In this essay, I intend to show that the values of the news in journalism has not changed with the advent of the Internet. Innovating news gathering with extra digital material and the dissemination of information has not changed the concept of news production and media is now only adapting itself to new structures and a fragmented public. In fact, the Internet has facilitated the spread and the access to information, adding digital material, such as photos and videos to the news.
To do so, I will start with the definition of news values, then, I will present a brief comparison of criteria used in the same media throughout different platforms, and to conclude, I will discuss what the Internet is effectively changing in journalism and the debate over quantity and diversity.
Definition of News Values
News values are defined as the criteria used by editors and journalists to decide which subjects are worth telling in the news media, considering the public interests, context, location or guideline from different vehicles. The principles used by the media today still follow the same as the ones established by Johan Galtung and Marie Holmboe Ruge. While studying the news agenda for an international news story in 1965, they pointed out factors that are regarded to decide the criteria of what is to be approached.
- Frequency- Events that represent a cycle are often tended to be on the news.
- Threshold – The wider number of people the story affects, the higher the possibility for it to be reported.
- Unambiguity- Events that are clear to the public with only one possibility of interpretation are more likely to be chosen.
- Meaningfulness- The more identification the public has to the subject, the more relevant the story will be. Also known as “ Cultural Proximity”, this relates to the concerns people might have in common, regarding the same language, interests or preoccupations.
- Consonance- The pre-judgment that a journalist can have of an event to happen, the bigger the chance for the matter to be covered. Sometimes it can also reflect the expectation the journalist has for the event to happen. If society is waiting for an event to happen, journalists tend to never miss it.
- Unexpectedness- If the event is not expected and surprises the editors and the audience, it is more likely to gain attention and be reported.
- Continuity- A story that has already been reported will have a less tendency to be ambiguous, so it is likely to be reported.
- Composition- Stories have to be balanced to compose the whole news presented to the public. Editors must diversify the topics reported to the wider subjects approached.
- Reference to Elite Nations- Events that involve elite nations, regions or people are more likely to be reported.
- Reference to Elite People- Those who are referenced for public are also more likely to become news than the ones who are not. Media will always tend to pay attention to important people.
- Personalisation- Stories that can be shown affecting a particular person make it easier to be understood by the individual making these events are more meaningful and less ambiguous.
- Negativity- An event that affects society or individuals negatively are more likely to attract the public attention, so it will be selected more often by the editors. Tragedies, violence and natural disasters are often approached repeatedly by the news because of their impact and public interest.
Has the advent of the Internet changed online and offline news values? A brief comparison to show it does not.
Examining the online news and the printed version of the same newspapers in United Kingdom, I confirmed that the selection of what is being reported and presented still follows the same criteria defined by Galtund and Ruge defined 45 years ago, but, now with a different approach because of the variety of the audiences. What editors believe that attracts the public still follows the same old rules, but it now recognizes the distinction of the online and offline public. It is important to mention that the same large media organizations that dominate the news offline are are the same companies that dominate online news.
The Guardian’s headline on their website on the 21st of January 2011 stated “Officer faces inquiry after alleged affair with Alan Johnson’s wife”. In the printed version, the first page approached the same subject “Balls back at the heats of the Labour as Johnson quits over personal life”. Although the way the headline is presented in two different ways to the public, the criteria to select what is news remains the same.
The Internet headline used the words “affair” and “wife” to gather a higher number of clicks acknowledging that the Internet users are more likely to be attracted by celebrities and gossip. The broadsheet avoided the use of these words because they know that the printed version’s audience is more conservative. In these cases, both news are related to elite people, on different medias, using the same criteria.
Apart from adapting the same news to different audiences, The Guardian also adds a new content to its online version. It presents on its first page topics about technology, not presented on the printed version, as well as blogs. It even has a link for online dating. They assume that the interest for people who access their content online are more likely to be interested in technology, applications and software.
The daily tabloid, The Daily Mail also decides their front page regarding what their audience would like to see most, but always following their old proposal of woman’s interest. The online version uses the same criteria for selecting news as the printed broadsheet, mainly choosing celebrities and people who the British would identify and want to know about. They also follow the principle that elite people develop interest in their public. Always using the artifice of photos to grab people’s attention, both, online and offline versions of the same media, define their content referencing events to elite people and targeting women as their audience.
