Journalistic and Commercial News Values
News Organizations as Patrons of an Institution and Market Actors SIGURD ALLERN
Why do some events fill the columns and air time of news media, while others are ignored? Why do some stories make banner headlines whereas others merit no more than a few lines? What factors decide what news professionals consider newsworthy? Such questions are often answered – by journalists and media researchers alike – with references to journalistic news values or ‘news criteria’. Some answers are normatively founded; others are pragmatic and descriptive. In the present article, I submit that editorial priorities should not be analyzed in purely journalistic terms. Instead, they should be seen as efforts to combine journalistic norms and editorial ambitions, on the one hand, with commercial norms and market objectives, on the other.
Commercial Enterprise and Patron of an Institution
News media have a dual nature. On the one hand they represent a societal institution that is ascribed a vital role in relation to such core political values as freedom of expression and democracy. On the other hand, they are businesses that produce commodities – information and entertainment – for a market. At the same time, because their products are descriptions of reality that influence our perceptions of the world around us, news media wield influence that extends far beyond the marketplace. Who controls the media is of significance to every member of society. As figures like Rupert Murdoch, Silvio Berlusconi and the new Russian media barons remind us, control of the media is a key to political power. And while many venerable industries wither and die (or undergo profound metamorphoses) the consciousness industry – as writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger (1974) dubbed the media and other actors in the communication sector – is rapidly expanding. Newspapers, radio programs and television transmissions differ with respect to how consumption of them affects our perception and understanding of reality. As Graham Murdoch observes: By providing accounts of the contemporary world and images of the ‘good life’, they play a pivotal role in shaping social consciousness, and it is this ‘special relationship’ between economic and cultural power that has made the issue of
their control a continuing focus of academic and political concern (Murdoch 1982:118).
The chief news media are newspapers, news magazines, radio and television stations that carry newscasts, news bureaux and web-newspapers and newsletters. The boundaries visà-vis other media are sometimes fluid, however, and in practice very few media are pure news organizations. Besides news, reportage, comment and debate, newspapers also contain features, ‘human interest stories’ and pure entertainment; in Norwegian television, news fills less than 20 per cent of total transmission time on both state-owned public service television, NRK Fjernsynet, and commercially financed TV2. Common to all news media, however, is that news is a vital element in their overall content ‘mix’. In market terms, news media are enterprises that produce and distribute media products over well-defined regions and fields. Take, for example, a company that publishes a printed newspaper. Today, the situation is often more complicated: a group company may own several news enterprises, which may operate within different media, such as the press, radio and television. Many printed newspapers also publish a net edition; in some cases these are organized as independent companies. In the present discussion the term, news enterprise designates companies having direct responsibility for journalistic publishing and known for their news and other output of topical material. What distinguishes news media from other media, and news enterprises from other enterprises, is primarily their links to journalism and news as a societal...