News is information about current events, usually delivered in the form of a story. Newspapers, magazines, radio and television are all sources of news. People read, watch or listen to the news for a variety of reasons. These may include a desire to be informed, a concern for social and political issues or a general interest in the happenings around them. The purpose of news is to tell stories that are interesting and relevant to the reader.
In order to make the grade as news, a story must be of significant magnitude and have a sense of urgency. It should be new (not something that happened a week ago) and must contain details of the event, a background story on why it is significant and some quotes from people involved. The story should also be factual and free from opinion.
What qualifies as a news item will vary from society to society, though there are some common factors. The most important is the sense of immediacy. An incident that occurred yesterday is no longer news; it has been covered by other media and is probably already known to the public. A good journalist will pick up on this and aim to get the news out before everyone else.
Other criteria are the extent to which the incident affects a large number of people, whether it involves violence or scandal and whether it is unusual. The fact that a story is exclusive and first-hand adds to its appeal, as does the presence of a celebrity or the involvement of the local authority. In addition, some studies have suggested that a sense of importance is one of the deciding factors in newsworthiness.
A final element that makes a story newsworthy is the degree to which it challenges accepted views or conventions. For example, the fact that women can be priests is controversial and therefore newsworthy. In addition, the fact that an archbishop has spoken out against the Roman Catholic Church’s policy of excluding women from the priesthood is also significant and newsworthy.
As well as informing, an element of entertainment is often present in the news, as illustrated by the popularity of music, drama and cartoons in newspapers and radio and television. Despite the fact that most of us now live in highly mediated societies, it is possible to be surprised by events and to have a sense of excitement about them. It is, however, the job of a journalist to present this news to their readers in a way that will not spoil their appetite for knowledge. This means that the news should be brief so that they can read it, clearly written so that they can understand it and picturesquely presented so that they will appreciate it. Ideally the news should make the reader say “Gee Whiz!”. This is not easy to achieve, but it is the job of all journalists to strive for it. Without it, a free press is nothing more than advertising and propaganda.