News on television also maintains their old criteria of good images. The Internet has facilitated the spread of good visualization of the facts and they have also taken advantage of it. The advance of technology helped people register facts with their own resources. TV News now uses user generated content found online or submitted by viewers, but they still filter it according to their own news values and criteria. Journalists are now having a new role in finding their sources amongst thousands of user generated content uploaded on the web.
What has Internet actually changed on the News Industry?
The way news is gathered and distributed is the most important change the Internet has brought into the news world. Differently from the old fashioned way that only used the sense of journalists to define what could be public interest, editors are now using technology to stay close to their public and find out what their interests are. From the newsroom, discussions in online forums are now being considered to define the criteria of the news. The audience has moved from passive to active participants on blogs and Twitter. They provide their own opinion acting as what is now known as “Citizen Journalists”. They often offer up their own version of breaking news. Charlie Beckett, the founder Director of the POLIS, forum for research and debate into journalism and Society at the London School of Economics, defined this transformation:
“Where before the news media produced its good in glorious isolation, now the consumer can provide information and views that contribute to a network of editorial product.”(Beckett, 2008, p. 48,49)
A good example for this new way of networking journalism occurred during the student protests in London over tuition fees in November of last year. The breaking news was mostly coming from Twitter. Even journalists were having their attention turned to this new media to follow the latest events. The interactive report from the BBC’s Anna Adams wrote: “It’s not often you can cover a story from your desk almost as well as you could if you were on the ground”, adding that ”the social media and networking sites meant the most powerful images from the student protests are broadcast online before they hit television screens”. This proves, once again, that the news would be the same reported on ground by the reporter, but Internet has made possible to produce news based on a wider area of coverage with less journalists while retaining the old news values.
Making the distribution of information easier, the Internet now has many different platforms able to connect to it. Computers, phones and iPads, for example, are all highly consumed products that allow people to receive information, not necessarily from big news media. Knowing that, big news names, like the “Daily Telegraph”, are now hosting spaces for their readers to have their own blogs. This interactive process of participating and adding information and opinion, is seen by Charlie Beckett, in a positive way:
“Networked journalism offers a solution to another challenge facing journalism. If the news media is to be able to communicate their diverse debates and understand their novel stories then it must be more diverse in itself. By that I mean the kind of people working in journalism, their class, ethnicity and backgrounds. But I also mean the different approaches they take and the variety of styles, subjects, and stories they tell. At present theirs is a lack of diversity of journalism”.(Beckett, 2010, p. 7)
As the public feels free to express themselves online, the democratization of the information is not limited. Audience and journalists can publish their own particular values on the web. This enables reporters to add their own criteria on the web, over what they are asked for via the guidelines of their media, adding news values to the Internet. Charlie Beckett has his own web page which he believes that his contact with the public is important to understand if his values are being well accepted.
Many journalists have their particular blog to post their actions so the public can follow and suggest ideas to be reported. They are now using available new tools to improve the gathering of information. On a simple tweet, it is possible for many followers, at the same time, to help find cases of people who had been affected on an issue being reported. Matt Riddley, author of the book,” When the Ideas Make Sex, The Role of Exchange in Cultural Evolution”, also sees the exchange of information in a positive way.
“The habit of exchanging one thing for another, is an unique human feature. No other animal does it. You can have a culture without exchange. Chimpanzees have culture. They teach each other traditions. They teach how to crack nuts with rocks, but this culture never expands, never grows or accumulates… And, the reason is because there is no exchange of ideas.” (Ridley, 2010)
The exchange of content between journalists and the public is clearly helping democracy and evolution all around the world. News of an attempt of a revolution in Iran burst onto the world stage through the Internet. The video of a murder of a young woman while protesting in Tehran’s streets was made by an amateur posted on the Internet which later spread to all the media. Journalism is developing news ways to find news and make it popular to the world as the majority of the population still have the television as their main outlet for information. As people get to exchange ideas, the evolution become inevitable.
