Bleeding the Black Ink

What makes news the news

Ever wonder what makes a story or why one paper puts a story on the front page while another buries the same item in the back?

There are some basic elements that most papers use to determine where a story will be placed or if a story will even make the cut.

News space is a limited commodity in a paper and certain criteria are used to determine what story will go where.

Probably the most important aspect of a story is its timeliness. If a story is old, is it "news"?

News is a consumable, much like food, and has a shelf life that will expire if kept too long.

Journalists must keep in mind that if the event happened too long ago, readers will likely have little interest in the story.

Another aspect in determining what is news is "impact" -- what will the consequences be on the lives of people, especially those who live in the coverage area of the people.

Are taxes going up? By how much?

Is crime on the increase? Why or why not?

Impact is critical to a story to help put a story in context for the reader.

In going hand in hand with impact is proximity. Proximity often indicates geography -- how close was the event and will readers be more interested in it because it happened in the next county or around the globe.

News value increases when the event gets closer to the paper's coverage area.

A less tangent perspective on proximity, however, is a story's "emotional" or "demographical" proximity.

If a paper sees a wire story that comes from a city or town that has a similar unemployment rate or a similar amount of retirees, it will often use that item because the situations and possible circumstances could be applicable to their own coverage area.

Another aspect of the news, which is almost unavoidable, is conflict. Like it or not, most good stories -- news stories or otherwise -- have two sides.

If the a city raises its taxes, who is going to benefit from the raise and who is going to get the proverbial short end of the stick. If an area is suddenly hit by floods, who pays the economic, emotional, and physical price for that? A football player who suffers a debilitating injury faces physical and mental challenges.

Conflicts involve struggles between people and people, people and nature and people against themselves. Good journalists try to represent both of these sides as accurately and fairly as possible.

Names also are important elements to the news -- people love to read about their neighbors and themselves. That's why stories often include quotes from people who may not be directly connected with an issue but are so prominent in the area, their opinion often carries some weight.

Names tie into the element of human interest -- the shared experience that those in a community share. Human-interest stories often conjure feelings of goodwill, nostalgia, and a call to action.

And while juggling all of these aspects, a paper must keep in mind that it should collect stories of variety that cater to the varied interests of its readers -- sports, entertainment, travel, health and business -- along with the hard news that is often the meat of the newspaper.

"Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.

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