Since the first journalist wrote the first news article and published it in the first newspaper, folks have been trying to define “news.”
Yesterday’s definitions have been swallowed up in the 24-hour TV news cycle and the incessant buzz of social media.
As a former journalism professor turned publisher, I find myself struggling to define “news” in the context of today’s world.
Historically, those who taught and practiced print and broadcast journalism generally embraced the premise that news is comprised of one or more of eight elements or characteristics.
But the traditional definitions of those elements have changed, as I will try to describe.
Immediacy — Some journalists like to say their business is news, not history. That means reporting something that just happened or is about to happen or that they want to happen.
Proximity — If it didn’t happen here or close by, is it important to me or my car pool? Technology has brought the world to our living room, tablet computer and smart phone. Where exactly is Maldives?
Prominence — There are as many definitions of this term as there are aspiring and perspiring musicians, drugged starlets, fading movie stars, corrupt politicians, serial killers and others in the public eye who arouse our curiosity. Their lives prove that name recognition can be a mixed blessing.
Oddity — Most of us are too polite to talk or write about freak shows but this category goes from the simply bizarre to the daredevils who look death or crippling trauma in the eye while their cheering spectators hope for the worst.
Conflict — Political, ethnic and religious zealots have been fighting and dying since the dawn of time. Mainly, the only things that change are names, geography, body counts and the number of television sound bites and tweets.
Suspense — This once legitimate news element has been reduced to cheap theatrics and media manipulation as we anxiously await the birth of celebrity babies, the outcome of media circus trials and the introduction of instant millionaires at pro sports drafts.
Emotion — Do we hang ‘em or hug ‘em? Is it a two-hanky piece or just an eye dabber? Can’t every cheating spouse cry on cue in those “tell all” news conferences? Would you trade a Jimmy Swaggart card for a Jim Bakker?
Consequence — History tells us that Chester A. Arthur, 21st president of the U.S., was the last public figure brave enough or foolish enough to utter these famous last words: “I may be president of the United States but my private life is nobody’s damned business.”
Keith Kappes is a columnist for The Morehead (Ky.) News. Contact him at email@example.com.