What is News?

Experts agree that defining news can be a difficult task. Most journalists agree that the following eight elements make up what is considered "news."

  • Immediacy:
    Reporting something that has just happened or is about to happen. Time is a strong ingredient, "today, yesterday, early this morning, tomorrow." The newness of the occurrence makes up "immediacy" in the news.
  • Proximity:
    Facts and occurrences that are important to you personally; inflation, the Iran situation particularly if one of the hostages is someone you know or a family member of a close friend, the closing of a fire station close to your home. Such a closure is less important when it occurs across town. The question most asked by journalists is: "If this happened outside my immediate area, my city, my state, would I be interested in reading about it?" Keeping this question in mind is particularly important to the organizational PR person. You must "take off the I love this organization hat" and examine your story to see if indeed it would interest other readers.
  • Prominence:
    Prominence as a news element is well-known to most of us. The public figure, holders of public office, people of renown or those who stimulate our curiosity, people in positions of influence all enjoy news prominence. For your visitor or speaker to qualify for news prominence, he or she must be well enough known to command the attention of readers either by reputation or by the nature of the topic to be discussed.
  • Oddity:
    Oddity is often news. The bizarre, the unusual, the unexpected often make news. Generally those people who perform striking feats in emergency situations are news, such as a woman lifting an automobile off her child, traveling around the world in a sailboat, unusual recycling methods, use of materials in a different way. In journalism, oddity is defined as the "man bites dog" formula. Consider the reported rabbit attack on President Carter. That certainly made the "news."
  • Conflict:
    Conflict is one element most observed in todays with the clash of ideologies making headlines worldwide. Although most businesses and organizations shy away from the reporting of conflict, it is understandable that this element is firmly based in the news formula.
  • Suspense:
    Suspense creates and expands news appeal. The outcome of the Iranian hostages is suspenseful news. For the most part, organizations would rarely experience this type of circumstance. It is helpful to remember that news suspense is not the same as mystery suspense. However, mystery suspense in news does occur when a crime has been committed and the search is on for a suspect.
  • Emotions
    Emotions are a news element commonly called "human interest" stories that stir our recognition of the basic needs both psychological and physical. Stories that prompt the reader toward sympathy, anger or other emotions in all their variety are commonly handled in feature-type stories. Organizations should be alert to the possibilities of "human interest" stories.
  • Consequence
    The last element of news, consequence, is more difficult to explain, but generally for a story to have consequence it must be important to a great number of readers. It must have some impact for the reader. Such news will affect him or her in some personal way...the safety of the city's drinking water. The dumping of toxic wastes into the Snake River Aquifer is being examined from the standpoint of consequence now and in the future. Thus it becomes an important news story.

From this discussion of news story elements, it becomes clear that you should have these guidelines in mind when you're deciding if your message is news or an announcement; whether it's a feature or an item of limited public interest. From this you decide which format to use for distributing the information and the medium that is most likely to use your information.

Check out the PR Strategy Criteria Checklist