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How do journalists employ news factors to construct newsworthiness? And how do they vary across different kinds of news outlets? Read on to learn more!

In their recent publication “A general pattern in the construction of economic newsworthiness? Analyzing news factors in popular, quality, regional, and financial newspapers” Mark Boukes and Rens Vliegenthart investigate the presence of news factors in economic news to find out whether different types of news outlets emphasize different news factors. The findings have implications for scholars to move toward a more detailed understanding of how newsworthiness is constructed in different types of news outlets.

About the research

Using a manual content analysis (n=6489), the study analysed the presence of seven news factors in economic news in nine Dutch newspapers belonging to four different types of news outlets (popular, quality, regional and financial newspapers). The content analysis covered news articles between 1 February 2015 and 8 July 2015.

News factors and newsworthiness

As an events’ newsworthiness largely determines whether it will be covered in the news media, journalists have to ensure high newsworthiness of their stories. The study follows Staab’s (1990) functional model, which states that journalists can construct newsworthiness by ascribing particular news factors to an event. Previous research identified seven news factors to be repeatedly involved in journalists’ considerations of what would entail newsworthiness: (1) personification, (2) damage or, more generally, negativity, (3) eliteness (4) influence and relevance, (5) controversy (6) geographical proximity, and (7) continuity. So far, journalism research has neglected to investigate whether different types of news outlets make use of or emphasize different news factors.

Theoretically, the concept of newsworthiness can be split into two components, news factors and news values. While news factors are the qualities of a news story, news values depend on the journalistic assessment of the importance of the factors. Therefore, journalists of one type of media outlet may attach more value to particular news factors than journalists of other outlet types. As news outlets are commercial enterprises, their attribution of values should reflect the orientation and interest of their particular target audience.

Hypotheses

For each of the newspapers, we had expectations about which news factors they would especially focus on. The rationale for each follows below, but it is important to notice – now already – that not all of the hypotheses were confirmed empirically.

As popular newspapers aim to reach an as large as possible audience, they may concentrate on the commercial news values and follow what the audience is interested in. This means that they use more personalization, as it makes content interesting and comprehensible for their audience. Furthermore, they might also focus more on negativity, since it has shown to trigger audience attention. The first hypothesis is therefore:

H1:  News factors (a) personification and (b) negativity will be more prominent in popular newspapers than in other newspaper types.

Quality newspapers’ key goals, on the other hand, is enhancing insights and knowledge of their audience. As journalists of quality newspapers highly value objectivity, they usually portray multiple and potentially conflicting perspectives, hence strongly value to controversy. Furthermore, they employ the news factor “influence and relevance”, as they try to focus more strongly on the potential impact a topic has on society. Connected to this, they also emphasize on eliteness, since important individuals, organizations or governments generally have a significant impact on society. Hypothesis two is therefore:

H2: News factors (a) controversy, (b) influence and relevance, and (c) eliteness will be more prominent in quality newspapers than in other newspaper types.

Since regional newspapers have a local audience, they are expected to value the news factor “geographic proximity”. Furthermore, research shows that audiences are especially interested in coverage “from within”, which means presenting the perspective of local people and focus on their personal and emotional stories. In line with this, H3 is as follows:

H3: News factors (a) geographical proximity and (b) personification will be more prominent in regional newspapers than in other newspaper types.

Consumers of financial media want to be informed about news that can be used when making financial decisions. Therefore, financial newspapers focus on specialist news, which follow a different logic. This means that almost all news factors are less relevant to them as to general newspapers. Nevertheless, it remains important to inform about the potential impact news stories may have for readers’ investments, which implies that the news factor ‘influence and relevance’ probably still plays a strong role. Hypothesis four is therefore:

H4: (a) Most news factors, (b) expect for influence and relevance, will be less prominent in financial newspapers than in other newspaper types.

What are the findings?

Relative to financial and quality outlets, popular newspapers especially emphasize personification, negativity and geographical proximity. Quality newspapers, in contrast, do not differ from other newspaper types on news factors that were expected to be most distinctive for them: Eliteness, influence, and relevance, nor controversy are found more frequently in articles of the quality newspapers, making these mainstream news factors. Regional newspapers score high on the same news factors as popular newspapers, meaning personification, negativity and geographical proximity. This indicates a spill-over from tabloid news values to regional news outlets. As expected, the financial outlet emphasizes the least amount of news values, not even, as was expected, on the news factor influence and relevance. Financial newspapers are a specialist outlet, which probably makes the presence of news factors less important to construct newsworthiness, compared to the other types of news outlets.

The findings show that different newspaper types attach different value to particular news factors in economic news. This provides a deeper insight into the journalistic construction of newsworthiness across different types of news outlets. Question for future research, hence, is what the consequences of particular news factors would be for subsequent journalistic decisions. One may expect, for example, that stories with more news factors will be published more prominently. Furthermore, future research could extend the approach and investigate the use of news factors across medium types (e.g. newspaper, television and internet journalism).

What do you think about this topic? Let us know in the comments.

For more information check out the article in Journalism (open-access) and get acquainted with the details of the research.