The term “news factors” denotes characteristics of news stories about events and topics that contribute to making them newsworthy. Other than events (e.g., the attacks on the US of September 11, 2001) and topics (terrorism), news factors like “damage” are scientific constructs, which can be related to all kinds of events or topics. News factors are regarded as – among other things – causes which make news stories newsworthy: the more news factors a news story carries, the more newsworthy is it. For example, a news story about a well-known actor killed in a car accident (two news factors: “prominent person” and “damage”) is more newsworthy than a news story about an unknown person killed (one news factor: “damage”). Besides the number of news factors, their intensity has an influence on the newsworthiness of news stories. A news story on three people killed is more newsworthy than a news story on one person killed.
History Of The Concept
The concept was first used in the seventeenth century by the German author Stieler (1969), who particularly elaborated on the importance and proximity of events and on the relevance of damage (war) and deviation (crime). After Lippmann (1961) had published his reflections on the newsworthiness of events, Merz (1925) presented the first quantitative analysis of news factors in the press. A decade later, the term “news factor” was familiar in the US and catalogs of news factors had become a standard element of textbooks for journalism students (Warren 1959). They had become aids for the training of students and the processing of news in the news media. From there, the term spread into public discourse about the production of news, offering a plausible and socially desirable explanation for a complex phenomenon.
In the mid-1960s, Östgaard (1965), and Galtung and Ruge (1965) presented catalogs of news factors that were not only inspired by previous contributions, but were also parts of elaborated theories of newsworthiness. According to Östgaard, one set of news factors is “foreign to the news process” (influences of news sources, publishers, etc.) and another set is “inherent in the news process” (simplification, identification, sensationalism, etc.). Later, only the second set was regarded as news factors; the first was dealt with in different contexts. According to Galtung and Ruge, culture-free news factors, such as unexpectedness, and culture-bound news factors, such as reference to elite people, can be distinguished; that is, not all news factors are of the same relevance in different cultures. These news factors have different news values. Östgaard describes a “news barrier,” and Galtung and Ruge a “threshold,” which has to be surmounted before an event gets a chance to become a news story, and before a news story has any chance of being published. A similar assumption can be found in theories of media effects.
Until the mid-1970s, many authors used the terms “news factors” and “news values” synonymously. Schulz (1976) explicitly distinguished news factors from news values as indicated by the placement and space or time devoted to a news story. In addition, he developed Likert-type scales, which indicate the intensity of news factors, for example the degree of damage. According to Schulz, the news value assigned to a news story is a function of its “news value index.” The latter is defined as the sum of news factors weighted with their intensity. A similar concept was presented by Shoemaker and Cohen (2006), who proposed a second-order factor called “complexity,” which indicates the number of deviant and/or socially significant dimensions in news items.
Catalogs Of News Factors And Their Use In Research
Whereas most authors derived their catalogs of news factors more or less explicitly from psychological theories, Shoemaker (1996) presented a partly new catalog derived from theories of biological and cultural evolution. In addition to known news factors, it includes three types of deviance (statistical, normative, and social change). Catalogs of up to 22 news factors have been developed. They can either be exactly measured (geographical proximity), or fairly well identified by multiple indicators (cultural proximity, reach/ relevance, continuity), or approximately estimated (success, failure, controversy/conflict, unexpectedness) (Staab 1990; Eilders 2006). In the course of time, all extrinsic news factors – that is, news factors “foreign to the news process” – have been excluded from the catalogs, leaving only intrinsic factors. An example is the history of the news factor “consonance.” It was introduced by Galtung and Ruge (1965) with two sub-categories – consonant to expectations (neutral) and consonant to ideals or wishes (normative). It was excluded by Schulz (1976) for methodological reasons: both sub-categories cannot be reliably coded using quantitative content analysis. This methodologically reasonable decision, which was accepted by other researchers, had significant theoretical consequences: it totally excluded a potential influence of the individual perspectives of journalists on the selection of news and thus reduced it to a technical process guided by professional norms.
Some news factors have repeatedly been shown to correlate significantly with the place, space, or time devoted to news stories: relevance/reach, damage/controversy/aggression/ conflict, elite person/prominence, continuity, proximity, elite-nation, and complexity, as defined by Shoemaker and Cohen. Some news factors have repeatedly been shown to correlate with the selection of news by the audience: relevance/reach, conflict/controversy, elite person/prominence, continuity, and unexpectedness (Eilders 2006). Most authors regard significant correlations between the number and/or the intensity of news factors and the presentation of news in the mass media as evidence for a causal relation between both variables. For three reasons, this is questionable. First, most studies present no clear evidence that the journalists processing the news attribute the same news values to news factors as social scientists do. They support their assumptions with plausible arguments, but do not present empirical evidence for them. Second, most studies present no clear evidence that news items selected for publication display more news factors than those that are disregarded. Third, as far as the news coverage at different points in time or in different countries has been analyzed, in nearly all studies a possible influence of occurrences in reality is neglected. This is in line with neither journalists’ role perceptions, nor recipients’ expectations.
- Eilders, C. (2006). News factors and news decisions: Theoretical and methodological advances in Germany. Communications, 31, 5 –24.
- Galtung, J., & Ruge, M. H. (1965). The structure of foreign news: The presentation of the Congo, Cuba and Cyprus crises in four Norwegian newspapers. Journal of Peace Research, 2, 64 – 91.
- Lippmann, W. (1961). Public opinion. New York: Macmillan. (Original work published 1922).
- Merz, C. (1925). What makes a first-page story? A theory based on the ten big news stories of 1925. New Republic, 45, 156 –158.
- Östgaard, E. (1965). Factors influencing the flow of news. Journal of Peace Research, 2, 39 – 63.
- Schulz, W. (1976). Die Konstruktion von Realität in den Nachrichtenmedien. Analyse der aktuellen Berichterstattung [The construction of reality in the news media. An analysis of the news coverage]. Freiburg: Alber.
- Shoemaker, P. (1996). Hardwired for news: Using biological and cultural evolution to explain the surveillance function. Journal of Communication, 46(3), 32 – 47.
- Shoemaker, P., & Cohen, A. A. (2006). News around the world: Practitioners, content, and the public. New York: Routledge.
- Staab, J. F. (1990). Nachrichtenwert-Theorie: Formale Struktur und empirischer Gehalt [News values theory: Formal structure and empirical content]. Freiburg: Alber.
- Stieler, K. (1969). Zeitungs Lust und Nutz. [Uses and gratifications of newspapers]. Bremen: Carl Schünemann Verlag. (Original work published 1695).
- Warren, C. (1959). Modern news reporting, 3rd edn. New York: Harper and Row. (1st edn. Published 1934).