
tors making up their news values the criteria we put forward), we believe
continue to be cited as prerequisites we have gone some way to updating,
of news selection at the beginning of de ning and making more visible the
the new century (Herbert, 2000, news values currently used by journal-
pp. 7273). ists in the news selection process.
The central question at the heart of
their paper was how do events
(speci cally, foreign events in their Galtung and Ruge
case) become news? As academics
with backgrounds in journalism as Johan Galtung and Mari Ruges study
practitioners and trainers, we found began life as a paper presented at the
ourselves asking how useful Galtung First Nordic Conference on Peace Re-
and Ruges taxonomy of news values search, which took place in Oslo in
remains today, in both the domestic January 1963. It was rst published in
and international context. We noted 1965 and extracts have subsequently
that the news values put forward by been printed in many edited collections
Galtung and Ruge were hypothetical, on the media (Tunstall, 1970; Cohen
were limited to the reporting of foreign and Young, 1973, 1981; Tumber,
news, and were primarily concerned 1999).
with the reporting of events. Conse- The central question at the heart of
quently, we were interested in how ad- their paper was: How do events be-
equately their news values could be come news? They were speci cally
applied to foreign and domestic events, concerned with how overseas events
issues and other stories that become did or did not become foreign news in
news. To that end, we analysed stories the Norwegian press. To explore this
published in leading UK newspapers to question, they presented a series of
establish which news values appeared factors that seem to be particularly
to be operational, taking as a starting important in the selection of news, fol-
point those news factors identi ed by lowed by the deduction of some hy-
Galtung and Ruge. Nearly 40 years potheses from their list of factors.
after their landmark studywithin the However, Galtung and Ruge noted at
context of an increasingly multimedia the outset, No claim is made for com-
landscape and concerns about pleteness in the list of factors or de-
dumbing down of newswe were in- ductions (Galtung and Ruge, 1965,
terested to see if any additional factors pp. 6465).
come into play, re ecting the climate in
which the journalism of today is pro-
duced. But before presenting the Galtung and Ruges 12 News
ndings from the analysis of newspa- Factors
per content, we examine Galtung and
Ruges initial arguments alongside a F1. FREQUENCY. An event that un-
review of subsequent literature dis- folds at the same or similar frequency
WHAT IS NEWS? 263

as the news medium (such as a mur- coverage also acts to justify the atten-
der) is more likely to be selected as tion an event attracted in the rst place.
news than is a social trend that takes
place over a long period of time. F8. COMPOSITION. An event may be
included as news less because of its
F2. THRESHOLD. Events have to pass intrinsic news value than because it ts
a threshold before being recorded at into the overall composition or balance
all. After that, the greater the intensity, of a newspaper or news broadcast.
the more gruesome the murder, and This might not just mean light stories to
the more casualties in an accidentthe balance heavy news; it could also
greater the impact on the perception of mean that, in the context of newspaper
those responsible for news selection. reports on alleged institutional racism
within the police, for example, positive
F3. UNAMBIGUITY. The less ambi- initiatives to combat racism which
guity, the more likely the event is to would normally go unreported might
become news. The more clearly an make it onto the news pages.
event can be understood, and inter-
preted without multiple meanings, the F9. REFERENCE TO ELITE NA-
greater the chance of it being selected. TIONS. The actions of elite nations are
seen as more consequential than the
F4. MEANINGFULNESS. The cultur- actions of other nations. De nitions of
ally similar is likely to be selected be- elite nations will be culturally, politically
cause it ts into the news selectors and economically determined and will
frame of reference. Thus, the involve- vary from country to country, although
ment of UK citizens will make an event there may be universal agreement
in a remote country more meaningful to about the inclusion of some nations
the UK media. Similarly, news from the (e.g. the USA) among the elite.
USA is seen as more relevant to the
UK than is news from countries that are F10. REFERENCE TO ELITE PEO-
less culturally familiar. PLE. The actions of elite people, who
will usually be famous, may be seen by
F5. CONSONANCE. The news selec- news selectors as having more conse-
tor may predictor, indeed, want quence than the actions of others.
something to happen, thus forming a Also, readers may identify with them.
mental pre-image of an event, which
in turn increases its chances of becom- F11. REFERENCE TO PERSONS.
ing news. News has a tendency to present events
as the actions of named people rather
F6. UNEXPECTEDNESS. The most than a result of social forces. This per-
unexpected or rare eventsamong soni cation goes beyond human inter-
those that are culturally familiar and/or est stories and could relate to cultural
consonantwill have the greatest idealism according to which man is the
chance of being selected as news. master of his own destiny and events
can be seen as the outcome of an act
F7. CONTINUITY. Once an event has of free will.
become headline news it remains in
the media spotlight for some time F12. REFERENCE TO SOMETHING
even if its amplitude has been greatly NEGATIVE. Negative news could be
reducedbecause it has become fam- seen as unambiguous and consensual,
iliar and easier to interpret. Continuing generally more likely to be unexpected
264 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

and to occur over a shorter period of values. For Bell (1991, p. 155), Galtung
time than positive news (Galtung and and Ruges paper formed the foun-
Ruge, 1965, pp. 6571). dation study of news values; Palmer
After presenting these factors, Gal- (1998, p. 378) described the study as
tung and Ruge put forward three hy- the earliest attempt to provide a sys-
potheses: tematic de nition of newsworthiness;
and, according to Tunstall (1970,
1. The more events satisfy the criteria p. 20), the 1965 paper promised to
mentioned, the more likely that they become a classic social science an-
will be registered as news (selec- swer to the question what is news?
tion). Tumber (1999, p. 4) notes, The rel-
2. Once a news item has been se- evance of Galtung and Ruges model is
lected what makes it newsworthy its predictive quality in determining pat-
according to the factors will be ac- terns of news. Not that there was any-
centuated (distortion). thing new about such news values
3. Both the process of selection and themselves. Indeed, it could be argued
the process of distortion will take that they pre-date the mass media:
place at all steps in the chain from Many of the factors which Galtung and
event to reader (replication) (Gal- Ruge nd as predisposing foreign
tung and Ruge, 1965, p. 71). events to become newselite persons,
negative events, unexpectedness-
Following an examination of the within-predictability, cultural proxim-
coverage of three international crises in ityare also to be found in
four Norwegian newspapers,1 Galtung Shakespeares plays (Tunstall, 1970,
and Ruge discuss the extent to which p. 21).
their factors could be considered in More than three decades after the
combinationthe more distant an publication of their paper, Galtung and
event, the less ambiguous will it have Ruges study remains the most
to bebefore leaving conclusions on in uential explanation of news values
such questions to future research. (McQuail, 1994, p. 270). The names of
(Galtung and Ruge, 1965, pp. 8083). the two Norwegians have become as
Galtung and Ruge had an explicit associated with news value analysis as
agenda, urging journalists to try and Hoover with the vacuum cleaner,
counteract all 12 factors, and they thanks to a study that was a landmark
concluded their paper with the following in the scholarship of the media (Wat-
health warning: It should be empha- son, 1998, p. 117). Peterson, whose
sised that the present article hypoth- two studies on foreign news and inter-
esises rather than demonstrates the national news selection (1979, 1981)
presence of these factors, and hypoth- looked at journalistic input, found much
esises rather than demonstrates that to support the hypotheses put forward
these factors, if present, have certain by Galtung and Ruge. She conducted
effects among the audience (Galtung interviews with journalists on The
and Ruge, 1965, pp. 8485). Times and concluded, the results sug-
gest strongly that news criteria shape a
picture of the worlds events character-
After Galtung and Ruge: a ised by erratic, dramatic and uncompli-
review of the literature cated surprise, by negative or
con ictual events involving elite nations
Galtung and Ruges paper has long and persons (Peterson, 1979, 1981,
been regarded as the study of news cited in McQuail, 1992, p. 217.)
WHAT IS NEWS? 265