During an interview with Stephen Sackur, for Hard Talk, on BBC, Clay Shirky, an influential writer on the Internet age, said:
“The printing press was the last media that we saw that dramatically increased not only the number of consumers but also the number of producers. After the printing press swept through Europe, the number of contemporary writers able to produce literature, fiction or not, exploded. The most salient effect of the Internet is to increase not only the number of consumers of digital material but also the number of producers of digital material” (Shirky, 2010)
As the number of people going online increases with amateurs sharing their own thoughts and digital content, the quality of the news will get better with more material and sources. The main media producers will always filter the huge amount of content on the Internet to expose it in a better way to the public. Using always their own criteria and values, the abundance of information always help the richness of the news. The BBC, for example, used a video made by an eyewitness of the attack of the royal car while driving through Central London, while protesters tried stop Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. That was the biggest news of the day, and without the facilities of the Internet, that story would have been impossible for an audience to realize how shocking the incident was. Although the footage increased the value of the story, it proves that networking is helpful and it doesn’t change the value that media uses to define their selections to their news. In this case, referencing a negative event with elite people was an unexpected incident and only added colour to it.
It’s important to mention that Internet has also changed the way news is interpreted. The news is becoming shorter very quickly. On the Internet, news is organised in a way where people have to click on links if they want to know more about the subject. The first display for the content is simple, clear and shorter. Even printed news is changing the way they compose their news. Internet and young users tend to prefer clear and short messages. In an article on The Guardian’s website about changes that the Internet is making on the way we think, a comment posted by someone in the public said about the more than five thousand word article: “I couldn’t be bothered to read the article, could you summarize it in a sentence?” not leaving any doubt that the Internet is shaping the way people consume news.
Why abundance not necessarily mean diversity on the International News?
It is common for people who check online news in different countries, to recognize the same story, using the sames photos, and the same sources. This happens because news media are still using news agencies as their principal provider for international news. Gathering news online is mainly exploited by the local media, and lately, distributed to world by these agencies. It is clear to conclude then, that if online and offline journalism share the same sources as news agencies, then they will also share their values.
The major Brazilian Media Globo, that also dominates the Internet, had recently posted on its online front page the case of Shrien and Anni Dewani, a couple that had a terrible ending after a murder in their honeymoon in South Africa. In Brazil, dozens of people get killed daily in the most diverse way and they don’t get to appear on the front page. There were many others international relevant fact at that time that deserved to be reported, but they gained no space.This happens because despite the advent the of the Internet, news agencies still dominate the content of international news. And, at that time, that was the top story in Britain, and probably also in Reuters which was established in London. Regardless to the wide field that the Internet offers to gather quick a vast number of information, News Agencies are still dictating what are the top stories.
Chris Paterson pointed out in his studies regarding international news on the Internet the reasons why it is an illusion to think the amount of content on the Internet brought news content to journalism.
“Apparently enormous amount of news on the Internet is easily available to the audience, but, there are two keys distinctions. One is between sites that produce original content and those that don’t, although Yahoo especially is blurring that distinction, and the other, is between those with human control over news selection and those pioneering automated selection, of which Google News is the leader.” (Paterson, Chris, p.59)
Although the ways of dissemination and gathering information has been facilitated, the number of variety in the news, online and offline, has not changed much. Chris Paterson, a lecturer at the Institute of Communications studies, in the UK, adds that the Internet in the context of International News, has become a mass media product through the personalization of information delivery and Internet journalism will continue to grow thinner as the blogs offer a variety of content that mainly depend on the same sources as everybody else. What has actually increased is the number of websites that put together news provided by others news media.