However, a number of shortcomings values are one of the most opaque


have been identi ed in Galtung and structures of meaning in modern so-
Ruges taxonomy of news values. As ciety News values appear as a set of
Tunstall points out, their paper concen- neutral, routine practices: but we need,
trated on three major international also, to see formal news values as an
crises, ignoring day-to-day coverage of ideological structureto examine
lesser events; Galtung and Ruge these rules as the formalisation and
looked only at content that was ex- operationalisation of an ideology of
plicitly concerned with the selected news (Hall, 1973, pp. 181, 235).
crises; and their list of factors made no Taken together, news values can be
reference to how visual elements, such seen as a deep structure or a cultural
as dramatic photographs, could affect map that journalists use to help them
the content of written material (Tunstall, make sense of the world (Hall et al.,
1971, p. 21). An obvious dif culty with 1978, p. 54).
Galtung and Ruges gatekeeping ap- From a semiotic perspective, Hartley
proach is that it appears to assume that agrees with Hall that focusing on news
there is a given reality out there which values alone may disguise the ideologi-
the news gatherers will either admit or cal determinants of stories that appear
exclude (McQuail, 1994, p. 270). As in the media (Hartley, 1982, p. 80). He
Seaton notes, such a focus on events also points out that certain stories
only tells us part of the story: Many achieve copious coverage apparently
items of news are not events at all, without ful lling any of Galtung and
that is in the sense of occurrences in Ruges news factors in any obvious
the real world which take place inde- way, an issue that we discuss further in
pendently of the media (Curran and our ndings below. Commenting on the
Seaton, 1997, p. 277). This point is widespread reporting of a seemingly
obscure academic dispute in the early
taken further by Vasterman in the con-
1980s, Hartley comments, The way
text of a study of media hypes such as
the dispute was reported did exploit a
the esh-eating virus stories that
number of our news values (like per-
swept the UK (and elsewhere) during sonalisation, negativity, reference to
1994. For Vasterman, lists of selection elite persons and institutions), but the
criteria such as those discussed by news values themselves give little clue
Galtung and Ruge are awed in their as to why the story was deemed news-
presumption that journalists actually re- worthy in the rst place (Hartley, 1982,
port events: But news is not out there, p. 79, our emphasis). In this sense,
journalists do not report news, they while the news factors identi ed by
produce news. They construct it, they Galtung and Ruge may suggest a
construct facts, they construct state- predictive pattern of which events will
ments and they construct a context in and will not be reportedand may in-
which these facts make sense. They form us how stories may be treated
reconstruct a reality (Vasterman, they do not provide a complete
1995). explanation of all the irregularities of
Stuart Hall, applying a Marxist per- news composition, including the
spective informed by the analyses of in uence of political and economic fac-
Gramsci and Althusser, argues that tors (McQuail, 1994, p. 271).
while lists such as Galtung and Ruges
may help us to identify the formal ele- Alternative or Additional News
ments within the construction of news, Values
they do not explain the ideological
meanings behind such rules: News Following Galtung and Ruges taxon-
266 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

omy, there have been a number of high-pro le continuing story; pre-


alternative but essentially similar lists of dictability, that is, events that can be
news values. In his study of US news prescheduled for journalists are more
media, Gans argues that domestic likely to be covered than events that
news stories become important by turn up unheralded; and prefabrication,
satisfying one or more of the following meaning that the existence of ready-
criteria: rank in government and other made texts (press releases, cuttings,
hierarchies; impact on the nation and agency copy) that journalists can pro-
the national interest; impact on large cess rapidly will greatly increase the
numbers of people; and signi cance for likelihood of something appearing in
the past and future (Gans, 1980, the news (Gans, 1980, pp. 15860).
pp. 14752). Similarly, stories are
deemed interesting if they conform to
one or more types which Gans lists as: Galtung and Ruge Revisited:
people stories; role reversals; human- methodology
interest stories; expose anecdotes;
hero stories; and gee whiz stories In the decades since the publication of
(1980, pp. 15557). their paper, Galtung and Ruges tenta-
While acknowledging that the instinc- tive answers to the question How do
tual news value of most journalists is events become news? have become
simply Does it interest me?, former widely cited and, indeed, often ac-
Guardian editor Alastair Hetherington cepted with little further attempt at em-
nonetheless drew up his own list of pirical research. We set ourselves the
news values during a study of the UK task of devising a content analysis to
media. He argued that journalists look help investigate just how useful Gal-
for stories involving one or more of the tung and Ruges factors are in
following: signi cance; drama; surprise; analysing the news selection process
personalities; sex, scandal and crime; today. In other words, what is the rela-
numbers; and proximity (Hetherington, tionship, if any, between the news that
1985, pp. 89). Herbert comes up with actually appears in the press and the
the following list: prominence; proxim- selection criteria discussed by Galtung
ity; timeliness; action; novelty; human and Ruge? To this end we read and
interest; sex; humour (Herbert, 2000, considered a total of 1276 news arti-
p. 318). cles published as page leads in UK
Bell, preferring not to construct an national newspapers in March 1999,2
alternative list, notes that Galtung and attempting to identify which if any of
Ruges news factors have been found Galtung and Ruges factors appeared
both valid and enlightening in a number to be present in each story. Content
of different countries. However, he aug- analysisde ned by Berelson (1971,
ments their dozen factors with four p. 18) as a research technique for the
more, all of which are (like continuity objective, systematic and quantitative
and composition) concerned with news description of the manifest content of
gathering and news processing rather communicationis of course itself a
than with the events and actors fea- problematic area. We must therefore
tured in the news. Bell argues for the follow McQuail (1977, p. 2) in prefacing
importance to story selection of compe- our ndings with the health warning
tition, the desire for a scoop; cooption, that reminds that there is no objective
whereby a story that is only tangentially or neutral way of deciding which cate-
related can be presented in terms of a gories should be used.
WHAT IS NEWS? 267

Whereas Galtung and Ruge began purchase by Murdoch in 1969: It


by suggesting a list of factors and then greatly increased its entertainment
put forward hypothesesrather than coverage, in particular human interest
beginning with an empirical study of reporting of show business and TV
what actually appeared in newspa- stars, developed a more explicit style of
persour exploration approached the soft porn, and shrank its coverage of
issue from an altogether different an- public affairs. It evolved a complex edi-
gle. Their concern was with events and torial formula which was both hedo-
how they did or did not become news. nistic and moralistic, iconoclastic and
Our concern has been with published authoritarian (Curran and Seaton,
news items and what may or may not 1997, p. 93.)
have led to their selection. When we The third title considered was the
discuss our ndings below, it is evident middlebrow Daily Mail, owned by Asso-
that many news items appear to have ciated Newspapers and boasting an
little if any relation to actual events (as average daily circulation of 2,310,781
the term event is commonly under- (Press Gazette, 2000). It has been de-
stood). Indeed, there are considerable scribed by Engel as successful, pro-
dif culties in de ning an eventwhen fessional, respected, competitive,
journalists may identify a series of what forceful, well-written and, in extremis,
may be termed mini-events within a particularly during elections, thoroughly
larger story; or when so many stories mendacious (Engel, 1997, p. 306.) It
are based on issues, trends and even has also long been identi ed with a
speculation rather than any identi able
successful strategy of targeting female
event.
readers (Holland, 1998, p. 21).
At an overt party-political level, both
the Telegraph and the Mail have tradi-
The Newspapers
tionally been pro-Conservative news-
Three UK national daily newspapers papers, while the Sun switched from
were selected for analysis which are being a pro-Labour title before Mur-
the market leaders in terms of circu- doch bought it in 1969 to become a
lation in their respective sectors.3 The champion of Thatcherism before turn-
broadsheet Daily Telegraph, owned by ing on the Tories after the 1992 general
Conrad Blacks Hollinger Group, has election and backing Tony Blairs
an average daily sale of 1,022,937 Labour Party shortly before Labour
(Press Gazette, 2000). It has been de- won a landslide victory in the 1997
scribed as having a safely conserva- election.
tive politics and approach to Since the concern was to explore
journalism, although by the 1990s it news values we focused on news items
had modernised itself stealthily and to the exclusion of other content that
rather cleverly (Engel, 1997, pp. 248, Galtung and Ruge included in their
306). sampling: editorials, features and
The tabloid Sun, part of Rupert Mur- readers letters.4 We decided to exam-
dochs News International empire, sells ine all news, rather than restricting
3,395,273 copies a day and has been the study to foreign news, since,
the biggest-selling UK daily newspaper notwithstanding the narrow focus of
for more than 20 years (Press Gazette, their paper, Galtung and Ruges study
2000). As James Curran notes, The has become part of the canon of news
Sun was reoriented towards a mass values in general. For each news page
working-class readership following its in each issue of the newspapers
268 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

under consideration, we analysed the practice, each of Galtung and Ruges


content of the page lead; that is, the 12 news factors become problematic,
most prominent news story.5 as is indicated by the following exam-
ples of questions raised during our re-
search:
Problematic Areas
Given that we were approaching Gal- F1. FREQUENCY. How does this re-
tung and Ruges criteria from the per- late to stories that are not about events
spective of media texts rather than at all, but about trends, speculation, or
events, we recognised that there would even the absence of events?
be methodological problems to be ad-
dressed. For example, when piloting F2. THRESHOLD. Isnt this still open to
our content analysis by scouring news subjective interpretation? Which is big-
items for signs of Galtung and Ruges ger20 deaths in ten road accidents or
12 factors, it quickly became apparent ve deaths in one rail crash?
that their factors could be identi ed on
actual newspaper pages only with the F3. UNAMBIGUITY. Is the ambiguity in
use of copious amounts of necessarily the subject or in the journalists in-
subjective interpretation on the part of terpretation?
the researchers. To minimise unreliabil-
ity, we began by coding newspapers F4. MEANINGFULNESS. This is a slip-
together, reading and discussing each pery concept that changes over time
news story and agreeing which (if any) and relies on subjective interpretation.
of Galtung and Ruges factors were
evident. But we were frequently faced F5. UNEXPECTEDNESS. How can we
with questions such as: What is an tell if the journalist is simply taking an
unambiguous event? and Reference unexpected angle on a predictable
to something negative for whom? event?
When dealing with something as
opaque as news values (to use Halls F6. CONSONANCE. How useful is this
term), it appears there can be little es- category if it is possible only to guess if
cape from subjective interpretation. and when it has applied?
This, taken with McQuails warning
cited above, means that the gures F7. CONTINUITY. Something may be
included in this article must be con- in the news today because it was in the
sidered as only broadly indicative news yesterday, but what does that
ndings of fallible human beings. Fur- actually reveal about why it was news
thermore, assuming that it might be in the rst place?
possible to identify correctly and objec-
tively the factors within a news item, F8. COMPOSITION. How is it possible
this would not necessarily explain why to know what was in the selectors
that story was selected above other mind when making a particular de-
potential stories containing similar ele- cision?
ments. Nor could it shed much light on
whether factors such as unambiguity or F9. ELITE NATIONS. The dearth of
personi cation were intrinsic to the foreign news in UK tabloid newspapers
subject matter or simply how the news- renders this a relatively infrequently
paper chose to write about it on that identi ed factor; does that mean it does
occasion. Indeed, when applied in not apply?
WHAT IS NEWS? 269

Table 1. Galtung and Ruges news factors in The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily TelegraphMarch
1999
Newspaper F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 Stories
The Sun 108 42 176 35 32 78 87 31 37 178 135 116 344
Daily Mail 195 70 249 70 37 128 131 35 59 201 173 204 537
Daily Telegraph 169 61 164 115 40 70 136 40 117 209 109 134 395
Totals 472 173 589 220 109 276 354 106 213 588 417 454 1276