As producing news demands investments, its seems unlikely that the independent number of news online stories increased significantly. Apart from helping journalists flourish their stories with videos and digital material, the high number of Internet content is mostly contributing to the number of audience voices being heard. Rodney Benson understands that the main problem journalism is facing is the lack of investments and cut in the productions:
“The challenge for the future is threefold: first, to maintain and even strengthen the
autonomy of core mainstream media, whether public or private; second, to maintain and expand diversity at the margins (using the state to promote speech that is under-produced by the market, when necessary), and mos of all, third, to figure out ways to connect the two. In many ways, the Internet makes it easier to do this than before, but it won’t happen ‘naturally”. The problem of journalism is not one of audiences or advertising, it is one of underinvestment. Certainly, this is true. I would just add that when it comes to deliberative and pluralist democratic goals, an open mind may be just as important as money. Journalists will need to embrace these proposes at their own, and even loosen their monopoly on the public sphere in order to make more room for other professionals and citizens public to contribute. There are encouraging signs that at least some of the most respecter news media organisations are moving in this direction. In the age of the Internet, the challenge will be to bring together both private and public economic and cultural capital so that journalism can fully assume its democratic responsibilities” (Benson, 2010, p.199)
Charlie Beckett also agrees that the investment in network journalism is well spent money as ”Media literacy is a social good” but this does not seem to be going to happen. Recently, the BBC has announced a plan to sack 650 staff from BBC World Service. It means the less professional will be working on the variety and spread of quality information. The cuts will affect the services for Serbian, Albanian, Macedonians, Portuguese for Africa and English for the Caribbeans, and will reduce the audience that today is estimated at 180 million people. “Correspondents and news gathering are going. It is a very sad day” said Jeremy Dear, from the National Union of Journalists, in a report about the cuts on BBC.
As the future of journalism depends on the conscience of the public and private sector, audiences and journalists must attempt to use the Internet as a tool to make their voices heard. Democracy depends on the multiplicity of sources and content. With the reduction of professional working, online and offline, news agencies have the propensity to dominate the medias industries creating a homogeneous mass media which will be poor and inefficient.
To conclude, the Internet has definitely changed the way journalism operates, but despite many shifts, it still uses its old values and sources to produce the news. People gained more voice, more space, and the distribution of information has helped democracy who ever has access to it in the world. Journalism has been affected lately more with the lack of investments than being affected by the enormous quantity of content uploaded on the web. It’s criteria depends on the audience and even thought Internet facilitates communication within long distances, News Agencies are still the main source used by News Industry.
Word Count 3394
- Adams, Ana [BBC] [Online] ”Student protesters steal a march on social media” http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11735711 (Accessed January 18,2011)
- BBC [Online] “Royal Car attacked in protest after MP’s fee vote” (10th December 2010) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11954333 (Accessed 23rd January 2011)
- BBC (Online) “”Death video woman ‘’targeted by militia” http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8113552.stm (Accessed January 26, 2011)
- Beckett, Charlie “Super Media: Save Journalism So It Can Save the World” (2008) (PG 48,49, 148)
- Fenton, Natalie [New Media, Old News PG100] Rodney Benson “Futures of the News International, Considerarions and Further Reflections” (2010)
- Hard Talk with Clay Shirky [Exhibited 20 December 2010] http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00ww8dp/HARDtalk_Clay_Shirky/ (Accessed January 18,2011)
- Holder, Michael [Reuters] (G1 Online) “Milionário britânico é preso após assassinato na lua de mel” http://g1.globo.com/mundo/noticia/2010/12/milionario-britanico-e-preso-apos-assassinato-na-lua-de-mel.html (Accessed January 26, 2011)
- Horrocks, Peter [BBC Blogs] [Online] “Value of citizen journalism” http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2008/01/value_of_citizen_journalism.html
- Naughton, John [The Guardian] [Online] “Internet: Is it changing the way we think?” http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2010/aug/15/internet-brain-neuroscience-debate
- (Accessed January 21,2011)
- Maddox,[Online] David “Silencing the voice of Britain- fury as BBC World Service cuts 650 jobs”http://www.people.co.uk/videos-pictures/video/2011/01/26/bbc-world-service-axes-650-jobs-115875-22877715/
- Shirky, Clay, “Here Comes Everybody” How Change Happens When People Come Together” (2008)
- O’Neil, Deidre and Tony Harcup (What is news? Galtung and Ruge revisited) Journalism Studies(Volume 2- 1999) (Pg 262,263, 264)
- Paterson, Chris (International News on the Internet) “International News on the Internet: Why more is less” (2007) (Pg 59)
- Riddley, Matt “When Ideas Makes Sex” http://www.ted.com/talks/matt_ridley_when_ideas_have_sex.html (Accessed January 26, 2011)
- The Daily Mail [Broadsheet] (January 21, 2011)
- The Guardian [Broadsheet] (January 21, 2011)