F10. ELITE PEOPLE. How useful is a Findings


category that does not distinguish be-
tween the Spice Girls and the Presi- The number of stories analysed in The
dent of the USA? Sun (344), the Daily Mail (537) and the
Daily Telegraph (395) provide an over-
all data set of 1276 published items.
F11. REFERENCE TO PERSONS. Is
Table 1 details the frequency with
this intrinsic to the subject or the
which Galtung and Ruges 12 news
journalists technique?
factors appeared in the lead news sto-
ries analysed in each of the three
F12. REFERENCE TO SOMETHING newspapers. Table 2 ranks Galtung
NEGATIVE. Negative for whom? Bad and Ruges 12 news factors according
news for some might be good news for to the aggregated frequency with which
others. they were identi ed in lead news sto-
ries across the three papers. Tables 3,
4 and 5 detail the frequencies with
Of course, by its very nature, no con- which Galtung and Ruges news fac-
tent analysiswhether used to identify tors were evident in page leads in The
Galtung and Ruges factors or any Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph,
other formulationscan show us which respectively, during March 1999.
possible news items were rejected or While these data may be regarded
not even noticed by the news selectors. as only broadly indicative, they never-
Furthermore, as our ndings below theless merit discussion, since they in-
suggest, there appear to be many sto-
ries published which feature news fac-
tors not included in Galtung and Ruges
list. But these limitations do not sug-
gest that Galtung and Ruges study is Table 2. Galtung and Ruges news factors in
of no value today. Rather, the concep- rank order across all newspaper s
tual and methodological issues we F3 Unambiguity 589
have identi ed signal that empirical F10 Reference to elite people 588
research into news selection prompts F1 Frequency 472
at least as many questions as it an- F12 Reference to something negative 454
F11 Reference to persons 417
swers. These are valid questions and
F7 Continuity 354
they need to be addressedalong with F6 Unexpectednes s 276
the tentative ndings of ourselves and F4 Meaningfulness : cultural proximity 220
othersrather than ignored in the be- F9 Reference to elite nations 213
lief that Galtung and Ruge have de- F2 Threshold 173
F5 Consonanc e 109
vised a comprehensive set of news F8 Composition 106
values.
270 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

Table 3. Galtung and Ruges news factors in lead stories in The Sun during March 1999
Date F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 Stories
1 March 3 2 10 1 2 5 2 2 1 4 2 5 10
2 March 3 3 7 0 2 3 5 1 2 6 3 8 12
3 March 3 4 5 3 1 3 4 0 3 9 5 5 10
4 March 2 1 9 2 2 3 6 2 1 10 4 8 15
5 March 7 3 14 3 2 5 6 0 3 6 8 9 16
6 March 4 4 12 1 3 4 3 2 0 7 4 4 13
8 March 5 1 11 0 0 3 1 0 0 6 5 6 12
9 March 3 0 10 1 0 1 1 0 0 9 5 1 12
10 March 10 3 10 0 0 4 1 3 0 6 4 5 11
11 March 11 1 14 3 2 7 3 3 2 8 12 6 16
12 March 7 1 9 3 3 2 4 3 3 10 9 5 18
13 March 3 0 10 0 0 2 2 0 1 10 7 5 18
15 March 2 2 6 0 1 3 0 2 4 7 4 5 15
16 March 3 1 6 5 2 2 3 3 1 8 4 3 10
17 March 0 0 5 0 2 2 4 0 1 5 5 3 9
18 March 0 3 0 0 0 2 4 0 1 6 3 3 13
19 March 4 2 4 4 3 6 3 2 3 7 8 5 15
20 March 7 3 12 1 2 5 3 1 0 10 8 15 19
22 March 2 1 0 0 0 2 2 0 0 5 5 3 11
23 March 1 0 0 0 0 1 4 0 0 7 2 0 11
24 March 2 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 4 4 3 8
25 March 6 3 3 3 3 2 5 2 3 5 2 0 14
26 March 4 0 4 1 0 2 5 3 3 7 2 0 13
27 March 6 3 11 4 2 5 4 2 5 3 9 8 14
29 March 3 1 2 0 0 1 5 0 0 4 3 0 11
30 March 4 0 1 0 0 1 2 0 0 3 4 0 8
31 March 3 0 0 0 0 2 4 0 0 6 4 1 10
Total 108 42 176 35 32 78 87 31 37 178 135 116 344

dicate possible trends within journalism appear unambiguous. As Table 1 sug-


as well as raising further questions gests, the Daily Mail particularly fa-
concerning the applicability of the fac- vours an unambiguous approach.
tors that make up Galtung and Ruges Interestingly, we noted many news sto-
news values. ries that were written unambiguously
about events and issues that were
likely to have been highly ambiguous;
Galtung and Ruges News Factors NATOs bombing of Serbia, for exam-
Explored ple, or the implications of the UK
governments budget for the following
F3. UNAMBIGUITY. It was perhaps no year.
surprise to nd that unambiguity was
identi ed most frequently, since it was F10. REFERENCE TO ELITE PEO-
textsthe news productrather than PLE. This scored highly but the elite
events themselves which were being people noted in this study were not
analysed. Given that journalists are necessarily the elite people that Gal-
trained to write the intros to their tung and Ruge had in mind. The UK
news stories in an unambiguous way, press seems obsessed with celebrities
with a clear news angle in the rst such as TV soap stars, sports stars,
couple of sentences, it is perhaps inevi- lm stars and, of course, royalty. In
table that so many news stories should contrast, the elite people identi ed by
WHAT IS NEWS? 271

Table 4. Galtung and Ruges news factors in lead stories in the Daily Mail during March 1999

Date F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 Stories


1 March 4 4 12 1 0 5 6 0 2 6 4 11 20
2 March 12 7 19 4 2 10 6 1 2 10 8 12 25
3 March 11 7 17 9 4 11 11 3 9 10 12 19 25
4 March 3 5 14 5 3 6 5 2 3 8 9 15 22
5 March 9 2 16 3 2 9 6 1 3 12 5 13 20
6 March 2 2 8 1 0 5 6 1 1 7 5 3 17
8 March 11 0 22 1 1 5 2 1 3 6 8 14 23
9 March 14 1 15 1 1 5 4 2 1 10 5 10 22
10 March 8 2 3 0 1 1 0 9 0 6 1 1 9
11 March 15 1 20 4 3 8 7 1 2 8 5 10 25
12 March 11 4 14 4 4 6 8 1 2 9 12 14 24
13 March 6 2 8 0 0 6 4 0 2 5 5 8 18
15 March 10 4 19 4 0 5 3 1 4 12 4 13 21
16 March 4 1 5 5 2 4 4 5 3 5 9 7 18
17 March 5 0 3 1 3 0 7 0 1 8 6 3 18
18 March 4 4 7 1 0 6 5 1 2 6 12 6 21
19 March 4 3 4 2 4 3 6 1 2 7 8 5 21
20 March 5 7 10 4 2 6 0 0 2 5 6 10 16
22 March 3 2 4 6 0 3 6 0 3 9 4 2 20
23 March 5 1 1 1 0 3 3 0 0 6 8 4 20
24 March 5 0 2 1 0 3 4 0 0 9 10 4 25
25 March 6 2 4 2 3 2 6 0 2 6 4 2 18
26 March 6 1 6 4 0 2 4 2 4 6 6 2 19
27 March 15 8 16 5 2 6 6 3 6 10 6 13 17
29 March 4 0 0 1 0 2 5 0 0 7 2 0 18
30 March 5 0 0 0 0 0 5 0 0 5 4 0 18
31 March 8 0 0 0 0 6 2 0 0 3 5 3 17
Total 195 70 249 70 37 128 131 35 59 201 173 204 537

Galtung and Ruge were the politically signi cant for the Daily Mail and the
powerful, people in positions of auth- Daily Telegraph. It is perhaps surpris-
ority. As it stands, elite people is too ing that this factor did not constitute a
broad a category to shed much light on higher proportion of the total number of
what makes news in our current cul- stories examined. In contrast to the
tural climate. It should also be noted suggestion of Galtung and Ruge, many
there were many references to elite events became news even when, on
organisations or institutions, such as the face of it, they did not unfold at a
the United Nations, the Vatican, Ox- frequency suited to newspaper pro-
bridge, Eton and NATO and that this duction. There were a number of sto-
factor could help make a story as ries that provided no clear timescale of
newsworthy as could references to elite when the event/issue unfolded. This
individuals. may have been deliberately obscured
because the news was not particularly
contemporary, possibly due to the par-
F1 FREQUENCE. A common-sense asitic nature of the media, with national
notion of news as information that is papers picking up stories already pub-
new would lead one to expect this fac- lished in local newspapers some time
tor to score highly, and indeed fre- ago. This was particularly true of The
quency appears to be particularly Sun, which seemed to rate stories
272 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

Table 5. Galtung and Ruges news factors in lead stories in the Daily Telegraph during March
1999
Date F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8 F9 F10 F11 F12 Stories
1 March 4 2 9 3 1 4 5 1 5 4 8 7 13
2 March 11 4 12 6 1 9 9 1 4 8 5 6 15
3 March 9 5 8 7 1 9 8 2 6 5 6 8 12
4 March 8 4 11 6 5 3 5 2 6 7 6 10 15
5 March 11 7 13 10 2 4 7 1 8 12 5 12 18
6 March 6 2 8 3 4 2 3 1 1 9 3 7 14
8 March 8 1 12 2 1 3 3 0 3 7 1 6 13
9 March 8 1 11 8 1 3 0 0 6 13 4 4 16
10 March 6 1 9 3 2 3 0 1 1 7 4 10 13
11 March 9 3 17 7 4 6 4 4 5 12 6 10 23
12 March 12 1 9 6 2 3 3 2 7 13 6 3 17
13 March 5 0 5 3 1 4 2 0 3 7 3 5 13
15 March 4 1 4 3 3 3 2 2 4 7 4 6 11
16 March 5 3 5 11 4 2 3 3 7 9 5 6 17
17 March 2 1 0 12 1 1 4 0 2 7 3 2 11
18 March 2 1 1 2 1 1 6 2 5 10 3 2 18
19 March 4 1 2 1 2 1 11 0 5 10 5 3 18
20 March 8 7 8 9 2 1 6 3 8 8 4 9 16
22 March 0 1 2 0 0 1 4 0 2 5 1 0 11
23 March 3 1 0 2 0 0 6 1 3 11 3 1 16
24 March 3 1 2 1 0 0 5 1 3 5 4 2 15
25 March 8 3 3 6 0 0 8 3 6 9 5 2 19
26 March 7 3 0 2 0 1 7 4 3 2 0 1 12
27 March 10 5 12 8 2 5 4 1 8 8 5 7 13
29 March 2 1 0 1 0 0 5 3 1 2 2 0 7
30 March 9 1 1 1 0 0 9 0 3 5 6 3 16
31 March 5 0 0 2 0 1 7 2 2 7 2 2 13
Total 169 61 164 115 40 70 136 40 117 209 109 134 395

more on their entertainment value than ries was almost equal to the number of
on their freshness. negative stories: for example, The Sun
on 10 March 1999 carried four gener-
F12. REFERENCE TO SOMETHING ally positive page leads, mostly wel-
NEGATIVE. The old adage that the coming budget proposals, as opposed
only good news is bad news may not to ve page leads about something
be literally true, but references to negative. It is possible that good
something negative were identi ed in news items might feature even more
more than one-third of the stories prominently if all stories, rather than
analysed. The Daily Mail appears to be page leads, were examined. However,
particularly keen on negative or bad there is a larger question here: bad
news stories. But this nding should news for whom? The Daily Mail ran a
be considered alongside the surprising number of stories presenting things as
amount of good news that all three bad news which might be seen by oth-
newspapers reported. Positive stories ers as good news: the UK govern-
included acts of heroism, resourceful ments introduction of a statutory
children, miracle recoveries, lucky es- minimum wage, for example, was pre-
capes, happy anniversaries, prize win- sented as bad news for employers and
ning, and triumphs over adversity. On employees alike, when it could equally
some days, the number of positive sto- have been presented as good news for
WHAT IS NEWS? 273

one or both sides of industry. Similarly, pected stories in the Daily Mail than in
aspects of the budget were presented the other two titles.
in one paper as good news and in
another as bad news. A story may be F4. MEANINGFULNESS (cultural prox-
presented as bad news simply because imity). F9. REFERENCE TO ELITE
this angle re ects that papers political NATIONS. The distinct lack of over-
stance or the perceived views of its seas news in the tabloids (on most
readers. days, The Sun and the Daily Mail car-
ried little or no foreign news) means
F11. REFERENCE TO PERSONS. It that neither of these factors gured
might be anticipated that this factor prominently in the ndings. As might
would be prominent because journal- have been expected, both factors were
istic training and professional practice considerably higher in the Daily Tele-
demand that the reporter seeks out the graph.
individual people involved in events,
either to provide human interest or to F2. THRESHOLD. The relatively low
obtain quotes from all sides involved position of this factor is surprising and
(to present the story as an objective reveals that newspapers do not
account). This factor was ranked as the necessarily cover stories for the rea-
third most important for The Sun, the sons that those outside the industry
fth for the Daily Mail, but only the might expect: because it affects large
eighth for the Daily Telegraph, indicat- numbers of people or is considered
ing that tabloid newspapers generally important in some other way. We fre-
carry more human interest stories and quently found ourselves asking: What
a great deal of their news is person- is this story doing here? To some ex-
alised. tent, this might re ect a shift away from
hard news. Certainly, all three titles
carried many stories of little apparent
F7. CONTINUITY. This factor was not signi cance or amplitude, presumably
always easy to identify over a relatively because such stories were seen as
short period and this may explain why entertaining or relating to the perceived
this is not higher, given that the media lifestyle of readers.
use other media as news sources and
competing media feel obliged to cover F5. CONSONANCE. F8. COMPO-
the same stories and issues. Continuity SITION. These two factors do not
may well have gured as a more im- score highly, which is probably an indi-
portant factor if features, editorials and cation that they have less to do with
letters had been studied in addition to events and more to do with news as
news stories. process; therefore we were largely left
to speculate on the reasons behind the
F6. UNEXPECTEDNESS. The rare decisions of news selectors.
event is rarer than might have been
expected, possibly re ecting the fact Those Parts of the News that Gal-
that much news gathering is routine, tung and Ruge Did Not Uncover
dominated by the news diary and by
prearranged events or pseudo- Exploring the news almost four
events, as more organisations be- decades after Galtung and Ruge, and
come adept at the skills of news with a focus on domestic as well as
management. The gures show a foreign news, was perhaps bound to
signi cantly greater number of unex- reveal a number of important news
274 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

values that were not discussed by Gal- tunity then it was often included even
tung and Ruge. Furthermore, in con- when there was little obvious intrinsic
trast to Galtung and Ruges starting newsworthiness. When combined with
point, this study has suggested that a top celebrity or a royal, the combi-
many news stories are not related to nation seemed to almost guarantee in-
events at all. We now turn to discuss clusion (for example: A love tonic for
these points of difference before going Anthea, Daily Mail, 26 March 1999).
on to draw up our own taxonomy of Closely connected to picture opportuni-
contemporary news values. ties were stories featuring attractive
women (often crime stories), which fre-
quently appeared complete with pic-
Entertainment tures (for example: Jealous lover who
killed lm starlet is jailed for life, Daily
Many stories were included not be- Telegraph, 30 March 1999, which in-
cause they provided serious infor- cluded a large semi-naked photograph
mation for the reader, but apparently of the victim). This prompted us to
merely to entertain the reader. This speculate about the number of stories
proved to be a major factor, particularly concerning other female victims of
for The Sun (for example: I had a crime which had been ignored because
beany baby: non-stop Heinz got me the individuals were not deemed at-
pregnant, says mum Vicky, 16 March tractive enough. And it would seem to
1999). It should be noted that humor- support the ndings of a study pub-
ous and entertaining articles, stories lished by the Women in Journalism
about sex, celebrities and royaltyor group which suggested that the criteria
stories that were dramatic but of no used to select pictures of women are
apparent widespread social different from those applied to men.
signi cancewere not con ned to the Mary Ann Sieghart, assistant editor of
tabloids but were also prominent in the The Times, said she often heard the
Daily Telegraph. This seems to offer newsroom question, Is she photo-
some support for Franklins contention genic? (Carter et al., 1999).6
that broadsheet newspapers have an 2. REFERENCE TO SEX. Continuing
increasingly tabloid agenda (Franklin, this theme, a large number of stories
1997, pp. 710). As Bourdieu notes, referred to sex (for example: Twin-city
the focus of such a tabloid agenda is slicker and a tale of two blondes, Daily
on those things which are apt to Mail, 16 March 1999; and Wren humil-
arouse curiosity but require no analy- iated by superiors sex banter, Daily
sis (1998, p. 51). It must be noted, Telegraph, 23 March 1999). Such sto-
however, that the range of news in the ries often also provide good picture op-
Daily Telegraph was far greater than in portunities. While sex may have been
the middlebrow or tabloid papers, and tangential to a story, this angle was
that light-hearted stories were not often emphasised and the story pre-
necessarily excluding hard news on its sented as one about sex, making sex
pages. an important factor in contemporary
The following subcategories help news values.
make up the entertainment package
that now forms a large part of news 3. REFERENCE TO ANIMALS. Ani-
coverage. mals also featured prominently, partic-
ularly in the Daily Mail and The Sun
1. PICTURE OPPORTUNITIES. If a (though are by no means shunned by
story provided a good picture oppor- the Daily Telegraph). This often had
WHAT IS NEWS? 275

the added advantage of providing an did not consider features, TV sections


appealing picture opportunity (for ex- or showbiz gossip pages. Related to
ample: Left behind with love, a dying this area is the emergence of stories
mans best friend, Daily Mail, 18 openly based on ction, but presented
March 1999; Yappy landings: pup An- as real life, for example news stories
nie falls 120ft off cliff and trots away, based on TV characters (not the ac-
The Sun, 18 March 1999; and Spaniel tors) or on soap scenarios. For exam-
has a spring in its step after 250ft ple, The Sun carried a page on how the
plunge, Daily Mail, 29 March 1999). budget would affect characters from
Coronation Street (10 March 1999) and
4. HUMOUR. Humorous stories were a story on what happens on the wed-
popular with news selectors (for exam- ding day of another character from the
ple: Nutty Nick pays 7,000 for gold same soap (6 March 1999). It is also
gnashers, The Sun, 1 March 1999). worth noting that The Sun often carried
Very often these stories appear to have stories about TV which either explicitly
little intrinsic newsworthiness in any or implicitly attacked or undermined the
conventional sense, and may not even BBC (for example: BBC Nuked at Ten:
be particularly funny on the face of it, ITV score huge hit as millions tune in to
but they are written in a humorous style new evening line-up, The Sun, 15
and usually provide an opportunity for a March 1999). The same issue included
subeditor to produce a punning head- a story attacking a BBC docusoap, Jail-
line (for example: Keep you hands off birds, and an editorial supporting this
our Willey, The Sun, 12 March 1999; line and urging readers to stick to ITVs
Fast Food: two wives take a Damon Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
Hill cardboard cut-out to dinner, The In addition to the above elements,
Sun, 3 March 1999; A game of chew which have been grouped under
scarves: Andy nibbles souvenir to bring the broad heading Entertainment,
his footie team luck, The Sun, 17 there are two news factors discussed
March 1999). In this sense, headline earlier.
opportunity might be said to be a fac-
tor in selecting a story for the tabloids.
Reference to Something Positive
5. SHOWBIZ/TV. Stories about TV
Examples of this good news factor
stars, particularly those featured in
include: My 10 lifesaver: trainers rub-
soap operas and docusoaps, and other
ber soles kept electric shock boy alive,
celebrities were rife in The Sun, but all
The Sun, 30 March 1999; and 3.8m
the papers carried more than their fair
win lets father ful l a pledge of love,
share of stories about what can be
Daily Mail, 31 March 1999.
described as showbiz (for example:
My new boy and gel, by quiffmaster
Beckham, concerning footballer David Reference to Elite Organisations
Beckhams latest haircut, Daily Mail, 29 or Institutions
March 1999; Posh Spice gives birth to
a baby boy, Daily Telegraph, 5 March As previously noted, the involvement of
1999, the same day as the Telegraph an elite organisation may generate
covered the marriage breakdown of for- news coverage of an event that may
mer Olympic swimmer and TV host have been ignored had it involved a
Sharon Davies). These stories, and non-elite organisation (for example:
countless others like them, were cov- Etons killer game craze, The Sun, 17
ered on prime news pages; our study March 1999).
276 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

Agendas, Promotions and archy of news values (for the reasons


Campaigns discussed in the section on methodol-
ogy), our ndings do suggest that cer-
A nal category of news not considered tain combinations of news values
by Galtung and Ruge, but which this appear almost to guarantee coverage
study suggests is signi cant, is a news- in the press. For example, a story with
papers own agenda. This could in- a good picture or picture opportunity
clude The Suns anti-BBC knocking combined with any reference to an A-
stories cited above (which could be list celebrity, royalty, sex, TV or a cud-
said to serve the commercial interests dly animal appears to make a heady
of Rupert Murdoch). During the period brew that news editors nd almost im-
under consideration, The Sun also ran possible to resist. This would perhaps
a prominent Save our truckers cam- support the contention of Franklin
paign (complete with logo), featuring (1997), Langer (1998), Bourdieu
many populist stories related to in- (1998), Barnett and Seymour (2000)
creases in the price of road tax and and others that tabloid news values
diesel (for example, see the front page are increasingly found in traditionally
splash: White van jam: tax demo to non-tabloid media, i.e. broadsheet
cripple capital, The Sun, 18 March newspapers and television news. But,
1999). Promotions also play a part while our study may tend to support
here, for example The Sun had regular anecdotal evidence of such claims, we
items based on its own promotions can make no statistical claims for this,
such as Free Books for Schools, fea- since it was not the focus of our study
turing news stories about particular and we did not explore changes over
schools. Such stories appeared less time.
because of any intrinsic news value
than because they served to promote
commercial interests and/or reader loy- Conclusion: towards a
alty and identi cation. For its part, the contemporary set of news
Daily Mail featured a page lead with values
two photographs plugging the Ideal
Home Show, sponsored by none other Our ndings underline Tunstalls con-
than the Daily Mail (Millennium cern that, by focusing on coverage of
dreams, 18 March 1999). At the same three major international crises, Gal-
time, the Daily Mail was running a tung and Ruge ignored day-to-day
Free Private Lee Clegg campaign, coverage of lesser, domestic and
aimed at overturning the murder con- bread-and-butter news (Tunstall, 1971,
viction of a British soldier who shot p. 21). In short, despite the way it has
dead a teenage girl in Northern Ireland. been so widely cited, Galtung and
Thus, the Clegg story was given Ruges taxonomy of news factors ap-
greater coverage in the Daily Mail (in pears to ignore the majority of news
terms of column inches, prominence stories. Further, while the gures given
and continuity) than in other newspa- above suggest that news stories do
pers. frequently contain the factors identi ed
by Galtung and Ruge, our study adds
weight to Seatons contention that
A Hierarchy of Values? many items of news are not reports of
events at all, but pseudo-events, free
While it is not possible unequivocally to advertising or public relations spin. But
demonstrate empirically a clear hier- whereas Seaton is concerned about
WHAT IS NEWS? 277

the growth of organisations, profes- stories. It should also be remembered


sions and skills aimed at manipulating that journalists are adept at selecting a
the media (Curran and Seaton, 1997, particular issue or subevent from an
pp. 27778), our study suggests that event as it unfolds, even when it may
the media themselves may also be re- unfold at an overall pace that does not
sponsible for the prominence of many coincide with newspaper production.
apparently manufactured stories that Similarly, most journalists are trained to
have little relation to actual events. We write unambiguous angles to stories
nd ourselves agreeing with Hartley that may be ambiguous, complex or
that, in contrast to some of the more unclear. It could be that frequency
mechanistic analyses of newspaper has become less important for newspa-
content, we should be constantly aware pers as they are increasingly outpaced
that identifying news factors or news by electronic media (McNair, 1998,
values may tell us more about how p. 179). If so, newspapers may increas-
stories are covered than why they were ingly be left to provide background or
chosen in the rst place (Hartley, 1982, analytical copy about a news event that
p. 79). The same point may be made has broken previously on television, ra-
about the useful additional factors sug- dio or the web. Newspapers may not
gested by Bell and discussed above: attempt to compete with broadcasting,
competition, cooption, predictability preferring entertainment above hard
and prefabrication (Bell, 1991, pp. 159 news. For all these reasons, we would
60). not include either frequency or
For these reasons, and because of unambiguity in a contemporary set of
the problematic issues intrinsic to Gal- news values.
tung and Ruges factors discussed Certainly, entertainment proved to
above, it must be concluded that the be pervasive in all newspapers, though
much-cited Galtung and Ruge list of particularly in The Sun, where it was
news values should be regarded as often dominant. This reinforces
open to question rather than recited as Franklins description of a prosaic per-
if written on a tablet of stone: the same ception of journalism which stresses
critical scepticism should also be ap- the need for journalists to entertain as
plied, of course, to the set of contem- well as inform: The history of the
porary news values we propose after a British press, since the emergence of
nal consideration of the individual fac- popular journalism, he argues has
tors discussed above. been a history of newspapers increas-
A number of Galtung and Ruges fac- ingly shifting its [sic] editorial emphasis
tors appear to be problematic to ident- towards entertainment (Franklin, 1997,
ify while others may be identi able but p. 72). Therefore, no contemporary set
less in any intrinsic properties of a po- of news values is complete without an
tential news story and more in the pro- entertainment factor.
cess of how a story has been Some of Galtung and Ruges factors
constructed or written up. Examples of remain resonant today and can usefully
the latter are frequency and be incorporated, if worded slightly dif-
unambiguity. Frequency of an event ferently. Meaningfulness and
is often arti cial today, re ecting how reference to elite nations might be
news can be created or managed by better subsumed into the wider cate-
the public relations industry. gory of relevance to readers. This
Newness, which is related to would include reference to culturally
frequency, appears to be more im- familiar countries that are not necess-
portant for hard news than for softer arily elite nations (such as
278 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

popular holiday destinations, Common- Galtung and Ruge included


wealth countries or the countries of reference to persons, since they be-
signi cant immigrant groups in Britain) lieved that many news stories were
and deal with the stories perceived as personi ed. Indeed, as Schudson
being of interest and value to particular (1996, p. 153) points out, they sug-
readership pro les (such as parents, gested that reporters write of persons
motorists, people with mortgages, etc.). and not structures, individuals and not
Consonance and composition social forces, because Western culture
could be incorporated into the category views individuals as masters of their
of the newspaper agenda. The news own destiny and that storytelling de-
selector may indeed be predicting or mands identi cation among readers.
wanting something to happen, but we But, while our study of the UK press
would argue that this is related to the threw up plenty of human interest sto-
cultural, commercial or political climate ries that might satisfy this need for
of their particular newsroom. The news identi cation, we did not nd that most
selector will be only too fully aware of a stories were personi ed in this way.
papers political stance and the percep- News stories often revolved around key
tion of what regular readers want from organisations, issues and institutions.
their newspaper. In some cases, the The conventional journalistic practice
news selector may well be required to of obtaining quotes meant that repre-
go further and actively manufacture sentatives of such organisations would
the news stories that appear as part of be quoted, but many stories were
a papers campaign or promotion (sto- nevertheless not personi ed in any
ries that would not ordinarily be sought meaningful sense. The categories of
out or noticed). Journalists may also be the power elite and celebrity satis-
encouraged to write stories that under- factorily cover many of those stories
mine or attack an employers economic that do revolve around individuals, and
rival while promoting a proprietors we would include human interest as a
economic interests, such as anti-BBC more precise subcategory of
stories in Murdochs Sun. entertainment stories that have no
Composition, as de ned by Galtung great social import but which are enter-
and Ruge, is related to their notion of taining to read.
continuity. We prefer the category of Galtung and Ruges concepts of
follow-upa term commonly used by threshold and unexpectedness re-
journalistswhich is more clearly main useful categories but could be
de ned as being the latest develop- better described as magnitude and
ment in or somehow related to a pre- surprise, the latter category expanded
vious newsworthy story. to include unexpected contrasts.
Galtung and Ruges category of
reference to elite people is not partic-
ularly useful as it stands, since it is News Values: a contemporary set
taken to include everyone from prime
ministers to B-movie actors and Se- Informed by our sampling of the UK
cond Division footballers. We propose press, by a review of the relevant litera-
separate categories referring to the ture, and by our own practice as jour-
power elite, which should include elite nalists, readers and academics, we
organisations and institutions as well tentatively propose the following list of
as people, and celebrity, referring to news values. Although there are ex-
people who are already famous ceptions to every rule, we have found
whether or not they are powerful. that news stories must generally satisfy
WHAT IS NEWS? 279

one or more of the following require- in the numbers of people involved or in


ments to be selected: potential impact.
1. THE POWER ELITE. Stories con-
cerning powerful individuals, organisa- 8. RELEVANCE. Stories about issues,
tions or institutions. groups and nations perceived to be
relevant to the audience.
2. CELEBRITY. Stories concerning
people who are already famous.
9. FOLLOW-UP. Stories about subjects
3. ENTERTAINMENT. Stories concern- already in the news.
ing sex, showbusiness, human interest,
animals, an unfolding drama, or offer- 10. NEWSPAPER AGENDA. Stories
ing opportunities for humorous treat- that set or t the news organisations
ment, entertaining photographs or witty own agenda.
headlines.

4. SURPRISE. Stories that have an The news values in daily application


element of surprise and/or contrast. by tens of thousands of journalists may
indeed be opaque, as suggested by
5. BAD NEWS.7 Stories with particu- Hall (1973, p. 181). We offer this study,
larly negative overtones, such as and our proposed contemporary set of
con ict or tragedy. news values, as a contribution to the
process of making news values more
6. GOOD NEWS. Stories with particu- transparent and our understanding of
larly positive overtones such as res- them more up to date. Future research
cues and cures. may help shed more light on how effec-
tive our list of news values is in render-
7. MAGNITUDE. Stories that are per- ing news selection a more transparent
ceived as suf ciently signi cant either and better-understood process.8

Notes
1
Galtung and Ruge looked at 1262 press cuttingsincluding news items, features, editorials and raders
lettersconcerning the crises in the Congo (1960), Cuba (1960) and Cyprus (1964).
2
We considered every issue of the Daily Telegraph, The Sun and the Daily Mail published during the randomly
selected month of March 1999.
3
We excluded Sunday newspapers, since, in the UK at least, they generally have a less news-driven agenda
than do the dailies.
4
We did, however, nd some blurring of the lines between news, features and comment pieces, particularly in
The Sun and Daily Mail.
5
It should be pointed out that broadsheet newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph have more stories to the
page, including very prominent stories that do not feature in our study because they are not page leads.
Therefore, its page leads form a lower proportion of its overall news content. However, we decided to focus
on page leads because their prominent positioning in the hierarchy of news can be taken as re ecting the
news values of the journalists involved in selecting, subediting and editing stories on newspapers.
6
Future research exploring a gendered critique of journalistic news valuesand perhaps even a gendered
critique of the academic study of news valuesmay provide further insights not discussed in this paper. The
womens editor of The Guardian claims, News values are still male values (Brooks, 1999).
7
It might be thought that the categories bad news and good news would include everything, but that is not
the case, since there are stories that have neither a particularly negative or positive basis. Other stories may,
of course, be given negative or positive slants by journalists. The reason for including numbers 5 and 6 in our
contemporary set of news values is that the presence or pretence of particularly good or bad newstriumph
or tragedyincreases the likelihood of something being covered by the news media.
280 TONY HARCUP AND DEIRDRE ONEILL

8
Although this study has focused on the UK national press, it would be illuminating to compare our ndings with
the categorisation of news values operating at local, regional and international levels; in broadcasting and
online media as well as print; to explore changes over time; and to take the process further through interviews
with working journalists.

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